By: Karla Hovde
Twenty-nine United Methodists from across Minnesota participated in a family mission trip in the rural Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky for nine days in mid-June. They ranged in age from 4 to 83 and came from five churches scattered between the far northwest and the southeast corners of the state.
While there, the Minnesota team rebuilt and painted fences, repaired a community playground, hauled gravel, and built a porch. But they also had eye-opening experiences while crossing economic, social, and political divides to find common ground through service to God.
The setting for the trip, sponsored by the Minnesota Conference and led by Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, was the Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Kentucky. The settlement serves 23,000 people who live in extreme poverty in the surrounding areas. It includes a large community services center and serves as a base for hundreds of mission trip volunteers who come from across the country. The settlement also operates an after-school program, a thrift shop, a greenhouse, a food shelf, community meals, and a farm. Founded in 1925, the Henderson Settlement is a ministry of The United Methodist Church.
Families serving together
Rev. Lyndy Zabel regularly gets phone calls from Minnesota United Methodists asking for mission trip opportunities for the whole family. While most trips target youth groups or adults, the Henderson Settlement takes volunteers of all ages. said Zabel, the Minnesota Conference’s director of community engagement and one of the co-leaders of the trip. It is intentionally intergenerational.
Becky Boland, the other co-leader of the trip and the director of planned giving for the Minnesota United Methodist Foundation, brought her 8-year-old daughter along.
“The best way to show children the value of a global church and the value of service and mission is to do it with them,” she said. “I can’t just talk about it; I have to model that behavior for my daughter.”
Jenna Porter, a sophomore at the University of North Dakota, and her mother, Janelle Porter, who is a nurse, participated in the Henderson Settlement mission trip. Members of Wesley UMC in Crookston, both women felt it was a blessing to be able to experience the week with each other. Jenna Porter said that the most meaningful part of the trip was “being able to serve and learn about a community that I would not typically be able to experience in Minnesota.” She added: “Seeing how thankful members of the community were and hearing stories of gratitude from the community really made me feel as though we were making a difference.”
“To see the culture first-hand allowed us to have a true understanding of what the people of the Appalachians experience day-to-day, and it was very eye-opening,” added Janelle Porter. It impressed upon her the amount of work that is yet to be done in that part of the country. “It has also reinforced that those material items in our lives have very little value compared to the value of our family, friends, and, most importantly, our faith.”
Partners in ministry
Karl Schultz, a 17-year-old who attends Mora UMC, went on the mission trip with his church youth group.
His small group’s job was to install soffit on the porch of a house that was built four years prior. “One of my favorite parts of this job was that the man we were helping used to be in construction and was a carpenter as well, and he was able to give us many ideas and tips on what we were supposed to do,” said Schultz. “This allowed us to truly work with him instead of for him!” Working and learning together created a much richer experience and allowed the group and the man to be partners in ministry.
“Service projects and mission trips like this always remind me to be thankful for the gifts that God has given me,” said Schultz. “I have a nice home, plenty of food, a loving family, a great church community, and so much more! Giving back and helping others in need is something I hope to be able to continue doing for as long as I can!”
The trip to Henderson included parents with children, grandparents with children, individuals, and the Mora UMC youth group. Participants said the intergenerational dynamic made it especially meaningful.
“It’s so cool to see your 8-year-old go on a mission trip and see her faith deepen,” said Boland. “She saw a different side of church.”
Zabel already has youth from this year’s trip asking when they can sign up for the next mission trip. “We absolutely will do a family mission trip each summer going forward,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when and where.” He also hopes to plan another trip to the Henderson Settlement within the next few years.
Zabel and Boland emphasized that the great thing about having a conference-wide trip like this is that no individual church needs to pull together 20 to 30 people and all the resources to participate. Any church can send 10 people, five people, or even just one individual.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church