Local church youth volunteer for East Texas mission trip

By BRITTANY FHOLER 
Cove Leader-press 

Youth and adults from Grace United Methodist Church spent a week of their summer helping and serving others in Beaumont through a mission trip with the Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission beginning June 16. 
Every summer, the mission branch of the United Methodist Church in Central Texas, called Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission (CTCYM) sends more 1,400 youth and adult volunteers to areas affected by poverty or natural disaster, also serving community centers, nursing homes and food/clothing pantries. 
Last month, during the third week of June, youth and adult volunteers from 52 churches across Central Texas made their way in their white passenger vans to cities in Texas such as Bay City, Corpus Christi, Baytown, Bridge City, Lake Jackson, Pasadena, Port Lavaca, Portland, Texas City, Victoria and Beaumont, with one group going all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Each of these cities were affected by Hurricane Harvey and the rains and flooding back in 2017. 
From Copperas Cove’s own Grace United Methodist Church, 32 youth and adult volunteers took four passenger vans and two trailers down to Beaumont to stay with four other churches: Azle First United Methodist Church from Azle, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church from Hurst, DeLeon United Methodist Church from DeLeon and Ferris Heights United Methodist Church from Waxahachie. They stayed at the Wesley United Methodist Church in what is referred to as a Living Center. 
Volunteers eat breakfast and dinner and sleep on air mattresses, cots or sleeping bags in the Living Center.
A total of 110 youth and adults stayed at the Wesley UMC Living Center during the week of June 16-June 23, making up 11 different work teams. 
Each team had two to three adults and several youth, ages 11 to 17, in junior high and high school. The teams worked on a total of 12 ramps plus worked at a local food pantry and a senior center. 
One of the adult volunteers was Kevin Keller, who went with his son, Korey, 14. Keller said this was their second mission trip in as many years but added it was a different experience because their first was with a different church. 
Leading up to the mission trip, Keller said they were excited but also nervous about what they would be doing. 
On this mission trip, as a rule, family members are not allowed to be on the same team. 
“That was one of the biggest things I learned from this,” Keller said. “Going into it, my son and I both kind of wanted to stay together because we do a lot together and thought it would be good team-building for us, but on the way home, him and I talked about it and we were glad we weren’t together because it was new opportunities to meet all new people. You know, there was no favoritism, there was no family issues, so it was just fun to be with a group of entirely different people.”
Keller’s team, which consisted of three adults and five youth from three different churches, built a ramp for an elderly woman named Miss Kim who ended up having to be evacuated when Hurricane Harvey hit, dropping 68 inches of rain. 
His team built her a small concrete ramp on one house and then a 5’ x 8’ deck with a 16-foot ramp at her second home. 
“If you asked me a week ago if I could build a ramp or a deck, I would say absolutely no idea but I can tell you now, though, I could probably go out back and piece one together if I had to,” Keller said. “I learned that much.”
The main focus of mission trip is for the kids to do the work, so adults were tasked with teaching the youth how to do the work. 
Keller said the youth learned things from digging holes to laying concrete to using chop saws and skill saws to cut lumber for the ramp, to screwing the ramp together to mixing concrete in the holes for posts, setting posts and leveling. 
“They all worked very hard,” Keller said. “They learned a lot about humility and service to others.”
Each day, the volunteers would wake up at 6:30 a.m. to have breakfast around 7:10 a.m. and head out to their job sites by 8:00 a.m., working until around 4 p.m. 
Korey’s team worked on odds and ends jobs, repairing doors and windows, resetting doors, plumbing work, and working on a flower bed and irrigation at the senior center. 
Keller spoke about what it was like to see so many youth giving up part of their summer to go on this mission trip. 
“It was very inspiring to see the youth leave their home, leave their cell phones, leave television, for the most part fast food, sofa, bed, to go down there and give of themselves for a week to serve others,” he said. 
Youth were only allowed to use their phones occasionally to call home and there were no game systems or televisions. 
“That stuff wasn’t allowed, so to see them kids was very inspiring and made me realize there is really some good youth in our society and in our community and sometimes they get a bad rap,” Keller said. “The same thing for the adults. I took vacation leave to leave the office, go on vacation to work for a week. A lot of the adults either took vacation leave or weren’t getting paid to go on this opportunity to help these youth, so that was pretty inspiring to see all these adults give of themselves, because there are people in this world that won’t…or can’t. It’s nice to see those that can.”
Two of the youth who went on the mission trip were Emily Escorcia-Zuniga, 16, who was on team 11, and Camper Kirkpatrick, 17, who was on team 6. 
Escorcia-Zuniga shared that going on the mission trip opened her eyes to what she was missing in her life. 
“When I was struggling at home, I pushed church aside in a way, and found other excuses to not pay attention to my problems instead of praying about them or even having faith,” she said. “I got to engage with a lot of people, whether it was the adults that would remind me how they were glad I got to go or the kids my age that I got a chance to relate to on a personal and spiritual level.”
Kirkpatrick said that mission trip was a truly remarkable experience that provides him with something different each year. 
This year marked his sixth mission trip and allowed him to grow closer in his relationship with God, along with his new friend, the person whom his team helped by building a 27-foot ramp. 
“It allowed her access to a world that she hadn’t seen in years by giving her easy access to her car,” Kirkpatrick said. “This drive to help people, and to see their response, has caused me to understand why it is necessary to do our best to help those in need, even if it takes a week out of your life. Mission trip is an experience that will forever change my life.”
The week-long trip concluded with what is known as Closing Ceremony, where all the different living centers join together in one location for an overview of the past week and a big worship service. This year, they stopped in College Station. 
Keller said he wasn’t aware of what to expect from the ceremony. 
“I didn’t really understand the full scope of  everything that was happening across the coastline until we got there and when you took the exit off the interstate, all you saw was this huge church with white vans all over the place,” Keller said. 
There were more than a thousand people all wearing the same CTCYM shirt and it was “pretty amazing to see a thousand plus people worshipping God and celebrating the accomplishments of the week because there’s no doubt they all worked hard and earned that celebration time,” Keller said. He added that he can’t wait to go again. 

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