School of Christian Mission successor off to strong start

By Doni and Fred Martin
Special Contributors

CONWAY— Hendrix College welcomed 261 participants to its campus for this summer’s Mission u, held July 31 to Aug. 3, 2013. The event centered on the theme, “Learning Together for the Transformation of the World.”

Known for decades as the Arkansas Conference School of Christian Mission, under the guidance of this year’s mission team and the direction of the National Office of the United Methodist Women, it took on the name “Mission u.”

Mission u is sponsored annually by the Arkansas Conference Board of Global Ministries, Arkansas Conference United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. The Rev. Pam Estes, pastor of Lakeside UMC Pine Bluff, was chosen to serve as dean during this year of transition.

“Mission u is a cooperative mission education opportunity,” Estes said. “That’s why we love having children, youth and adults of every age. Mission education is a priority not only of the UMW, but also for every faithful Christian. Mission education helps us in our knowledge and application of faith.”

When participants arrived on campus Wednesday afternoon, many brought bags of food from UMW units around the state for Arkansas Rice Depot’s Food for Kids program. This food, which Rice Depot will distribute through participating schools statewide, provided a mission action for the children and youth: They helped sort the food items into re-sealable plastic bags so the food could easily be sent home with students in a backpack.

Registrar Beth Cobb reported that 63 Mission u attendees were first-time participants; 35 commuted from off-campus; and the roster included 77 children and youth, 14 clergy and four missionaries.

Worship and learning

Each day began with Morning Praise, including music and devotion coordinated by Cynthia Sparks. Worship and plenary sessions, directed by the Rev. Maxine Allen, were held in the Hendrix SLTC (Student Life and Technology Center). Music director Danita Waller-Paige led familiar songs from the United Methodist Hymnal, as well as introducing new songs and teaching songs in other languages.

“The Call: Living Sacramentally, Walking Justly” was this year’s spiritual growth study. Instructors led their classes in discussions and various activities designed to deepen the participants’ experience of faith. Study leaders included the Rev. David Baker of Wesley UMC Conway; the Rev. Bill Buchanan of First UMC Forrest City; Betty Jo DeWeese and the Rev. Ted DeWeese of Lakeside UMC Lake Village; the Rev. Terry Gosnell of Trinity UMC Fayetteville; and the Rev. Natasha Murray-Norman, Regional Mission Field Coordinator for the Southeast District.

This year’s geographic study, “The Roma of Europe,” inspired many to learn about and share concern for the people often referred to as “gypsies,” who have no place to call their homeland and are driven from settlements as they live day to day. Class leaders for this topic included Dr. Paul Bube, of Lyon College; the Rev. Ray Nelson of Watson Chapel UMC and Call UMC in the Texas Annual Conference; the Rev. Ruby Nelson of St. Paul’s UMC in Beaumont, Texas; and Judy Wooldridge of Cherokee Village UMC.

Poverty was the focus of this year’s issue-centered study. The Rev. Mark Norman, a fourth generation Methodist minister and superintendent of the Southeast District, served as the leader, guiding participants in examining faithful approaches to ministry with the poor.

Children and youth

While adults were in their classrooms, childcare coordinators provided age-appropriate activities for youngsters. Children and youth turned their attention to “Migration,” a study that offered a Christian perspective on historical and current issues related to migrating and immigrating.

Students participating in the “Migration” study learned about the faithful responsibility Christians have to welcome the stranger, and what that responsibility means for their lives. Robin Deneise Williams led grades 1-3, Connie Smith led grades 4-6, Rod Hocott worked with junior high youth and Muriel Schrepfer with senior high youth.

Hocott has spent 44 years in youth ministry, and currently leads mid-high youth at First UMC Conway. Schrepfer is a recent graduate of Arkansas State University, where she was a Wesley Foundation leader and ministry team member. She already has 11 years of involvement in Mission u.

Leaders hope that next year’s Mission u can begin one week earlier. Tentative dates are July 23-27, 2014, with Diana Hendricks serving as dean.

Next summer’s studies will include:

–  Spiritual Growth: “How is it With Your Soul?”

–  Issue Study: “The Church and People with Disabilities”

–  Geographic: “The Roma of Europe”

The Martins are long-time leaders and participants in Mission u.