UM camp teaches youth the value of missions

By Casey Northcutt, Special Contributor…

PADUCAH, Ky.—Red trays clattered along metal rails as people filed through the serving line at the Paducah Community Kitchen. Teenagers and their adult chaperones piled food onto each plate, smiling as they handed out the day’s meal to those in need.

One young volunteer broke into song.

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day,” she belted, and soon the other servers joined in.

“And when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May,” sang Marcus Ivie, 16.

Rebecca O’Brien, director of student ministries at Broadway UMC in Paducah, Ky., huddles up with her team on the first day of PUMP camp. PHOTOS BY CASEY NORTHCUTT

Singing everything from worship music to Motown, the group served food as a part of the Paducah Urban Missions Plunge (PUMP), a United Methodist youth camp in Paducah, Ky. For four days in June, the team members scooped food onto plastic plates and delivered meals in boxes to people’s doors. They volunteered for the kitchen as well as for another food resource center in town.

Watching the poverty-stricken and the lonely pass through his lunch line that week, Marcus grew thankful.

“[God] taught me to be grateful for the friends and family I have,” he said.

Concord UMC in Paducah, Ky., envisioned this missions experience and as a result, established PUMP Camp 14 years ago. Other churches and leaders have become involved since then. Along with the camp’s spiritual director, the Rev. Gregory Waldrop from Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, organizers hoped to teach teens ranging from 6th grade to 12th how to evangelize through kindness and acts of service.

This year, campers volunteered at an orphan ministry, two human needs centers, a homeless shelter and two soup kitchens. The Rev. Ben Northcutt from Oakland UMC in Benton, Ky., and Palma UMC in Palma, Ky., served as the camp’s evangelism teacher. He hoped to show campers that they could serve others and share their love for Christ on a daily basis.

“My personal goal for campers was for them to leave camp feeling like the kind of mission work that they did during the week could be done in the course of ‘real life,’” he said. “You leave most camps really having enjoyed the week but unsure of what [practical lessons] you can take home. I wanted students to take part in the kinds of volunteer work and missions that a student or adult could make a regular part of their life.”

Marcus Ivie, 16, spreads cling wrap on a bowl of cookies at the Paducah Community Kitchen as part of his volunteer service. PHOTOS BY CASEY NORTHCUTT

For a fee of $99, youth from all over the Memphis Conference came to serve and learn at PUMP Camp. The roster included teens and leaders from Lone Oak UMC, Fountain Avenue UMC, Benton First UMC, Alamo First UMC, Broadway UMC, Lighthouse UMC, Palma UMC and Pleasant Hill UMC. Teens spent the night at the Broadway church and then spent their mornings sorting through donated items, cleaning windows or piling mashed potatoes onto plates.

They served for four hours each day, providing a summer break to each ministry’s regular volunteers.

Gilda Martin, director of the Acts of Compassion Through Service (ACTS) ministry, became emotional at the sight of about 10 kids organizing and cleaning a donations warehouse in her charge.

“When I saw that bus, I just had to sit there and cry because I thought that here on the Heartland Worship Center parking lot was a bus of these kids who came to volunteer and help,” she said.

Campers hold a worship service atop a rock in Dixon Springs State Park in southern Illinois. PHOTOS BY CASEY NORTHCUTT

Not all of PUMP Camp involved hard and tedious labor. After receiving daily evangelism training from Northcutt, youth went out into public places like the local mall or park to wander the areas, listening for the Holy Spirit. Mr. Northcutt told them that if the Spirit moved them, they should walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Maybe, he said, a spiritual discussion would develop.

And, of course, campers also spent time playing and socializing. They line danced one night and climbed rocks at Dixon Springs one afternoon. Through it all, they constantly received spiritual encouragement from camp leaders.

Susan Engle, Lay Resource Leader for the Paducah District and Chair of the Memphis Conference Intentional Discipleship Action Team, served as a chaperone and felt strongly about the camp’s benefit to teens.

“The week is very inexpensive as opposed to many mission/camp experiences,” she said. “It is well organized and the mission work is needed and appreciated. The volunteer staff is warm and welcoming, and it is a unique opportunity to share God in ways that are real and genuine with the community.”

PUMP camp participants serenade customers with a song at the community kitchen. PHOTOS BY CASEY NORTHCUTT

One camper had such a genuine community experience that he volunteered at a local ministry the day after camp ended.

Sixteen-year old Cody Greene, from Lone Oak UMC, spent his time at camp serving food alongside Marcus Ivie at the community kitchen. But during the week, he heard a friend talk about sorting clothing at the ACTS ministry. Her experience got his attention, and that Saturday, he showed up at the warehouse to help give donated items to people in need.

Cody stood by the ministry’s door for hours. Each time someone left with donations, he helped them load their car with sheets, toys and clothing. With every lift of a box, the young man ministered through service—just as he’d learned at camp.

For more information about Paducah Urban Missions Plunge and for articles and photos from the 2012 camp, visit

Ms. Northcutt is a freelance writer in Calvert City, Ky. This article first appeared in the Memphis Conference weekly eNews.

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