BY LINDA RHODES
Four young adults serving as missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries are attending this year’s Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference to tell their stories and encourage support for the GBGM Mission Intern and US-2 programs.
All four helped lead Wednesday morning’s opening worship and are giving their testimonies to close business sessions.
Hannah Hanson, a 25-year-old from Mt. Olivet UMC in Arlington, Va., just completed three years serving in South Africa and Orlando, Fla., as a GBGM missionary in the Mission Intern program.
Mission Interns, ages 20-30, commit to a three-year program of leadership development serving half the time in an international assignment and half in the intern’s home country, based on the understanding that work for social justice is fundamental to living out their faith.
Hanson worked in South Africa providing training in community agriculture, poultry farming and fish pond management – areas in which she had no experience. The goal was to teach people how to grow enough not only to sustain their families but also to have enough left over to sell for additional income.
“I spent a lot of time researching and learning from students who had done this before,” Hanson said. “Being a missionary means being flexible and being able with integrity to best teach or support whatever ministry you’re doing.”
Hanson now will serve as a mission interpreter for young adult missionaries, a newly created position with GBGM, working out of GBGM’s New York headquarters.
Stephanie Kimec, 26, is a member of St. Mark’s UMC in Midlothian, Va. For the past year she has been a US-2 working as an immigration task force coordinator for the California-Pacific Conference and serves as a justice disciple for immigrant-welcoming congregations.
US-2s are young adults ages 20-30 who serve for two years in a social justice and leadership development program by working in faith-based agencies and community organizations throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In California, Kimec coordinates neighborhood immigration clinics that are held in churches and staffed with church volunteers, “So the churches can build relationships with the communities and so our neighbors will know that the churches are hospitable and welcoming.”
Kimec said she first felt a call to do mission work when missionaries from the Virginia Conference made a presentation at her church. Once she completes her US-2 service, she plans to begin the process to become an elder in the Virginia Conference.
She encourages church members to talk openly about the mission and ministry they are doing.
“It inspires young people, it inspires everyone,” she said. “And it is so important to the life of the church.”
Zachary Ferguson, 24-year-old from First UMC of Martinsville, Va., currently serves as a US-2 in Memphis, Tenn., working with the Workers Interfaith Network supporting workers’ rights.
Ferguson said he cares about social justice and is driven to do something to make a difference in the world. But he didn’t think the church offered him a way to do that.
“I wanted to live out the ministry of Jesus without being confined by four walls,” he said. “I thought that was impossible in the church.”
Ferguson had never heard of the GBGM young adult mission programs. He was on the RethinkChurch.org website and clicked on the link to a story. The link took him to the GBGM website. He kept trying to get to the story he wanted, but the link kept taking him to GBGM.
“It made me mad, so I just closed my browser,” Ferguson said.
But later, he read a quote by Howard Thurman in “Jesus and the Disinherited”: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it. Because the world needs people who have come alive.”
The quote reminded him of the young adult mission programs he had seen on the GBGM website, so he checked them out and ended up volunteering.
In Memphis, Ferguson affiliated with St. Luke’s UMC and has started a Sunday school class for young adults.
“We are trying to live so we get outside the four walls of the church to connect with the community,” Ferguson said.
Rachel deBos, 22, is a US-2 from southern California now serving with Haitian Emergency Assistance and Legal Aid in South Florida Urban Ministries. Started after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, HEAL offers free immigration services and other needs, including food, clothing and school supplies.
“I’m learning that the hardships to become a U.S. citizen or even a lawful resident are very real,” she said.
She said she became a US-2 as the result of “spontaneous calling God placed in my life when I didn’t even know I needed it.”
In the space of one week, two people – one in her church and one outside the church – told her about the GBGM mission program.
“I felt like that was a big sign from God, so I looked into it, and it felt right,” deBos said. I had just graduated from college and I was in limbo. It happened very fast, within six months. But I don’t regret anything about it. It was the best decision I’ve made so far.”
For more on the GBGM Mission Intern and US-2 programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org.