Saturday, June 13, 2009

Youth put 'love thy neighbor' to work

Telegram Staff Writer

'Tell me more, tell me more, like does he have a car?'
That's a line out of 'Grease,' and it was coming from Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cameron.
More than a dozen girls in tank tops and ponytails were singing the tune Tuesday afternoon as they painted murals and cleared out lawn debris.
They were part of a youth group from Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, and they were on a mission to spruce up Cameron churches.
'We primed the walls, scraped the walls and painted them,' said Sara Wagner, a University of Texas sophomore. 'We redid the sign and did some weed-eating. We're pretty much making it all better.'
It's the Houston church's annual work camp. 'We've got 154 high school kids out here working,' said Carrie Olander, assistant coordinator. 'There's a summer staff of 27 college kids who help lead the work crews, and with the adults, we're a group of about 237.'
They arrived in Cameron on Sunday with a busy work schedule.
At Mt. Zion, their tasks were to complete the insulation installation on the interior, repaint the exterior, build a wheelchair-accessible ramp from the ground to the church door and mow the lawn.
'There were a lot of trees to clear out,' Laura Dunn, a high school junior from Houston. 'And a lot of overgrown brush. It's hard work, but it's at these work camps that I feel the closest to God.'
The students didn't just lend muscle to Mt. Zion. They shared a bit of creativity with the Cameron church as well.
'We've been painting these cool mosaics,' said Peyton Stathouse, a high school sophomore. 'They'll go on the front of the church. And we redid the sign for the front of the church; it'll have bigger, brighter letters and be easier to read.'
All of these projects were complete by Friday morning.
'It sure is wonderful work,' said Lonnie Lenued of Cameron, a deacon at Mount Zion. 'It helps us out a lot, and we surely appreciate the efforts of these fine kids.'
The five-day work camp wasn't limited to the Mt. Zion property. The young people lent their helping hands to the old gazebo in Cameron's city park, Progressive Missionary Baptist Church and the Blessings From God Food Pantry and Clothing Closet.
At Progressive, the youth painted walls and murals, and at the food pantry, they built a storage unit. The Rev. Ernest Taylor said the extra space will be of great help.
'The new clothes storage building measures at about 25 by 30,' Taylor said. 'The other one was much smaller, so we'll be able to organize the clothes we get in. Those kids did a magnificent job.'
Ricky Tow, Cameron city manager, said the youth work at the gazebo is fantastic.
'All the overgrowth was cleared out,' Tow said. 'The litter was picked up, and they cleaned up the signs of graffiti and vandalism. They've been a good help to the community.'
The Houston youth group also did some painting for Maysfield United Methodist Church.
'We get to help so many people,' said Jordan Lakner, a junior at Stratford High. 'We're the have's in a world of have not's, and it's our job to make sure they have a nice place to worship.'
By doing so, Lakner said he and his friends are able 'to be closer to God.'
That's the lesson of the Houston church's youth camp.
'As the have's, we're called to a higher responsibility,' said Steve Cragg, director of the youth group. 'We're called to improve the lives of our neighbors all we can - and not just the neighbors who down the street in Houston, our neighbors everywhere from Cameron to Africa.'
Through registration fees for the work camp and spare change collections, the Memorial Drive youth group raised about $4,000 for worldwide charities.
'Campers who can afford it pay $200 to register,' Cragg explained. 'Some of that helped pay for gas, but a good deal of it went to the Sacks of Hope program.'
Sacks of Hope include mosquito nets, tarps, pots, pans, buckets and fresh drinking water.
'They're sent to families in need, families in Africa and Southern Sudan,' Cragg said.
The Houston youth also raised the money for the paint and lumber needed to complete the Cameron projects.
'Sometimes people think we're ridiculous when we tell them we want to do the work and pay for it,' Ms. Olander said. 'But it's not about craziness or flaunting. We want to help our neighbors.'
While the Houston students were in Cameron, they stayed in Cameron High School. Evening activities consisted of Bible study, small group discussions, testimonials and skits.
'The boys slept in the old gym,' Cragg said. 'With sleeping bags all over the floor, it looked like a refugee camp.'
And the girls slept in the classrooms.
Bea's Kitchen provided all of the meals.
'The whole town gave us such a welcome,' Cragg said. 'It was a pleasure to be here.'
And Friday was a great day for the Houston youth group.
'It was Fun Day,' Ms. Olander said. 'We spent the day out at Belton Lake. There was volleyball, fun and good food.'
Fun and work, that's why they came.
'And that is a great way to experience God,' said Kayte Menotti, sophomore at Texas A&M.'

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