“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick, or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them,

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.'”

Matthew 25:37-40

This summer, 25 Maumee Valley Conference youth and adult leaders embarked on a new adventure – serving in our own backyard. Our base was Camp Palmer, and it was the perfect setting. Each day we ventured out – 2 days in Toledo, 1 day in Napoleon, a day of fun at Kalahari, and 1 day at camp for team building, learning about the Hunger Network in Ohio, and dinner church.

Mission trips are more productive when the group works as a team. So, our time spent team building with Kristy Helberg was both eye-opening and important. She taught the group how to make a plan, listen to one another, and revise the plan as needed. ALL important life skills. We plan to go back to Camp Palmer in October for more team building adventures.

The Hunger Network in Ohio helped us think differently about serving others. We don’t just swoop in, do a few things, and then leave. We ask questions, we listen to the stories of the people we serve. And we serve with respect. We look for ways to form new partnerships as we serve side-by-side.

Dinner church reminded us that Jesus in everywhere. People can come together while eating a meal. Church doesn’t need to happen in a specific building. We can gather around a table to hear scripture and a message, sing familiar songs and pray. Pastor Mary Beth brought dinner church to camp.

Our time in Toledo was wonderful. At St. Paul we learned about the history of the church and the history of its early beginnings [ghost included!] We build bed frames with Let’s Build Beds. They let us use power tools! 🙂 We plan to partner with them in the future to help deliver the beds to children [there are 650 children on a waiting list to receive beds] and to have a Maumee Valley Conference bed building party in 2024.

Faith Lutheran Church in Swanton has an amazing pollinator garden and vegetable garden along with an awesome outdoor worship space complete with Stations of the Cross. We picked vegetables there to take to Salem Lutheran Church in Toledo.

More power tools were used at Salem: to build raised flower beds, a picnic table, and a pallet tree protector. Black-eyed Susans were planted in the flower beds. Pastor Mike and the people of Salem are giving their all to beautify the vacant lot across from the church, feed those in need in the area, and lovingly walk beside the young people of the community.

My heart melted when we went to Soaring Arts in Napoleon. Some went to the Humane Society to paint a mural. Some learned balloon art and then they delivered their creations to the residents of Filling Home. Some worked on butterflies for a recovery program. Even if art isn’t your thing, there was something for everyone. New friendships were made and there were hugs all around. We are going back in September to finish the mural at the Humane Society, and using our balloon art skills for Rally Day!

Our young people were sad to leave Camp Palmer on Saturday. There were hugs and tears as an amazing week wrapped up. But there are plenty of ideas and opportunities swirling around for bringing everyone together again – and inviting others to join in the fun.

Part of the idea behind Service Learning Camp was getting to know ministry sites in our backyard, so that we could build sustaining relationships that lasted beyond a week. We have plans to return to many of the service sites in the next few months. The hidden benefit was the flexibility for students and adult leaders who couldn’t stay for the whole week because of sports or work or doctors appointments or family stuff.

They came back! Whether it was for a day or a few days or just a few hours to swim, the community we had built in just a few short days continued to draw folks back to camp through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was amazing to see!