The following article was written and formatted in InDesign as a sample of Melissia's writing, editing and design work. A formatted PDF is available HERE.
ON A QUIET STREET IN CENTRAL RIGA SITS A HISTORIC WOODEN BUILDING, MARKED BY GRAFFITI AND OVERGROWN WITH VINES. Across the street is a school. Next door sits the Riga First United Methodist Church. A short walk away, the Freedom Monument reaches skyward. Museums, cathedrals, historic centers of government, cafés and outdoor markets engender the unmistakable character of Old Riga’s Center District.
First appearing on city records in 1824, the Akas Iela (Wells Street in English) wooden building is a historic gem among many in Old Riga. Renovations to the building were recorded in 1852, at which time it was home to the Von Wolff family of German-Baltic aristocrats.
In 1921, the US-based Methodist Mission Board purchased the property for use as a home for children who had been orphaned by the ravages of World War I.
By 1940, the Soviet Union had occupied Latvia, closing the Methodist Churches. The property was nationalized and converted to communal apartments. Over the 50 years of occupation in Latvia, the old wooden orphanage fell into disrepair.
In 1991, Latvia regained its freedom. The building was returned to its pre-occupation owners, the General Board of Global Ministry of the United Methodist Church.
As the Methodist Church began its post-Soviet reconstruction, the orphanage was deeded to the Hope Center of the Latvian United Methodist Church. The intention was that it would again be a beacon of hope to families all over Latvia.
THE HOPE CENTER
The Hope Center, located in the rural town of Liepa, provides a home for unwed mothers. One of the social issues that has concerned Latvians has been the low birth rate, and the high number of pregnancies in young girls who live in orphanages. These young women are given a choice: terminate the pregnancy or leave the orphanage. The Hope Center provides a place for these young women to live, have their babies, and learn life skills.
Because of Liepa’s rural location, the Hope Center encounters many limitations in helping mothers find access to transportation, housing, education and employment. The central location of the wooden building in Riga would greatly increase access to these vital services.
Gita Bināne, Director of the Hope Center, has created a plan for the use of the wooden building in Riga as a second Hope Center location. The plan would allow for expanded social services. In addition to the care of orphans and single mothers, the space could be utilized to provide counseling, assistance for children aging out of orphanages, professional consultations, medical support, and hospice care.
A MONUMENTAL CHALLENGE
Unfortunately, the Akas Iela wooden building has been rendered unusable by time and neglect. Concerned city officials, church members, and neighbors have long worried that the building poses a safety threat. However, it is protected, both by its location in the Historic District of Central Riga, as well as by the area’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.
Leaders of the church have considered whether the property should be sold to an organization that would be able to properly restore it, rather than attempt to use it for the Hope Center. However, the deed to the wooden building is tied to the property that is home to Riga First United Methodist Church, one of the country’s largest Methodist congregations. The site also houses the Latvian District Offices of the United Methodist Church. The heart and soul of Methodism in Latvia is indelibly linked to 13 Akas Iela. Sale of the property is simply not an option.
The Historical Preservation Board in Riga requires that certain elements of the historic structure be retained. After many years of discussion and debate, the Board has now agreed that the project can be completed in phases. In the first phase, the building itself will be dismantled to alleviate the immediate danger of the dilapidated structure. Within five years, the second phase - reconstruction - must begin. The reconstructed building must maintain the general appearance of the facade, as well as certain historical elements of the building.
The burden and cost of this project has presented a major problem for the Methodist Church in Latvia. The cost of the first phase is estimated at $50,000 (USD). For an organization whose annual budget for all work across the nation of Latvia averages less than $200,000, that figure is daunting.
Yet, the Methodist people of Latvia, and their friends around the world, still believe there is hope. Advocates of the Hope Center feel strongly that this central location is vital to expanding its reach to Latvians in need.
Architects have developed plans. Estimates have been obtained. Approval of the Riga Historical Society is in process. All that remains is for the Hope Center to raise adequate funds for the work of phase one to begin. A local historical foundation in Riga has pledged to provide some funding, once the permits are in place. For the remainder, the Hope Center will rely on donations.
There are 12 small Latvian Methodist congregations who are each committed to supporting the wooden building project. In addition, the international Friends of Latvia organization has been spreading the word to churches in the United States, England, Ireland and Denmark. To date, approximately $16,000 has been raised toward the first phase of preservation.
You have the opportunity to be a part of the effort to preserve this historic building, and restore hope to countless lives in the process. Donations may be made online via the United Methodist Missions giving portal located at www.umcmission.org. Search for project #00235A and indicate “Hope Center Wooden Building” in the memo of your tax-deductible gift.
If you have questions or would like to have someone speak to your group about the Riga wooden building project, contact Friends of Latvia. •
FRIENDS OF LATVIA is a group of individuals who join together to support the United Methodist Church in the Baltic nation of Latvia. Members come from all over the United States, Latvia, and other parts of Europe. friendsoflatvia.weebly.com | facebook.com/friendsoflatvia
The following is a sampling of press releases I have written over the past few years.
Historical Marker to be Dedicated in Grapevine
First United Methodist Church of Grapevine has been ministering to the City of Grapevine on the same site since the 1850's. The church was officially chartered in 1866. As a part of its 150th Anniversary Celebration in October 2016, First United Methodist Church of Grapevine applied for and was granted a Texas State Historical Marker. The marker has now been received from the foundry and will be placed this week. A brief dedication will be held at 10:40 a.m. this Sunday, March 25. All those interested in Grapevine history are invited to come join us for the dedication at 10:40 a.m., followed by Palm Sunday worship at 11:00 a.m..
If you are not available to come on Sunday, we encourage you to stop by any time to see this new historical addition to the City of Grapevine.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in Historic Downtown Grapevine. The marker will be placed in front of the large Sanctuary, which faces Scribner Street. For more information about the church and its ministries, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org.
Bilingual Worship in Grapevine
First United Methodist Church in Grapevine has offered a Bilingual Worship experience since 2009. Starting this Saturday, February 3, the bilingual service will be moving to Saturday evenings rather than Sunday mornings! The Bilingual Worship Service embraces the Spirit of God in "Fiesta" with excitement and newness by meeting people where they are. Rev. Armando Alvarado, who leads the service, shares that our hope is to create “a worship service where we recognize that the church of Jesus Christ is unified across cultures, languages, and even in our differences.”
Back when the service first began, Rev. Alvarado explained, "We want to be welcoming and inviting to all people, not just those who speak English. We're not doing this to make people become Methodist. It's open to all people of all denominations. We just want people to come and enjoy a sense of community." This goal remains the same today. You are invited to experience a worship fiesta with your neighbors, community and other families. Whether you speak Spanish or English, you will be engaged in the excitement of worshiping in the Hispanic tradition.
The Bilingual worship service will gather each Saturday at 6:00 p.m. in Founders Chapel at First United Methodist Church, located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in historic downtown Grapevine.
For more information contact the church office at 817-481-2559 or see the church's website, www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org.
Voices for Hunger Benefit Concert
Join the Fort Worth Chorale and First United Methodist Church Grapevine on Saturday, October 14, for a FREE concert benefiting the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Food Ministries of FUMCG. The Fort Worth Chorale will be singing selections from their October "Our Songs" concert, in addition to joint performances with the Adult Choirs of FUMCG. The concert begins at 3:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary of FUMC Grapevine (422 Church Street in Grapevine). If you're coming to the area for the Butterfly Flutterby, Grapevine Garden Club Sale, or Fall Roundup at Nash Farm, be sure to stay around for the concert. Come as you are!
This event is centered around coming together through music to fight hunger. The music for this performance celebrates choral singing from across the USA and the globe, including arrangements of Moonlight in Vermont, Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), The Yellow Rose of Texas, and others.
One hundred percent of the food and monetary donations will benefit those in need in our local communities. On any given day in North Texas, tens of thousands of families and individuals struggle with food insecurity and hunger. Although this is a FREE concert, we will be accepting monetary donations, as well as in-kind donations (listed below). All monetary donations will be split evenly between the two beneficiaries.
Most Needed Items: Canned Meat (tuna, chicken, ham, etc.), Canned Fruit, Canned Vegetables, Canned Soup & the following INDIVIDUALLY-SIZED items (for kid's backpacks): Easy Mac, Ramen noodles, Applesauce, Fruit cups, Pudding cups, Breakfast bars, Instant oatmeal
The following CANNOT be accepted: Glass Containers, Baby Food, Bottled Water, Soda
For more information about the sponsoring organizations, visit www.fortworthchorale.org, www.fumcg.org, or www.tafb.org.
New Senior Pastor - Rev. Jim McClurg
First United Methodist Church in Grapevine is excited to announce the appointment of their new Senior Pastor, Rev. Jim McClurg. Jim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church who has most recently served as pastor at Alliance United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. Jim has a BA in Psychology from the University of Illinois Chicago and a Master of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife Desirre have four children - Zachary, Madison, Jake and Morgan - and two grandchildren - Brody and Paisley. Desirre is a 5th grade teacher.
Jim shares, "My family and I are very excited about the new opportunity for ministry with our new church family, First United Methodist Church Grapevine. We are excited about developing deep and meaningful relationships with the congregation as we serve side my side as the body of Christ. We also look forward to many years of fruitful ministry together as we carry out the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
First United Methodist Church Grapevine is excited about the future of ministry under Jim's leadership. We invite you to rejoice with us and meet our new pastor and his family on Sunday, July 2. Worship will be at 10:30 a.m. in the Sanctuary, with a pot luck lunch to follow in the Family Life Center.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in historic downtown Grapevine. For more information about worship, classes, outreach to the community, and other ministries of the church, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call the church office at 817-481-2559.
Day of Service: Kids Against Hunger
Monday, January 16, Martin Luther King Day, has become known as a Day of Service. If you are looking for an opportunity to volunteer in the Grapevine area, First United Methodist Church invites you to help make a difference in the lives of hungry and malnourished children in the world. The Kids Against Hunger project involves packaging nutritious meals to be shipped to areas in the world where they are most needed. The church has set a goal this year to collect $10,000 which will provide 43,475 meals! We will package the meals on MLK Day, January 16 in the Family Life Center of First Methodist Church in Grapevine.
The packaging process is a great opportunity for families to volunteer together. We will package meals that are composed of rice, fortified soy containing 52% protein and nine vitamins, six types of dehydrated vegetables, and a chicken-flavored vitamin powder that contains another 21 vitamins and minerals. They will be sealed in plastic bags and then boxed, ready to go. The meals, once they reach their destination are prepared easily by cooking the bag contents in boiling water for 20 minutes. Individuals only need to eat one cup of the rice casserole daily to acquire all the essential requirements for development and growth. Each package contains six servings.
Pallets of food will be delivered to FUMC Grapevine, and volunteers will put them together into packages to be shipped around the world. We’ll need about 40 volunteers per shift (from 9 AM to 1 PM) to serve at stations with assigned tasks (like measuring a portion of soy, rice, seasoning, nutrients, etc. into a plastic bag, sealing, etc.). Each bag contains six meals (all dry), grouped, packed into a box and sealed for delivery. Children and youth are welcome to serve as well. Childcare is provided. If you’d like to help, register at www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org/kah. Please let us know if you will be taking advantage of childcare so that we can have enough nursery workers available.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in historic downtown Grapevine. For more information about this or other ministry opportunities, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call 817-481-2559.
Parenting Seminar: "Love and Logic"
First United Methodist Church in Grapevine will be hosting a 6-week Love and Logic seminar starting Wednesday, January 11. Love and Logic is proven curriculum that is known for providing positive parenting solutions & educational resources for healthy family relationships. According to the Love and Logic Fact Sheet, children learn the best lessons when they're given a task and allowed to make their own choices (and fail) when the cost of failure is still small. Children's failures must be coupled with love and empathy from their parents and teachers. This practical and straightforward philosophy is backed with 30 years of experience. Parents can apply it immediately to a wide range of situations, instead of struggling with difficult counseling procedures. Love and Logic uses humor, hope, and empathy to build up the adult/child relationship; emphasizes respect and dignity for both children and adults; provides real limits in a loving way; and teaches consequences and healthy decision-making.
FUMC Grapevine believes that teaching Love and Logic will be beneficial for the growth and faith development of families in our community. This seminar is open to all adults who interact with children - parents, grandparents, educators, etc. Classes will be held on Wednesdays, starting January 11, 6:15-7:45 PM in Room 2001 of FUMC Grapevine. The seminar will be taught bilingually (English/Spanish) by Hortencia Ibanez Loya. Hortencia has been a Community Liaison and a trainer for Parent Universities and Staff Development in Dallas ISD. She has trained other Community Liaisons and taught Love and Logic to parents in both English and Spanish speaking communities. She has been training parents for the past 12 years. The cost is $15 for the book, plus $4 suggested donation for a light snack supper provided each week.
To sign up, contact Lori B. Wolfe, Assistant to Family Ministries, at firstname.lastname@example.org by January 10. Please include your childcare needs (names and ages) in your RSVP.
First United Methodist Church Grapevine is located at 422 Church Street, just west of Main Street in downtown Grapevine. For more information about this and other opportunities, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org. To read more about Love and Logic, visit www.loveandlogic.com.
Parenting Seminar: "The Boundaries of Love"
First United Methodist Church in Grapevine would like to invite you to a parenting seminar exploring how parents can maintain boundaries of love with their children. The seminar will be on Wednesday, November 16, at 6:15 PM in Room 2001 at FUMC Grapevine (422 Church Street in Grapevine). In this workshop we will explore how a better understanding of boundaries can transform intimate relationships and parenting. Utilizing insights about the emotional brain from current neuroscience, we will go beyond love and logic to discover the keys to relational intelligence, productive (rather than destructive) conflict and restorative approaches to discipline and accountability.
Our leader, Charles Gaby, has 25 years of experience as a counselor and speaker. He is past president of the Tomkins Institute and now serves as Training Director for the Institute for Restorative Communities which provides training for Grapevine ISD. The pilot program he initiated here in 2012 saw reductions in disciplinary referrals of 70-80% in the three schools that undertook the program.
A snack supper will be provided; a donation of $4 per person is suggested, but not required. Please RSVP to Patty Bandy, Director of Family Ministries, at email@example.com or 817-481-2559 x129.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in historic downtown Grapevine. For more information about the church and its ministries, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call 817-481-2559.
First Methodist Grapevine Celebrates 150 Years
First United Methodist Church of Grapevine is excited to celebrate 150 years since the official charter of our church, back in 1866. The church has been on the same site since its beginning. From this historic land on Church Street, FUMC Grapevine has ministered to the Grapevine community through 15 decades of life's ups and downs. When the church began, Grapevine was mostly rough prairie and farm land. Through years of settlement, economic depression, wars, social change and tremendous area growth, FUMC Grapevine has continued to share God's love with Grapevine and surrounding communities.
We cherish our integral connection to Grapevine and its history, and invite the community to join us in celebrating our shared heritage. As a part of the celebration, we will host a free organ concert featuring world-class organist Bradley Hunter Welch at 6 PM on Saturday, October 8. We will gather together for one big celebration worship service at 10:30 AM on Sunday, October 9. We encourage anyone in the community - whether you are a member of the Methodist Church, another church, or any church at all - to join us in this milestone celebration.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in historic downtown Grapevine. For more information about First United Methodist Church Grapevine and its ministries, visit us online at www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call the church office at 817-481-2559.
Jane Rubietta to Speak at “The Well”
First United Methodist Church of Grapevine invites area women to join us Thursday, October 6, for a special gathering of The Well, a replenishing ministry for women. Well-known author and Christian women’s speaker, Jane Rubietta, will be our special guest speaker.
Jane will invite women into honest conversation and life-changing application through humor, vulnerability, and spiritual depth. She invites her audiences to tumble into Jesus’ arms and find the love they’ve been looking for. A retreat coordinator from Illinois has the following observation: “Jane Rubietta's willingness to be 'real' and vulnerable is one of her greatest assets as a speaker; attendees also described her as 'passionate', 'sensitive', 'godly', 'energizing'."
Join Jane at The Well at 7:00 PM on Thursday, October 6. The event will take place in the Family Life Center of First United Methodist Church at 422 Church Street in Grapevine, Texas. Tickets are $25 per person and include the program with Jane, special music and a catered dinner. They are on sale now in the church office and on the web at http://bit.ly/welltickets-oct2016. Childcare is provided with RSVP to Nursery Director Monica Lackey (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 817.481.2559 x145 by Monday, October 3.
For more information about First United Methodist Church Grapevine and its ministries, visit us online at www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call the church office at 817-481-2559.
Understanding Islam with Dr. Robert A. Hunt
What do you really know about Islam? What about the Quran? What does it really say? Would you like to know more? First United Methodist Church of Grapevine invites the people of Grapevine and surrounding communities to join us on Sunday, September 25, to learn more about the religion we hear and read about every day.
Dr. Robert A Hunt will conduct a session in the First Methodist Grapevine Sanctuary at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 25. Dr. Hunt is Director of Global Theological Education, Professor of Christian Mission and Interreligious Relations as well as Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies at Perkins Theological Seminary, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Dr. Hunt has a degree in History for the University of Texas in Austin and a Master of Theology at Perkins School of Theology (SMU). In 1985 he and his wife, Lillian, moved to Kuala Lumpur, where they taught at the Seminary Theology Malaysia. From 1993 to 1997 he taught at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore. In 1994 he received his PhD from the University of Malaya, focusing on Christian missions to and relationships with Muslims in Southeast Asia. From 1997 to 2004 he was pastor of the English Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna, and an adjunct professor at Webster University in Vienna. Dr. Hunt presently teaches courses in World Religions, Interreligious Dialogue, and Mission.
The program is presented by the Peace with Justice Task Force, a ministry of First United Methodist Church, Grapevine and is free of charge. Childcare is provided with RSVP to Nursery Director Monica Lackey (email@example.com or 817-481-2559 x145) by Monday, September 19.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in Grapevine. For more information about our church or to get directions, visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call the church office at 817-481-2559.
Parenting Seminar: Preparing for College
Parents, do you need tips on preparing financially for college? Do you know how to help your high schooler be prepared academically for the challenges that come in college education? First United Methodist Church of Grapevine invites area parents to join us Wednesday, September 21, for a special parent seminar, “Preparing for College Academics and Finances,” led by Erika Dietz. Erika is the leader of Guru Academics and Advising in Southlake.
Join us at 6:15 PM on Wednesday, September 21 in Room 2001 of our Family Life Center to get tips on how to prepare you and your teen for the college experience. A light snack supper will be provided. A suggested donation of $4 per person is gratefully accepted, but not required. Please RSVP to Family Ministries Director, Patty Bandy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-481-2559 x129.
First United Methodist Church is located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in Grapevine. For more information about First United Methodist Church Grapevine and its ministries, visit us online at www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call the church office at 817-481-2559.
First Methodist Grapevine Gets a "Refresh"
First United Methodist Church in Grapevine is clicking "refresh" on their Sunday morning schedule. The church has been working on plans for renovations to their Founders Chapel space. This warm worship environment has been beloved for worship, weddings, prayer vigils and other community services, but is in need of updates to the lighting, sound, HVAC and interiors. As the church "refreshes" Founders Chapel, Sunday morning worship services will shift to accommodate the work. Effective Sunday, September 11, the Sunday morning schedule will be:
8:15 AM - Traditional Communion Service in the Sanctuary
9:15 AM - Dedicated Hour of Sunday School for all ages
10:30 AM - Contemporary Worship in the Family Life Center
10:30 AM - Traditional Worship in the Sanctuary
11:45 AM - Bilingual Worship in the Sanctuary
Rick Schultz, chair of the church's Finance Committee, shared his thoughts regarding the changes: "I’m grateful for the different styles of worship. I like how the schedule makes pastors available for leadership during the dedicated hour of Sunday School. Most of all, my hope is that by moving the late service up half an hour, families will no longer choose between worship or a noontime activity; THEY CAN DO BOTH."
If you have been looking for a place to call your church home, now is a great time to visit First Methodist Church in Grapevine, located at 422 Church Street, one block west of Main Street in Downtown Grapevine. For more information about activities and events, please visit www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org or call 817-481-2559.
Latvian Bell Choir in Concert
Nestled along the Baltic Sea, the small country of Latvia harbors a wealth of culture, compassion and hope. A former Soviet state, Latvia regained its independence in 1991. Since then, the country has gradually grown its connections around the world. Specifically, the churches in Latvia have partnered with many churches across the world to grow together in faith and outreach to the community. Several churches in Texas and across the United States partner with churches in Latvia. For example, in the town of Cēsis (approximately 88 km from the capital city of Riga), the Baptist Church shares an on-going connection with the First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas. The Methodist Church in Cēsis shares a relationship with Smithfield United Methodist Church in North Richland Hills, Texas.
These on-going relationships have created opportunities for the churches to share together in various ministries. Latvia is known for its arts and music festivals, and so it is no surprise that the churches would share music with one another. The Cēsis Baptist Church has partnered with the Athens First Baptist Church to develop a bell choir, which has been visiting Texas since April 1. They have played in various venues so far, and will be headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Saturday, April 9. On Sunday morning, April 10, the Cēsis Bell Choir will play in worship services at First United Methodist Church in Grapevine. That evening, the choir will be in concert at Smithfield United Methodist Church in North Richland Hills.
Here are the details of Sunday's events:
All are invited to come enjoy the joining of faith and culture with our friends from Latvia!
First Baptist Church, Athens - www.lovingtheworld.com
Smithfield United Methodist Church - www.smithfieldumc.org
First United Methodist Church, Grapevine - www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org
The following was written for the daily Lenten devotionals of FUMC Grapevine, originally published Tuesday, March 11, 2014.
Parable of the Pearl
Read Matthew 13:45-46.
How can something—anything—be worth enough that you would sell everything you have to acquire it? Growing up, my family was always frugal. My parents set money aside for vacations and college tuition and retirement. I was taught to count the cost of things. So when I read this short parable, I’m taken aback. How in the world can one item—one physical possession—be worth enough to give up everything to get it?
No worldly possession could be worth so much… not to me anyway. But the Kingdom of Heaven… now, that’s something so wonderful that we could imagine giving up every single thing to achieve it.
The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of Heaven, though, is that we have a part in creating it. This priceless pearl is our legacy to the world. Every time we choose God’s way, we make our world a little bit more like the Kingdom of Heaven. Every time we remove a little of the world’s rough edges… every act of loving kindness we do, every Jesus-like quality we display molds our world into that priceless pearl.
God, guide us today in trading our kingdoms for the Kingdom of Heaven. Move our spirits so that we make a priceless, eternal contribution to the world. Amen.
The following article was written for "The Church at Work" - the electronic magazine of First United Methodist Church in Grapevine - Fall 2013 edition.
Anna steps into the crowded room with a shy smile. The toddler on her hip seems too heavy for her small frame. As the laughter and chatter in the room grow louder, a friend joins her in greeting the group. Their boys get down on the floor and start playing together. They’ve grown up together… moms and sons.
Anna’s smile hides strength, laced with worry. The time is coming soon when she’ll need to leave the Hope Center and begin her adult life. She’ll be given a flat (apartment) by social services, because she’s an orphan. But her flat is several towns over - not near her school, not near her support system at the Hope Center. She’ll have nothing… no job, no completed education, no furniture, no income. Just her son and her determination.
Anna’s story is one of many in Latvia that involve complex social issues, generational differences, and the growing pains associated with young lives coming into a post-occupation world fraught with change.
The Hope Center, for unwed (mostly teenage) mothers, is one of the outreach ministries of the small United Methodist Church in Latvia. The numbers in their congregations are few, but their desire to change lives for the better propels them forward.
Vera smiles and laughs as she shares stories about “her kids.” The 15-20 children (age 2-14) who have filled this room after school every day have become like her own. She mothers them, feeds them a hot meal (often their only one), helps them with their homework and teaches them about the love of Jesus. Tears fill her eyes as she tells how they begged and prayed that the After School program would continue. She couldn’t tell them for certain that it would.
Vera speaks animatedly about how some of the kids who also attend Sunday School got to go to Wesley Camp last summer. When they got back, they were so filled with joy that they wanted to share it with the other kids in their small community. So they asked Vera if they could have a camp right there in their “after school” room. They planned the program, created and distributed an invitation and led the activities. Vera and the congregation helped with food and Bible teaching. At first, the kids were disappointed that their 70 invitations resulted in only about 25 children in attendance. But after their first 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM day, the kids were relieved that they only had to deal with 25! The children planning and running the camp were between 10 and 12 years old.
The After School program is held in one room that is actually two apartments combined. These Soviet-era apartments provided 30 square meters of space per family (about 320 square feet). Originally, the space served as the Methodist Church in Liepa. When the church was able to get a building of its own, the room in this apartment building was retained for use as the After School program.
Due to a gift from a donor through our church, the After School program will be able to open again this school year. This donation will keep it open until they find out whether they have received a grant from the General Board of Global Ministries. Our team also left a financial gift to help Vera provide something special for the children, at her discretion.
Meanwhile, in Prague… another small program for children and moms is growing at the English Speaking United Methodist Church (ESUMC). Under the direction of Rev. Michelle McKinnon-Young, the new church start is growing relationships with the locals who live near their location. The program is designed to teach English to both the children and the mothers, providing vital skills for their future.
In addition to teaching English, the ESUMC also provides worship in English on Sunday afternoons. This ministry draws English-speakers of all ethnicities, including many who are just “passing through” and want a place to worship. Worship is held in the same building as the Czech worship service, which is also the location of the Czech District offices. There are about 200,000 English-speakers in Prague, and the Methodist Church hopes to reach more and more of them. The ministry is currently supported primarily by Michelle’s home Conference in Tennessee.
It’s a slow, complicated process to start (or restart) a church in a country that is full of skeptics. Many citizens of both the Czech Republic and Latvia are wary of associating with religion. Some don’t want to admit affiliation with any organization. Others view religion as a crutch, only necessary for the weak. Still others fear persecution for their beliefs. The years of occupation in both countries color their perspectives and loom at the back of their minds. Occupation is not too far removed. The memory is vivid and recent… too close for comfort.
How, then, shall we move forward? Those of us who visited Prague and Latvia have made friends there. They remain in our hearts and on our minds as we return to “life as usual.” We don’t know yet what our future involvement will be with Eastern Europe. But we can’t forget what we now know.
We’ve received not just a history lesson, but a lesson in trying to bring joy to hopelessness… color to gray... light into darkness. It takes some time to turn things around… to build trust and common bonds. As we move forward into this uncertain future, our hope is that somehow we can make a difference.
Published: Saturday, June 15, 2002 in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal
This article, titled, "Finding God's Glory," was written by Melissia Mason for The LakeRidge United Methodist Church Newsletter. It describes how God's presence can be seen wherever we may be:
Waves crashed against the white sand of Laguna Beach. I stood just close enough to get my feet wet, yet not so close as to be pulled into the high tide. Nearby surfers dared the waves to take them out into the Pacific Ocean. The surge of the sea was mesmerizing.
I have returned from a vacation in California. The area I visited is known for the glamour of Hollywood, freeways teaming with luxury cars, and playgrounds for the rich and famous. Yet what I saw most was the glory of God's creation.
Sunshine and 70-degree temperatures greeted me each morning. Each drive took me past gardens teaming with blossoms. Every roadside was landscaped. Every beach seemed new. Every cloud was chased away by the noonday sun. God's creativity amazed me anew each day.
You might think that my return to Lubbock was a disappointing sight. Not so. Yes, I saw God's power in the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. But I also saw his power in the lightning strikes outside my airplane window. Yes, I reveled in the scent of fresh flowers. But I also reveled in the scent of grass recently doused with spring rain.
Upon my return to Lubbock, the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Southern California was replaced with a leisurely drive. The lingering smog on the horizon was replaced with farmland as far as the eye can see.
I have found that God meets us no matter where we are. Sometimes we long for the beauty and excitement of faraway places. But faraway places do not have the monopoly on beauty and excitement.
God's power may be in your family, in creations, or in circumstances God has orchestrated. Look for God's splendor all around you. It's there ... if only we will allow our eyes to see it.
The following paper was written for a graduate-level course in New Media, taught by Dr. Robert Schihl. It is posted here as a sample of writing style, and has not been revised or updated for today's considerations.
New and Emerging Media and Communication Technologies and Their Influence on Volunteerism: A Christian Perspective
by Melissia Mason
Although technology has made life easier in many ways, the fact remains that some needs must be filled by an actual person. For non-profit organizations, the charity and physical presence of volunteers is required to sustain many of their activities. Volunteers are needed for a wide variety of activities that benefit communities. Some volunteer activities are done through local churches, while others are a part of civic or other non-profit organizations. Much of the work to feed and clothe the needy, disseminate vital information, or increase quality of life is performed by volunteers.
Although technology seems to be a logical answer to many non-profit needs (marketing, fund-raising, information dissemination, etc.), one might think that technology has little or no influence over the people-based volunteer aspect of non-profit organizations. However, the use of communication technologies now has a vital impact on volunteerism in the United States. Emerging technologies have created both outlets for “virtual volunteers” and innovative ways to connect people with volunteer opportunities in their interest areas.
Historically, volunteers have been difficult to recruit. Since more and more families rely on two incomes, a major source of volunteer recruits – stay-at-home-mothers – has been lost (Wylie 170, Hammonds and Jones 100). Keith Hammonds and Sandra Jones reported that the rate of volunteerism in the United States had declined to 94.2 million in 1991, according to an Independent Sector study (100). Independent Sector reports that volunteerism for 2001 was at 83.9 million (“Giving and Volunteering”). This constitutes a drop of almost 11 percent in volunteerism in ten years. The statistics reported from the United States Department of Labor for 2003 show an even greater decline. The report states that there was a rise in volunteers from the previous year, resulting in a volunteerism rate in the United States of 63.8 million, or 28.8 percent of the population (U.S. Department of Labor 1).
For churches, the need for volunteers can be crucial to the ability to minister. Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, notes that even this large congregation has a point at which the funds are no longer available to hire more staff members (75). In order to continue to expand ministries, the church must increase its number of volunteers. In the case of Willow Creek, the need is to double its number of volunteers from 7,000 to 14,000 (Hybels 76).
People may have the desire to help, but they are busy with their own lives and careers. Even in the church, people may see the need for volunteering in ministry, but see time as a barrier. One Willow Creek employee describes this as “laying heavy ministry burdens on already-busy people” (Hybels 76). In 2002-2003, the number one reason people gave for ceasing volunteer activities was a lack of time (U.S. Department of Labor 13). This perceived lack of time creates a dilemma for non-profit organizations: How do we find volunteers who are willing and able to help us?
Technology and Volunteer Recruitment
Recruitment of volunteers can be a frustrating venture for non-profit organizations. However, emerging technologies have added an entirely new source from which to draw volunteers: Internet users. The convenience of the Internet is now being used by hundreds of volunteer organizations to locate and draw in valuable volunteers.
Do-it, a British volunteer recruitment organization, has allocated their entire marketing budget to online activities, including the recruitment of volunteers through banner advertisements and tailored email lists (Walker 11). The Volunteer Center of Lubbock, a volunteer recruitment organization in Lubbock, Texas, relies on its web site to make the community aware of urgent needs and to advertise on-going volunteer needs in the community. The national United Way agency is also posting volunteer opportunities on the web, just as regular employment opportunities are posted on company sites. These are just a few examples of the non-profit organizations that are now recruiting volunteers via the Internet.
In addition to individual organization sites, many websites are now emerging which provide directories of organizations and listings of volunteer opportunities. Extensive sites like volunteermatch.org and 1-800-volunteer.org include search features which allow site visitors to match their specific talents and interests to volunteer opportunities in their area. Impact Online, the organization behind the volunteermatch.org website, reports approximately 40,000 visitors each month to the site (“High-Tech” 33).
New technology holds promise in attracting younger citizens to engaging in civic activity as well. Those who have been raised up in the “net” generation are finding an increasing need to make significant contributions to the world, especially in the months and years after the September 11 attacks (Ellin). Department of Labor statistics show an increase in volunteering over the past year in the 16-24 and 25-34 age categories (2). If the Internet can be used to connect with and motivate young people, then they might be encouraged to volunteer for non-profit organizations, ministries, community events and civic organizations (Carpini 348).
Although the presence of volunteer opportunities posted online adds to the convenience of finding a place to volunteer, it does not compensate for the lack of time which many people cite as their main reason for not volunteering. However, a new era of “virtual volunteerism” is helping to make volunteering more convenient for busy people.
Randy Tyler, volunteer coordinator and webmaster at Macdonald Youth Services in Winnipeg, was desperate for volunteers. After going online to recruit volunteers, Tyler found that there is a wealth of talent and expertise just waiting to be tapped. One example Tyler gave of a successful virtual volunteering partnership involved a gentleman who responded to one of Tyler’s online advertisements and subsequently programmed an entire database, which he then e-mailed to Tyler. The organization even ended up using a logo designed by a Ukranian man (Hawaleshka 43). Not only was a need filled with “virtual volunteers”, but the transition into web-based volunteer recruiting also facilitated cooperation between individuals and organizations from opposite sides of the world.
Virtual volunteerism is reminiscent of careers which allow telecommuting or working from the home. The assignments given to virtual volunteers can usually be completed from the home with the help of a telephone or computer and Internet access. According to the Service Leader Virtual Volunteering website, jobs typically involve either technical assistance or direct contact (“Examples of Virtual Volunteering”). The “Examples of Virtual Volunteering” article goes on to list many different virtual volunteer opportunities, including:
Virtual volunteering opportunities open doors for those who may not be able to volunteer through traditional means. In addition to those who are constrained by time and family responsibilities, there are many eager potential volunteers who are elderly, live in remote areas, or suffer disabilities (de Raad). Technology now enables individuals under such prohibitive circumstances to participate fully in society, including volunteering from the home.
Technology and the Culture of Volunteerism
The migration of volunteerism toward cyberspace can raise concerns regarding the development of community and personal contact. If, as Annette Petrick asserts, “the biggest reason why people don’t volunteer is because no one asked them to” (L61), then what constitutes “asking”? Does posting a website with lists of volunteer opportunities suffice? Or do people require personal contact before they will pursue volunteer work?
Drawing a parallel between evangelism and recruiting volunteers, Bill Hybels points out that one key to evangelism is developing a relationship (78). If successfully recruiting volunteers involves knowing their individual interests, having a personal relationship with them, and then asking them to volunteer… where does that leave all of the organizations who recruit online?
Obviously, the online volunteer matching services have filled some need or they would not be so successful. However, we must remember that recruiting volunteers cannot become a computerized, impersonal task. Matching volunteers with opportunities to serve can be complicated and often requires compassion, patience and personal contact. Letting people know what jobs or opportunities are available is only one small part of the task of recruiting and retaining volunteers. Conveying benefits, determining volunteer capabilities, inviting to serve, following up, and mentoring are just a few of the factors that also contribute to a pleasant volunteering experience (Petrick L60-61).
Bill Hybels asserts that we should “create a culture in which the value of volunteerism is upheld and where staff members and lay leaders are taught how to move church members into the best possible volunteer niches” (79). Although Hybels is describing the need for a culture of volunteerism within the church, this same need may be applied to any other non-profit organization. Creating a culture of volunteerism is what encourages others to serve. Perhaps one of the ways to translate this culture into cyberspace is through the personal interactions that take place in discussion threads, chat rooms, and listservs.
Whether the issue is developing a culture of volunteerism or matching volunteers to their perfect niche, it is clear that the use of technology as a matching facilitator should be an addition to (not a replacement for) personal interaction. Developing relationships with people, determining their interests, and then asking for their involvement seems to be key to promoting volunteerism.
New technologies are often motivated by profit. However, Jason Willett, director of communications for Impact Online (volunteermatch.org), asserts that emerging technologies are found to be especially significant if they create “lasting and valuable social benefits as well” (258). The lasting and valuable benefits that the Internet (and other new technologies as they emerge) can have toward encouraging service through volunteerism are profound.
Providing information is the function of many Internet sites, and non-profit organizations should be no different. Organizations who post volunteer opportunities online are expanding their audience and attracting a new set of untapped talent. One of the grand benefits of online volunteer matching must be the relative inexpensive of posting opportunities, a factor which is likely on the minds of non-profit organizations.
In addition to the added exposure for volunteerism, the possibilities inherent in new technologies allow for creative new ways of getting things done. Volunteers who can work from home and volunteer around busy schedules may be more likely to accept the challenge. Virtual volunteerism holds great promise for fulfilling the needs of non-profit organizations.
Beyond the excitement of technological innovation in volunteerism, volunteer work is based in a desire to serve. A focus on the needs of others is what is required of individual volunteers and the organizations for which they work. Many churches have become self-centered, looking inward instead of out at the world around them. We, as Christians, can learn much from other non-profit organizations which have seen the possibilities that technology presents and embraced them for the benefit of all.