Teen "God Squads" with a Mission to Serve
Take a large group of high-energy teenagers who want to see a big purpose and make a big difference somewhere. Mix in a large number of homes and properties in huge need of a “fix-up” or “clean-up.” Throw in a dash of fun recreation, some new relationships to build, and some really meaningful worship experiences. It's a recipe for a very successful, highly memorable summer mission week, and it's available right here in Panola County for any available youth the week of June 18-23.
Youth from First United Methodist Church first started participating in Youth Force Oklahoma City back in the 1990s under the leadership of youth directors Kay Hubbard and Lynn Grant. It was about the “tiredest tired” any of the participants had ever experienced, but also about the “funnest fun” and the highest spiritual mountaintop experience for them as well. Churches from everywhere, of many denominations, brought youth and tools and divided into “God Squads,” spending a week working hard on every conceivable kind of home and property fix-up, building close relationships with their homeowners and each other, and participating each night in fun recreation and super-meaningful worship.
Fast forward to Tonia Crittenden's 12-year youth leadership from 2002 to 2016 . During this time, Youth Force had expanded into several other Oklahoma towns, and Tonia had become part of the program's design team. She had also gained an unrelenting vision and passion for a huge undertaking: bringing Youth Force Carthage to fruition.
Her dreams were realized in the summer of 2014, when youth and leaders from several churches converged on Carthage and completed work projects on several homes in the community. The tradition has continued and grown over the succeeding years, and plans for 2017 are underway. The teams for each part of the program are being assembled, including those for meals, recreation, worship, showers, job sites, and scores of other details.
FUMC Associate Pastor Leah Hanks, also deeply involved in Youth Force Carthage from its inception, reports that the theme for the week this year is “I Am Less,” based on scripture from John 3:30, “He must become greater, and I must become less.” Leah says, “Based on a spiritual quest to grow in humility and to focus more on God and less on ourselves, the theme will be incorporated in worship, in the daily job site lunch devotionals, on our t-shirts, and in every other possible way.”
She continues, “Youth Force is really my favorite week of the year, even more than Christmas! I have never heard a participant say, 'I really didn't like doing this, and I don't think I'll come back and do it again.' They work really hard, but they learn lots of good lessons about persevering and seeing God even in the most difficult times. The God Squads that work on each job all day are not assigned by church; the groups are mixed, and the kids really get close to the others working with them. Then they all gather back up with their home churches for worship and reflection time, and there are always lots of obvious 'God sightings' shared. It's amazing the bonds of friendship that are made during the week. One of the churches that comes every year is from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and our churches have become sister churches in other missions in addition to Youth Force.”
Leah continues, “One of the things I appreciate a lot about Youth Force being here in Carthage—really the reason Tonia wanted to bring it here—is how it gives our kids an opportunity to be of service to their own community. Lots of these programs don't allow kids to do work in their own towns, but I think it's great. It opens up their eyes to needs that are right here close to them and gives them a chance to give back and build community.” She also recalls how many of the homeowners have told her how much it touched their hearts to see teenagers, who so often get a bad rap for being self-absorbed and uncaring, PAY to come spend a week working hard to help and serve others they don't even know.
Tonia retired from the youth director's position in 2016, but she is committed to continuing her deep involvement with Youth Force Carthage. She says, “One of the greatest results I have witnessed during my tenure with Youth Force is the number of young adults who participated in Youth Force missions as teens who now return to volunteer as adults. It’s a testament to the lasting relationships it builds among those involved, as well as the relationships that are built and strengthened with our Savior!”
Fortunately, her successor, current youth director Reanna Hart, shares her great passion for providing good mission opportunities for teens and will be actively involved with Youth Force as well. “This will be my first Youth Force, and I am really excited about it. I think it’s so beneficial for youth to have that fellowship with each other, but also to learn the importance of working together, giving their time toward a common goal, and being involved in selfless acts of doing for others. Tonia has worked so hard and done such a great thing to bring this youth mission to Carthage, and I look forward to continuing with it for many years to come!”
Youth Force Carthage is always on the lookout for the following:
Adults who lead or work with a youth group to come and bring a group
Adults who just want to come and help on their own
Youth who want to come and work and be part of the week but who may not be part of a church group and can be added into one of the other groups
Job sites! If you or someone you know is in need of a wheelchair ramp, painting, repair that does not require licensed electrician or plumbing skills, or other clean-up/fix-up work, you might be a candidate for getting help.
For more information, contact First United Methodist Church at 903-693-5227.