By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) For Emily Harris, social activism has often been a part of her involvement with the United Methodist Church.
So it wasnt a stretch when she joined the US-2 program of the denominations Board of Global Ministries to explore the calling she felt.
"It always made sense to put my faith in action for economic justice," she said. Harris, from the church's Virginia Conference, is one of seven US-2s who have just finished their two-year term of missionary service. They shared some of their experiences during a June 22 briefing at the boards New York headquarters.
The US-2 program offers leadership development through peace and justice ministries at U.S.-based community organizations. It is open to young adults aged 20 to 30 years.
Harris was assigned to the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice in Chicago. The organizations goal is to educate, organize and mobilize the religious community in the U.S. on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits and working conditions for workers, especially low-wage workers, according to the Web site.
Rachel Harvey plans for return to South Dakota for a year, where she has served as the director of Coffee Loft, an ecumenical ministry for the University of South Dakota community sponsored by Vermillion First United Methodist Church. Programs there have included hookers for Jesus -- a knitting and crocheting group composed mostly of young men.
Amy Brown, who worked for the N.O.A.H. Project, a resource center for the homeless sponsored by Central United Methodist Church and Family Service, Inc., in Detroit, wasn't often able to follow up on her clients. "A lot of people we dont always see again," she explained.
But Brown, from the North Alabama Conference, did take a life lesson from Robert, a man who used the center's phones to call employment agencies. Although he was scammed by a phony agency that never paid him for his work money he was counting on for a security deposit on an apartment Robert was not bitter over the experience, she recalled.
Childrens health was a focus for Donna Wheeler of the Central Pennsylvania Conference, who has a degree in elementary education. She coordinated the SMART Body Program, a collaboration of the Wilkinson Center, based at Munger Place United Methodist Church in Dallas; Texas A&M University and Cooper Aerobics Center. The focus was on nutrition, exercise and reducing childhood obesity.
In addition, Wheeler assisted with a job preparation program for ex-convicts and found she had a gift for helping them with their resumes. One woman got a contract job with the USDA. "She credited her success to the program," she said.
Her success with these programs also told her something about herself, according to Wheeler. "I learned I had much more ability than I gave myself credit for."
Utah is one of the few states that still charges sale tax on food, reported Elizabeth Matthews of the Texas Conference, who spent her two-year term at Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The ecumenical ministry is the largest emergency food pantry in the state and is housed in a historic building owned by the Womens Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
The decision of the state legislature to remove half of that tax, after years of lobbying by Crossroads and other groups, was a success she will remember, she said.
Kandis Samuels of the Delaware-Peninsula Conference found it "challenging" to run an after-school program with the Hampden Family Center in Baltimore by herself, but learned she could do it.
Samuels, who will be attending graduate school at George Washington University, also likes to talk about what it meant to be a missionary. "I felt it was an opportunity to educate people," she said.
At Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C., Andrew Jordan has worked in a program that provides scholarships for students who otherwise wouldn't be able to go to college in exchange for doing community service. One of the most memorable groups on the receiving end of that community service has been Second Parenthood, a program for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
Jordan, from the Tennessee Conference, said he is being hired full-time at Pfeiffer to continue in the same position.
The 2005-2007 US-2 missionary class of 8 currently is half-way through its term. Another 8 young adults will be commissioned on July 30 for the 2006-2008 class.
The application deadline for future US-2 classes is Feb. 1 each year. Information and application forms are available at http://new.gbgm-mc.org/about/us/mp/missionaries/us2/, on the Board of Global Ministries' Web site.
US-2s are not asked to raise monetary support during their time as missionaries, but United Methodists can support the program through the Advance for Christ and His Church.
Checks may be written to Advance GCFA and earmarked for US-2 Program, No. 982874, and dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations may be made by calling (888) 252-6174. Online donations can be made at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/ on the board's Web site.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.