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By Pastor Teresa Smolka*
The youth group from Ohltown United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) in Mineral Ridge traveled to Niagara Falls, NY June 5-10. This Christ-centered mission trip allowed our teens and their adult chaperones to connect to God, each other, and communities through service to others.
The youth worked in several different groups to complete projects that benefitted individuals and the greater community. Groups:
- helped repair the historic Oakwood Cemetery.
- provided meals and companionship at the Senior Citizens Center of St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church.
- rebuilt a porch for an elderly woman, and stained the porch and a fence at her neighbor’s home.
- worked with the students of the Magdalene after school project.
- packed meals for the Meals on Wheels program.
- cleared brush from an abandoned home.
The youth also worked on the Sustainable Sandals project, which reclaims sandals that are placed in the trash by the tourists who visit Niagara Falls. The sandals are then cleaned, disinfected, sized, packaged and sent to other countries, where they are given to people who have no shoes and are at risk to contract deadly parasites through bare feet. In addition to providing shoes for those in need, the Sustainable Sandals project keeps 200,000 to 300,000 pairs of shoes out of the local landfills.
I was proud of the things the youth accomplished and the way that they dealt with hard work, blisters, and of course REALLY stinky sandals. I was thrilled that they made connections with other youth groups, the staff members, and those people that we served.
But the moment I will always remember was after a community picnic, we went to a beautiful, unused Catholic church. We worshiped together and then we broke off into our smaller groups and had a time for prayer and foot washing. It seemed as if time stood still when the presence of the Holy Spirit entered in, and then I was able to see a connection between each youth, the adults and with God.
The tears flowed freely as the youth became so overcome with the joy they found in the Lord, feeling His presence, and knowing there has been a call placed on their lives. For a moment it wasn’t me washing their feet, it was Jesus. All of the worrying, the fund raising, and the apprehension about the trip vanished. Prayers were answered; God was with us. The youth experienced a servant heart.
*Teresa Smolka is a full-time local pastor in her 5th year serving at Ohltown UMC.