When you ask Arkansans to think of a group that’s made the most impact in their communities, one organization usually comes to mind right away: the Ozark Mission Project.
The Ozark Mission Project – shortened to OMP in most references – is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit mission of the Arkansas Area United Methodist Church. It began in 1986 with only one camp and fewer than 40 volunteers, but with a noble mission of being a ministry that helps those in need in response to Jesus Christ’s call to servanthood.
More than 30 years later, OMP has grown to over 1,000 youth and young adult volunteers in 12 camps and works hard to serve all four corners of the Natural State through a variety of improvement projects.
When our team caught up with an OMP group in Little Rock this summer, it was near the end of a long and hot week in June. We visited three different works sites all over Little Rock; from North Little Rock to Southwest Little Rock.
At every sight, we were greeted by hardworking and happy young women and men, nearing the end of their week-long projects. Their faces – smudged with dirt, sweat, paint, and a variety of other materials – showed the hard work that they had put into their projects. But they also showed genuine joy at what they had accomplished together that week, from painting houses to building wheelchair ramps, and even teaching a young boy to ride a bike for the very first time.
I have to admit, I felt a bit unworthy driving up to each work site in our nice, air-conditioned vehicle only to pop out for a few minutes, grab some quotes, pictures and video, and then hop back into the car to drive away to the next site on our list. I almost wanted to drop the work that I was doing, and join in with these young volunteers to help them finish their tasks.
It’s inspiring to see people from different age groups, genders, financial backgrounds, and experiences work together to help someone that, for various reasons, may not be able to help themselves. It’s the work that
Jesus encourages all believers to practice in countless verses throughout the Bible.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
These commandments are evident in the lives of the many volunteers who serve with OMP.
Joshua Holt, a director with OMP who has served in many different areas in the organization for the past 13 years, sees helping those in need as more than just building a ramp or painting a house.
“One of our big focuses is building lasting relationships with people in the community. We don’t want to just do a project and then leave. We want to bridge that connectional gap and become friends with these people we are helping,” Holt said.
“When I think of going out and serving our neighbors, what I see is God has given us so much love and has given us so many blessings, and this is an opportunity for us to mirror his actions by going out and serving in any way that we can. It serves as a reflection of what we have received from Christ,” he continued.
Bailey Faulkner, executive director for OMP, has seen young women and men fulfill that call to serve others and watched the organization grow during her six years with them.
She recalls many years ago when she was just starting out with the group and they were doing everything — planning, meeting, organizing — in her house.
“We didn’t have a database, we didn’t have a website, we didn’t have a letterhead. And now, we have full-time staff, and we have a wonderful team that helps out with all we do. It’s amazing.”
She has also seen many former college staffers from OMP 101 – a 3-day training camp for fourth and fifth-graders – go on to serve in some form of ministry, as well.
“You know, it almost makes me sad seeing these great college staffers leave OMP and go on to do other things. Part of me wants them to stay and continue to help out here. But I’m also glad! Because we’re growing the church that way. We’re helping, in some way, to create leaders for the future of the church,” Faulkner said.
Daulton Coffey of Siloam Springs United Methodist, another volunteer with OMP who was working on painting a house for a family in North Little Rock, shared what he has learned from the past week.
“We’re all a work in progress, just like this house has been a work in progress. We have to remain faithful on God’s plan. At the end of the day, if we’re able to stay on God’s plan, if we’re able to stay on the plan that’s given to us in life, we’ll all be in pretty good shape.”
More information about Ozark Mission Project can be found by visiting their website, http://ozarkmissionproject.org/. If you’d like to volunteer for future projects, you can fill out a volunteer form online at http://ozarkmissionproject.org/volunteer/.