Most teenagers spend their summer watching TV, at the beach, or just hanging out at the mall with their friends.This summer, however, a group of teenagers from Elkins decided they wanted to spend their time investing in the residents of Joplin, Mo., and spreading the message of Jesus Christ.
From July 5-12, Vertical Youth, the teen ministry of Elkins-based Summit Church, sent 15 teenagers and four adult leaders to Joplin for community outreach and some disaster relief. The ultimate goal: to serve others as Jesus would, through acts of service and sharing the love of Christ. They partnered with Next Step Ministries based out of Madison, Wis., which was hosted by Journey Church in Joplin. Four youth groups from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas and West Virginia came together unified to see God's love poured out on the residents of Joplin.
Joplin, located in the Midwest, experienced an EF-5 tornado in May 2011, leaving nothing but destruction and devastation in its path. Thousands were left without homes and hundreds without businesses, while thousands were injured and approximately 189 were without loved ones. It has been recorded as the seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history and the costliest in U.S. history.
Vertical Youth Ministries, led by the husband and wife youth pastor team of Randy and Renee Ellis, decided this year's VYM (Vertical Youth Missions) would serve within the borders of this great country we call home.
"We love to reach beyond our borders to take the message of Christ overseas but cannot forget those that we live, work, and enjoy life around on a daily basis," said Randy Ellis.
"This trip was unlike any other that Renee and I have taken. The team of leaders and teens that shared in this awesome opportunity were top notch. With the age ranges from 12 -19, I was anticipating some issues among the team with that large of an age gap. However, I was absolutely blown away at the team unity, and maturity that we experienced. These teenagers are amazing, I was honored and humbled by their passion for God, so much that they taught me a few things on this trip," he said.
Renee Ellis said, "I've always known that our teenagers had hearts like no other I have seen. But this trip, they continually surprised me with their passion to serve and share the love of Jesus with others. Sure, they had opportunities to complain and be frustrated, but they chose to have good attitudes. They are more mature than most adults I know! I would take this group of kids anywhere because they truly exemplify what Jesus came to earth to do - love people."
Summit's lead pastor, Hal Boehm, was excited about the trip from the beginning.
"Randy and Renee do a fantastic job with our teenagers, and they stay true to their mission of raising up this generation to have compassion and serve people whether they live in a different country or right down the street," he said.
To date, Randy and Renee have helped lead and organize trips to Peru, Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago as well as local trips within the United States.
"Not many teenagers have the opportunity to consistently have the experiences our Vertical Youth do, and they're learning more about God and themselves in the process," Randy Ellis said. "What these teenagers are doing now in the molding of their character has already begun to have positive repercussions. I have no doubt it will continue to impact the community of Elkins for years to come."
Summit Church meets every Sunday morning at the American Mountain Theater in downtown Elkins as well as throughout the week at 302 Goff Street. Vertical Youth meet Sunday and Wednesday evenings at the Goff Street location. For more information on either Vertical Youth or Summit Church, visit www.summitelkins.com.