Louisiana Wesley Foundations Serve the World for Christ
by Betty Backstrom
Jonathon Bevil didn't expect to meet a super star on his way to a volunteers project in Tampico, Mexico.
"Our group from the Louisiana Tech Wesley Foundation arrived at the Houston airport and some of our group spotted Bono, the lead singer for U-2. We got to meet him and take a picture with him before we boarded our plane for Tampico," said Bevil, who led the Louisiana Volunteers in Mission (LAVIM) team in May and June, 2007.*
The Louisiana Tech student is quick to add that the true "super stars" were the people of Tampico who his team of 12 volunteers were privileged to serve during the 30 day period.
Louisiana Volunteers in Mission teams from Wesley Foundations throughout the conference have had the same positive mission experience as they served in Peru, South Africa, the Bahamas, Jamaica and other parts of the world to serve Christ.
"It is an integral part of the lives of these young adults to have a mission experience. It changes how they will live the rest of their life," said Rev. Larry Norman, LAVIM director. "Our conference mission statement says, "Raise up spiritual leaders in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ.' Through local and international missions, LAVIM is participating in a very important way in the faith growth of these young people."
Andrew Connell, a member of the McNeese Wesley Foundation, echoed Norman's sentiments. "I'll never forget the time I spent in Jamaica. I expected it would be like any other mission where you go and fix a few things and then leave, but it was so much more. The people we worked with were so nice and generous to us. I felt we didn't deserve the generosity given to us. We poured cement, but they gave up their holiday to work with us and used their money to cook huge meals for us everyday. The people blew me away with their humility and love for God. They did more for us than we did for them."
This spring, Tulane University's Wesley Foundation traveled for a second time to Valle Hermoso, Mexico to help with construction projects for the town's growing Methodist church.
Rev. Max Zehner, campus minister for Tulane's Wesley Foundation, said, "Our first mission to Valle Hermoso was in March of 2005 when the team installed the entire roof of the new church. Although we could not return in 2006 because of Hurricane Katrina, we came back stronger than ever and had a very successful mission during Spring Break."
Arriving in Mexico on Saturday evening, the group of college students unpacked and settled into their small, un-airconditioned room. Although accommodations were spare, the hospitality of the town was abundant. "Valle Hermoso is ending a three-year celebration in Valle Hermoso, so on Sunday, our team was treated to parades and festivals in the town. The rest of the week was reserved for hard work around the new church building," said Zehner.
Team leader Taylor Moss, who went to Valle Hermoso for the second time, said, "The mission was a great success, providing a time for Tulane Wesley Foundation members to grow together and share experiences with one another. As the attendance at the Foundation's weekly worship continues to grow, plans are being made for a mission to either South Africa or the Caribbean for the upcoming school year."
Moss adds his thanks to all the volunteers throughout the Louisiana Conference who have helped Tulane and New Orleans in the storm recovery process. "We're back and stronger than ever."
Through LAVIM missions, Wesley Foundation students are also discovering that basic human need can be found in the most unlikely spots. "The Bahamas conjure images of tropical islands with palm trees, turquoise water, sandy beaches and vacationing tourists. But behind the glamour of the resorts, you find a very different world, one of great poverty and need," said Rev. John Higginbotham, campus minister for Northwestern Louisiana State University.
A 12 member team from Northwestern's Wesley Foundation, led by Jamie Myers, partnered in May with the Bahamas Methodist Habitat to revitalize two homes in Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island. The team also conducted a Bible School for two Methodist congregations on the island, as well as a contemporary worship service.
One of the restored homes on Great Abaco Island belonged to a couple in their late 80's, who had neither the income nor the strength restore their home. The team made repairs, scraped old paint and repainted the exterior of the house. At the end of the week, Gurney and Kate said, "We have the loveliest house in Cherokee now."
After returning to the United States, Jamie Myers wrote, "We went (to the Bahamas) hoping to make the world a better place and ended up being transformed in our own hearts by the love and faith of the people we met. Two members of our team have returned to Abaco to work with the youth ministries at both of Rev. Hale's churches for the rest of the summer."
Exposure to new cultures and church life in other countries provides Wesley Foundation students an educational experience not found in the classroom. "When we were in Tampico, communication was smooth because we had willing translators. Mario, a member of the local church, did an excellent job for us. He even translated two church services for us so that we could understand Pastor Andres and experience the heart of the church," said Jonathon Bevil.
Krystle Mathews, a member of the Louisiana Tech team who is fluent in Spanish, also helped with communication with the Tampico church members. "Krystle was born and lived in Peru for the first few years of her life. She was able to build deeper relationships with people at the church and share with us what she learned. God used Krystle so that we could see deeper into the hearts and minds of the Body of Christ," said Bevil.
Wesley Foundation students also learn how important their participation in mission is to those who they are serving. "In the two years since the Tulane team visited the church, much less had been done than expected. The growing congregation at Elohim United Methodist Church only works on the church expansion when teams arrive with money and supplies. Teams need to go back because these people continually need our help," said Rev. Zehner.
As part of the overall spiritual experience, the importance of Scripture is emphasized through mission experiences in a number of ways. When the Wesley Foundation LAVIM team from McNeese traveled to Jamaica in April, the students used Acts 27 as the scriptural focus of the mission. "The theme for the mission was "Stay on Board.' This was a metaphor taken from the story of Paul's shipwreck on his way to Rome when he declared, "Unless all stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.' We realized that in order to complete the task before us, we would have to work together and trust in the leadership of the team leader and the locals who would be directing us throughout our trip," said Rev. Angela Bulhof, campus minister.
The team from McNeese held Vacation Bible School for 40 children at Ramble United Methodist Church and helped with the construction of new bathrooms, a kitchen, and a storage room that the church was adding to the existing sanctuary.
On Sunday, the team attended an "electrifying" worship service where the group was formally welcomed and given gifts by the church.
Team member Feina Onko wrote, "The mission enlightened my perspective about God's joy-- the joy that can not be taken away and will always be there. The people were so happy, and even though their situations are limited, they were always joyful and faithful to God. No matter what hardships they are facing, you could always see their smiles everywhere."
Rev. Larry Norman is proud of LAVIM's role in the missions undertaken by Louisiana Conference Wesley Foundation teams. "The Wesley Foundation has been a very important part of my faith history and calling. For a brief time, I was privileged to serve as a campus minister. I am gratified that LAVIM missions are playing a key role in the spiritual development of these young adults who are answering God's call," he said.
Upcoming plans for Wesley Foundation LAVIM missions include going to the Phillipines (McNeese, spring of 2008); South Africa (Tulane, Dec. 27, 2007-Jan. 15, 2008); and three missions for Southeastern's Wesley Foundation to South Africa (May of 2008), Camp Voronezh in Russia (August of 2009); and Tampico, Mexico (Spring Break of 2010).
Betty Backstrom is Communications Director of the Louisiana Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church.