Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brethren workcamp ministry experiences successful expansion.

An expansion of the workcamp ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board has been very successful, according to coordinator Steve Van Houten. This past summer, the ministry involved about 875 participants in a total of 37 workcamps that took place across the US and internationally.

"We really jumped into it this year," Van Houten said. The most workcamps held in previous years was in 2005, when 26 events involved about 650 people. Another aspect of the expansion was the number of workcamps offered for different age groups, from junior high through youth to young adults, to intergenerational events that also involved older adults. The workcamp ministry also offered "custom" workcamps for congregations that could send a large enough group to hold a workcamp by themselves (at regular workcamps only a third of participants can come from the same church). Also new this year was the widest variety of locations ever offered.

"It was a very positive year, from the youth who responded," Van Houten said, adding that, "the adult leadership that stepped up and came on board was wonderful."

New locations offered the opportunity to partner with Brethren camps, including Camp Mardela in Maryland and Camp Wilbur Stover in Idaho, and with Brethren Disaster Ministries at the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding sites in the Gulf coast. Other new locations included a home building site in an Appalachian area in southeastern Kentucky with Homes, Inc., which saw the largest single group this summer with 52 participants. Five workcamps were held in the Caribbean including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Other international workcamps were held in Mexico and Guatemala.

The responses from those receiving the service of workcampers signaled success to Van Houten. "People are amazed that the youth workcampers will pay to come to work," he said. Community members always want to know why the youth are there, he said.

Van Houten described a conversation on St. Croix with a Muslim man who managed the lumberyard that supplied materials for the workcamp. "He scratched his head," Van Houten recalled. "He said, are these bad kids doing community service? I explained these are good kids who want to be here. He struggled to understand.... He said, your kids come here and do things for people who aren’t even neighbors, this is amazing."

At the end of the conversation, the manager insisted on giving Van Houten a hug, instead of a simple handshake, saying, "We are brothers."

Another unmistakeable sign of success for Van Houten came during a "custom" intergenerational workcamp held for Plymouth (Ind.) Church of the Brethren in Keyser, W.Va. Ages ranged from the teens to the mid-70s. "Those 26 people will always have a bond that they wouldn’t have otherwise," Van Houten said. He had asked the adults to take the role of mentors, to share their knowledge and skills with the youth, and encouraged the youth to be the ones actually doing most of the work. The youth responded with affirmation, he said, even expressing the wish that their grandparents and parents would spend that kind of time with them. "Work-wise we might not have gotten quite as much done," Van Houten said, "but I think in the end they all saw the benefit."

Van Houten has resigned as coordinator for the program as of the end of the year, to return to pastoral ministry. Jeanne Davies begins in mid-January as fulltime coordinator. Sharon Flaten and Jerry O'Donnell are working with the ministry as Brethren Volunteer Service workers.

The General Board will offer 26 workcamps next summer, 2008, on the theme "Strengthen My Hands" (Nehemiah 6:9). Locations will include the Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding projects on the Gulf coast; the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.; the Dominican Republic (co-sponsored by the Brethren Revival Fellowship); Roanoke, Va.; Richmond, Va.; Ashland, Ohio; Baltimore, Md.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Idaho; Broadway, Va.; Castaner, P.R.; Neon, Ky.; Kyle, S.D.; the eastern shore of Maryland; Keyser, W.Va.; Chicago, Ill.; St. Croix; Reynosa, Mexico; and North Fort Myers, Fla.

For a 2008 brochure contact or 800-323-8039, or go to for more information. Registration for the 2008 workcamps begins online at as of 12:01 a.m. (central time) on Jan. 3.

Source: 11/21/2007 Newsline

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