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Camper volunteers reach ou
t to assist elderly needy in Kentucky
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Camper volunteers reach out to assist elderly needy in Kentucky
By Guy Swenson
The writer is a founder of a Church of God ministry called Common Ground Ministries (

GEORGETOWN, Ky.--What do you call 21 people who pay their own way, travel hundreds of miles and work long hours in hot, humid weather without air conditioning doing hard, physical labor for people they don't know?

Happy. Fulfilled. Excited. Charged with a rekindled sense of purpose and meaning!

Camp Outreach was designed to connect young people with the Christian values of service, giving, hard work, cooperation and loving concern for others.

The camp itself was a cooperative effort between the Lexington (Ky.) Church of God, LifeResource Ministries of Albuquerque, N.M., and Common Ground Christian Ministries, Plainfield, Ind.

A week's worth of work

From Sunday, July 31, through the next Sabbath, participants worked four days, hiked a day, spent a refreshing Sabbath together and hosted a celebration barbecue for everyone involved, especially for the senior citizens who benefited from everyone's labor.

During the course of the work week, we worked on the homes of six senior citizens. Four were widows, one was a widower, and the last was an elderly woman whose husband was in a nursing home recovering from a fall.


We remodeled two kitchens, putting in new cabinets and sinks, building an interior wall (you could see through the siding into the kitchen), framed and hung a window, repaired siding, painted the exterior trim on three homes and the siding of one, tore out and replaced a porch, washed and cleaned walls and floors, repaired holes in floors and laid floor coverings in a bathroom.

We also repainted rooms, washed siding, cleaned up a yard, poured a concrete wheelchair ramp, repaired drywall, rehung window air conditioners, repaired stopped-up drains, put in new handrails, patched leaky roofs, cleaned gutters and repaired a damaged screen in a crawl space.

Not bad for a week's worth of work!

Other helpers

Plumbing and electrical work was donated by local businesses. Repair Affair, a community redevelopment effort, helped by cosponsoring our efforts and providing a donation to Camp Outreach.

Each day a local realty firm or builder brought lunch and iced water and drinks for the workers.

In addition to some time every evening for recreation, one day was set aside for hiking in the Red River Gorge in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

For accommodations, workers slept two to a room in an air-conditioned motel and took their breakfast and dinner at the home of James and Linda Sexton, church members and owners of a house-building company in Georgetown.

Tools for the greater mission

Camp Outreach had a spiritual side. One of our goals was to introduce the workers to tools for the greater mission of the Church of God, which is evangelism.

We didn't attempt to directly evangelize the community at this time. Rather, we sought to develop tools for evangelism, including small-group dynamics, communication skills and understanding how to engage others in spiritual discussions. Learning came through direct experience.

Our theme for the week was "Discovering Authentic Christianity." The theme sprang from earlier discussions with young people about why young people leave the church when they grow up.

One of the reasons we discussed was a disconnect between the professed faith of parents and their conduct, which points to a perceived lack of authenticity in Christian faith.

In our group discussions we explored biblical examples of authentic Christianity, what constituted authentic Christian values and how one could identify authentic Christians.

Praying audibly

Something that is difficult for many in our church culture is praying aloud, so we created a safe environment in which people could choose to pray audibly for others.

Another common barrier to authentic relationships is a resistance to sharing needs in our lives with others. Through small-group dynamics, people became more open to doing so and did things in a way that was meaningful and uplifting.

By the end of the week the workers were conducting small groups by themselves.

Getting a better intellectual grasp on authentic Christianity from a biblical perspective, sharing our lives in a meaningful manner, practicing intercessory prayer for the needs of others and working together in service to widows and the elderly get to the heart of what Jesus said in Matthew 25 would separate the sheep from the goats.

Just what do you mean evangelism?

And what about evangelism?

A necessary first step in evangelism is connecting with communities and establishing credibility.

We received open invitations to come back and visit in the homes of those we served. Some of their grandchildren have invited us to visit with them and expressed their appreciation for doing what they did not know how to do.

A city-council member heard about what was happening and asked for our group to speak to the council about our group and what we were doing.

He said in the council meeting we attended that he would like to join our group and work alongside us next year.

A newspaper reporter heard about us from another reporter who was at a meeting and interviewed some of us while we were working.

Neighbors asked us what we were doing. Some offered to put us in touch with others in need.

Opening the lines

Every time we serve we can open doors of communication with people with whom we would otherwise have no connection.

Other churches have used this approach with great success. We've taken the first step toward opening up opportunities for the Lexington Church of God in the Georgetown area.

Nourishing the soul

Another factor is a significant number in our group have not made a covenant with God through baptism--yet. Gaining a better understanding and practicing another dimension of authentic Christianity is a plus for them.

Adding "taking care of the poor" and service to camp experiences gave them a personal taste of how authentic Christianity nourishes the soul.

An interesting comment came from a young man who said he had never felt like inviting nonattending friends to any church camp.

After spending a week in service to others he said, "Next year I am going to invite my friends to come."

This is another connection that can be made because of focusing on serving others rather than simply enjoying oneself.

We helped answer prayers

This year's Camp Outreach was a pilot program. We will hold another one next year.

If you or your congregation want help in conducting this type of outreach, working with people in your community and using the experience to learn small-group dynamics and essential tools of evangelism, contact us at Common Ground Ministries. We are willing to share with you anything we can to help you be more effective in the great commission and expressing love to our fellowman: essential values in authentic Christianity.

Finally, several widows said they had been praying for help. It is humbling and encouraging to learn that our efforts were an answer to their specific prayers.

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