Church: STORM Faith Community
District: River Valley
Submitted by: David E. Brown
In 1990, before the word “missional” was part of the church’s vernacular, a small band of entrepreneurs from the United Methodist churches in Menahga, Sebeka, and Hubbard were determined to reach out to Wadena and Hubbard counties by “serving Jesus by serving others.” This passion was ignited when the charge youth group took a mission trip to Mountain T.O.P. (also known as the Tennessee Outreach Project).
As three adults drove separate vans full of youth and tools back to Minnesota when it was over, vision was cast over CB radios: “Wadena County is one of the six poorest counties in the state.” “We have Northern Pines Camp in our backyard.” “We have the Annual Conference to draw youth and adults to serve.”
The first STORM Camp (Service to Others in Relational Ministry) in 1991 attracted 35 students and 12 adults from six congregations, and they collectively served 25 families. The next year, STORM more than doubled in attendance, with 90 students and 18 adult drivers serving more than 75 families in a 45-mile radius of Park Rapids. The third year, with the help of a group from Tampa, Florida, STORM served more than 100 families with a camp of 120 students, 27 adult drivers, and a staff of more than 15 people from the Menahga, Sebeka, and Hubbard congregations serving each day for support and worship.
Since 1994, STORM Camp has averaged 100 students and 21 adult drivers and served more than 100 families during the last week in July. Through the growth, STORM Camp has tried to keep things simple. The gospel imperative of “serving Jesus by serving others” has been its mission statement. “Work and worship” has been its process, with worship that’s led by a contemporary band and that includes campers’ testimonies about how they saw God at work during the day and a message by Pastor David E. Brown, who designed STORM Camp.
Approximately 10 percent of campers who have participated in the program over the years have made a first-time commitment to follow Jesus, many more have decided to follow the model of Jesus by serving others, and more than 50 have had a call of God upon their lives for the first time or made the choice to enter some type of pastoral ministry.
Part of the original vision for STORM Camp was to hold a camp in six or eight places throughout the state. Under the leadership of former Minnesota Pastor Perry Wieland, STORM Camp South was held at Decision Hills Campground from 1993 to 1998, reaching another 60 youth each year and serving nearby communities. Meanwhile, STORM in the City was held at Grace United Methodist Church on Lowry and Penn avenues in Minneapolis for three years in the mid-90s. Additionally, some youth groups have taken STORM home and started weekend events that involve serving their own communities; those weekend events include STORM in Lake City, STERM in Elk River, STORM in the Valley in Lakeland, and URBAN Cross at Mounds Park in St Paul.
After STORM Camp at Northern Pines last year, a decision was made to “export” STORM week to a local church in 2013 so that the missional vision of STORM could be experienced in a neighborhood, local church setting—that is, to be a missional model for what a local church could do on a regular basis.
Pastor Brown had previously served Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault for two years. He knew that the community had many social service groups seeking to meet the needs of this growing community. Relational connections through the Rotary Club, the people of Fourth Avenue UMC, and current Fourth Avenue UMC Pastor Dennis Tamke sealed the deal for going to Faribault. Rice County’s population exceeds 60,000 and its poverty rate is approaching 12 percent, so organizers knew there would be much work to do there.
The STORM Camp team was on board with the move. Fourth Avenue UMC gave permission for STORM to storm the building the last week of July of this year. Jobs were filled thanks to an ad in the local paper and flyers posted around town and in local churches. Campers from youth groups and individual students registered for camp. Prayers were prayed. Three pickups and a trailer of tools were moved from Park Rapids to Faribault. Air mattresses were purchased. Sunday School rooms were cleaned and made ready for campers. Food was purchased from local stores. Accounts at lumber yards and hardware stores were set up.
On July 21, 63 students and 12 adult drivers from 14 congregations arrived in Faribault. The STORM Camp Band, led by Pastor Paul Baudhuin, was fired up and ready. Seventy families in the surrounding community had contacted STORM organizers about work that needed to be done—work ranging from painting and yard work to staining decks. Biblical messages on hope had been prepared. Fourth Avenue UMC had secured commitments from more than 50 members who would help with tools, serving meals, and preparing food.
By July 27, 70 families in Rice County had received the help they sought. The whole community knew that STORM was in town, partnering with Fourth Avenue UMC and “serving Jesus by serving others.” All 63 student participants discovered that serving others can be fun and is the way of Jesus. They also learned firsthand that they have a community of supporters who will help them get through difficult times in life—and that God will always love them and be with them. Prayers were answered.
This is a typical evaluation that STORM organizers receive from the people it serves: “I wasn’t sure what to expect when the students arrived. I showed them what I wanted done and they immediately got to work and accomplished more than I expected. I am very pleased with their service. They are a great group of young people who blessed me immensely.”
And here are a few comments from campers:
· “I loved it so much. I saw many old friends and made new ones. I learned that serving others makes me feel really accomplished.”
· “I had an awesome time at camp making new friends, connecting with my [team in mission] group, praising God through service and worship. I learned a lot about hope and what the Bible has to say about it.”
· “It was amazing, we had an awesome time...I loved every moment of camp. I learned that you can have hope for other people ‘serving Jesus by serving others.’”
STORM expects to be back in Faribault next year and is limited to 90 students. Organizers would love to partner with new youth groups, even ones that include just one or two students. They are also considering expanding STORM to another local church or two during a different week of the summer. If you are interested in becoming more missional in your community, contact Pastor Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404