By: Christa Meland
Torin Shaw wasn’t too thrilled when his parents signed him up for STORM Camp five or six years ago. But after a week of serving people in need and seeing how God was working through the campers, his heart was transformed and he made a commitment to follow Christ.
The soon-to-be high school senior, who attends Cornerstone UMC in Marshall, has returned to STORM Camp every year since. He hopes to one day become a youth pastor so he can help others have the same life-changing experience he had.
Shaw is among 60 youth who served the Marshall community last week through STORM Camp, which stands for “Service to Others in Relational Ministry.” Through STORM Camp, now 25 years old, youth spend a week completing service projects in the community and worshiping each morning and evening.
“The main thing is that they get the idea that to follow Jesus is to give yourself in service to other people—putting Matthew 25 into practice,” said Rev. David Brown, who started STORM Camp, which is in Faribault this week. “We are building relationships with the community in a way that is helping those individuals and making their lives better. When participants go home, they can find people in their own communities to serve in the same way.”
People from more than 10 churches and several denominations participated in last week’s STORM Camp in Marshall. In addition to the 60 students, more than a dozen adults served as leaders, drivers, and musicians in the worship band.
Each year, well in advance of the start of camp, volunteer leaders advertise in local papers, distribute bulletin inserts to area churches, and contact social service agencies to ask for help in identifying families with projects that they are unable to do themselves.
Campers in Marshall completed dozens of projects for more than 60 families throughout the week. Projects included demolishing and rebuilding a deck, weeding, painting, removing trees and shrubbery, insulating a garage, cleaning, and extending a driveway.
Youth were placed into five-person teams with other students they didn’t know, and each team went to a different work site every day. During evening worship, campers reflected on their experiences as a large group and shared God moments from throughout the day.
‘God comes…through us’
Lizah Block, who attends Sebeka UMC and will be a freshman this fall, said hearing the stories of the people she helped is the most rewarding part of camp. Her group spent a day weeding and cleaning at a woman’s house, and she was thrilled when the woman invited the group to do morning devotions with her.
“I’m learning that as we serve others, we’re serving Jesus too because he doesn’t want us to just sit at home,” she said. “What we’re doing is bringing the kingdom. Some people that we serve haven’t gone to church in forever…we’re trying to re-ignite a fire for them to believe in God.”
Ben Ackermann, who attends First Lutheran Church in Lake City and will also be a freshman this fall, said the best part of STORM Camp is seeing how grateful people are for the work that the youth do.
“I’ve learned that God comes in many forms,” he said. “He is in the preaching of Pastor Dave [Brown] every night and every morning. He is in the people who we serve…God comes to them through us.”
David Hodd first attended STORM Camp at age 13. “That’s the year I gave my life to Christ,” he said. The next year, he felt a call to ministry, which gave him the direction for his life. Hodd now attends North Central University, where he’s majoring in biblical and theological studies, and he plans to go to seminary after he earns his undergraduate degree. This summer, he’s interning for STORM Faith Community, STORM Camp (where he’s a group leader), and Mount Bethel UMC through the Minnesota Conference’s ELI Project program, which is for college students exploring a call to vocational ministry.
“My big thing is service,” he said. “STORM Camp takes service to the level that Jesus talked about when he said, ‘Take care of the widows and the orphans.’” Service is more than holding the door open for people before and after worship and ushering, he said.
Rev. Wane Souhrada, who serves Stewartville UMC, came to STORM Camp for the first time with his grandson. His church recently completed the conference’s Healthy Church Initiative, and he saw many similarities between the two. HCI, a transformational process to help churches revitalize, encourages churches to really get to know their mission field and to identify and meet needs in their communities. STORM Camp does that effectively, he said.
STORM Camp has taken place in various communities over the years since its founding. Brown ultimately wants to help churches in those communities continue the STORM Camp vision long after campers are gone.
“Part of our goal now…is to help churches in those areas get a vision for being a missional community,” he said. “What I hope to have happen is that after five years in each community, we’ll leave and they’ll have mission groups to go out and do what we’re doing all year long.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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