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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...


Churches and ministries reap the benefits from family volunteer vacations

By Jocelyn Green
March 21, 2010

When family vacation time rolls around this year, a growing percentage of Americans plan to volunteer at least some of their time off. The trend, commonly known as “voluntourism,” combines vacation travel with volunteering at the destination visited. 

Proponents of voluntourism say it meets the needs of busy people who want to volunteer and travel; when well-managed, volunteers can be very productive; and positive experiences can lead to more sustained service.

About 40 percent of Americans say they’re willing to spend several weeks on vacations that involve volunteer service, with another 13 percent desiring to spend an entire year, according to a 2008 University of California-San Diego survey.

Opportunities abound all over the world. And while several organizations and Web sites (some more trustworthy than others) have sprouted up to help “voluntourists” find the right fit for them, Assemblies of God ministries have been matching volunteers with service projects since long before the trend gained national attention.

Volunteers are welcome to serve rural communities, urban populations, Native American Indian reservations, children with special needs, youth, AG missionaries, churches needing repair or construction and more.

“With construction projects, we always welcome skilled people such as plumbers, electricians and carpenters,” says Zollie Smith, executive director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions. “In most cases, we have those individuals. But we never have enough volunteer laborers who can come alongside to enable the trained to move quickly and accomplish more. We are looking for anyone who has the heart and will to work.”

Shae and Sheri Smith along with their six children regularly serve with U.S. MAPS (Mission America Placement Service), a branch of AG U.S. Missions, which coordinates volunteers to assist churches and institutions with construction and evangelism projects.

Many volunteers who serve with U.S. MAPS are retired, but Sheri Smith and her husband, Shae, want to instill a sense of service in their children (ranging in age from 10 months to 17 years old) now. Shae works remotely as an engineer so they can travel wherever the need is and homeschool their children along the way. Even 2-year-old Josephine helps sweep.

“It has to start when they’re small,” Sheri says. “I don’t start teaching kids about the Lord when they’re 15. It’s the same for serving. You’ve got to teach kids to think about others. That starts in their hearts at a very young age.”

On a recent project, Sheri and Shae’s 17-year-old son did drywall for 30 hours a week, working with and learning from godly men in their 70s. Sheri encourages families with kids of any age to volunteer and serve.

“We teach our children to see windows that need to be washed, garbage to be picked up off the ground,” she says. “We can’t help everyone all of the time, but the Lord will show you what you are to do.”

Several families have told U.S. MAPS Director Jerry Bell that volunteering has made their family ties stronger.

“They’re working toward a common goal,” Bell says. “Families that still have children at home are teaching them the value of giving back, and the recipients of that help are amazed at the quality of work our people can produce.”

Currently there are more than 90 MAPS construction projects under way. In the past two years, more than 220,000 volunteer hours were donated and more than 100 projects completed, including some projects for Refuge Church, an AG congregation in Perry, Ga.

“Building a new facility seemed only a dream that was so far out of reach that it was fading quickly,” says Refuge Pastor Billy Thomas. “But God used the MAPS volunteers to help us complete two projects, and now we are in our third project building a new sanctuary. One of the greatest joys we have had is watching the children learn ministry by becoming involved in the work that is taking place. The kids see ministry and become involved when we show the importance of ministry in our own lives.”

Pastor Tim Broiher says Liberty Worship Center in Edwardsville, Ill., saved $250,000 by using U.S. MAPS volunteers on a building project.

“I’m thinking about dedicating one week of my vacation time to U.S. MAPS now, too,” Broiher says. “It’s better than going somewhere, spending a lot of money and lying around.”

While U.S. MAPS projects require travel, other AG missions ministries can make use of shorter spans of time in an area close to home.

Jeremy Dickson, a student at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., volunteers with Rural Compassion.

“I have been asked if I could spare just 10 minutes to locate a home that Rural Compassion was to work with in the near future,” says Dickson. “Because I volunteered 10 short minutes, the other volunteers were able to find the house without trouble.”

He has also spent an entire day volunteering with them to provide free firewood to those who could not otherwise afford it.

“Since I began volunteering, I have realized that I obtain a larger amount of happiness knowing that I am part of something that is bigger than I am,” he says.

To find out more about AG volunteering opportunities, call the U.S. Missions office in Springfield at (417) 862-2781, extension 3060.

“We always welcome volunteers even if it is just for a couple of days,” Zollie Smith says. “We thank God for those volunteers who sacrifice their time and energy to advance the kingdom of God.”

JOCELYN GREEN is a frequent news contributor who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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