“So all I told my youth group was, Hey, we’re going on a missions trip! but they didn’t know what to expect. A lot of the students were not expecting to be in that part of town [in Magnolia Park where Joy Fellowship Center is located] and if some of them had known ahead of time, they probably wouldn’t have come… but looking back, they’re so glad that they did.”
While many students across the country flocked beaches and city centers to celebrate a classroom-free spring break this past week, 14 young adults and 3 volunteer leaders from First Baptist Church of Pearland chose to do something a bit different: spend a week of laughter, learning and service with the staff and community members at our Joy Fellowship Center. In addition to gaining an arsenal of ingenious showering techniques in the gym’s chilly waters and displaying flexible reactions to a week spent sleeping on air mattresses and sleeping bags, the students’ days were filled with involved activities such as yard work, lot clean up, after-school programming with large groups of kids, rowdy get-to-know-you games, food distribution, community outreach and clothing closet organization. In the process of doing so, many began to realize that a passport to Africa or even a long van trip to a service site several states away are not the only means of experiencing and responding to physical need. “This is our backyard,” several students remarked. And while it’s true that knowledge about the low income levels, crowded living spaces and high rate of labor trafficking that takes place in the predominantly Hispanic community that Joy seeks to serve is a sobering and eye-opening reality, the Pearland group was also able to experience first-hand and benefit from the relational strength and depth within the neighborhood. Stereotypes and fears were slowly challenged and replaced with the beauty and respect that stems from the forging of personal relationship.
Leader Jaime Rios provided the initial contact with Mission Centers of Houston after personal experience volunteering at Gano Center when he was younger and he relished the opportunity his students were able to take advantage of in learning about the neighborhood, forming relationships with people in the community and receiving support and encouragement from Joy staff. “It was eye-opening for all of us,” he shared. “Not just for the students but for us as leaders as well.” For many of the students, all of whom came with a committed and cheerful heart to serve in light of the Philippians 2:14 mandate to “do all things without complaining or grumbling,” the chance to walk away at the end of the week with a stronger sense of home forged through a deeper understanding of their own city has proved to be an invaluable gift. “Students kept asking when we could go back. We definitely loved it.”
To learn more about similar transformational volunteer opportunities for you to experience as an individual or with a group, follow this link: http://www.missioncenters.org/volunteer.html.