Members of the UMArmy, a United Methodist Church outreach, work on a house in Abilene as a summer mission project. Left to right are Jordan Velekei, Chase Wilson, Dawn Velekei, Blaine Urban, Rachel Greve, Chase Coburn, Dakota Kern, and Tim Urban. The six youths are making their seventh summer trip as part of the UMArmy. Not pictured, but part of the team, is Lauren Smallwood. Photo by Loretta Fulton


You know they’re serious when 111 teenagers willingly give up their cell phones for five days, get out in the hot sun, and do manual labor for others.

But that’s the case with the UMArmy, a group of youths and adults from two conferences of the United Methodist Church who volunteered their time to come to Abilene to help out some people who needed them. The UMArmy arrived Sunday afternoon, June 17, and will leave on Friday, June 23.

Before going to assigned worksites in town, the group gathered at First United Methodist Church, got assignments, worshipped, and laid their cell phones on the altar, a sign that they are totally into what they are doing. Being totally focused on one another and on the task at hand, rather than constantly glancing at the cell phone screen serves a purpose, said Jordan Velekei.

“It lets you figure out what you need to work on to make yourself a better person,” Jordan said.

Jordan is one of six students from First UMC in Van Alstyne, north of Dallas, who are making the trip for the seventh year. Many, including Jordan, just graduated from high school and will be off to college later this summer. Jordan is headed to Oklahoma State University, where he will major in biology on a pre-med track.

The Van Alstyne group is led by Tim Urban, part-time youth minister at the Van Alstyne church. This year also marks his seventh trip.

“This is my thing every year,” he said.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the UMArmy (United Methodist Action Reach-Out Missino By Youth) program nationwide. Urban is a member of the national board of directors.

“We’re kind of celebrating that, too,” Urban said of the 40th anniversary.

The youths involved in the trip to Abilene are from churches in the North Texas and Northwest Texas Conferences of the United Methodist Church. They are sleeping in classrooms at Abilene’s First UMC, eating breakfast and dinner there, and taking showers at Cooper High School.

Before the trip, each had to raise $250 to pay for food, building materials, and other expenses. Worksites were arranged beforehand through contacts with local ministries like Love & Care Ministries and Boots on the Ground. Supplies were ordered from Lowe’s, and delivered to work sites. Jobs range from exterior painting to repairs to building wheelchair ramps.

“The kids have to build it,” Urban said, with adult supervision.

By Tuesday, a group working at a house on Merchant Street had almost finished a ramp and were working on shoring up a carport. Going on the mission trip every year is a learning experience, the students said. People with more than enough need to share with those who have less.

“The only thing we can do is help them,” said Rachel Greve, a Van Alstyne High School gradaute who is headed to Texas A&M University.

For the recent graduates, this will be the last UMArmy mission trip. But just because many of them will be leaving for college doesn’t mean they are finished with mission work. Plenty of opportunties will be available for them wherever they go to college.

“I have a feeling,” said Dawn Velekei, Jordan’s mother,” they’ll find their place.”


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