BETHLEHEM, Ind. - The youth groups of two North Indiana Conference churches have spent the last five summers answering God's call to mission throughout the Midwest, that is, until this summer.
After being challenged by Twelve Mile United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Teri White, Team B.O.G. (bring on God) decided they would look inward and develop a way to minister to a group of local sixth and seventh graders. The group is a collaboration of Bethlehem and Twelve Mile United Methodist churches with a combined congregation of less than 120 members.
Planning for the mission first began when White presented the idea of a "spiritual boot camp" during a brainstorming session. The group immediately embraced the idea, deciding they were going to call the program "Soldiers of God."
The first step was to send letters to all incoming sixth and seventh graders inviting them to the three-day camp. Their response was overwhelmingly positive and all but three "enlisted." Team B.O.G.'s next step was to develop a schedule of events, deciding they would focus on respect and obedience the first day, communication on the second and faith on the third.
The first day was spent both at Bethlehem UMC and in Rochester, Ind. where recruits and leaders endured 95-degree temperatures while being challenged by things such as an obstacle course, a scavenger hunt and an inspirational message to stay in school and stay off drugs. The recruits earned stars throughout the day for their successes in things such as athletics, team support, kindness and problem solving. The day ended in what was described as "devotions and an amazing time of sharing and prayer."
The second day began at 7 a.m. with the "recruits" being told they were now "soldiers" as they were handed their camouflage, Soldier of God T-shirts. The newly dubbed "soldiers" then headed for the Hope Rescue Mission in South Bend, Ind. to first participate in morning worship, a tour of the facility and then their first mission experience. This experience included everything from pulling weeds to tutoring residents. At the end of the day, the group returned and shared devotions with a recovering drug addict who candidly answered all the soldiers' questions on saying no to drugs.
On the third day "soldiers" were instructed to introduce themselves proudly as Soldiers of God. Donning the stars they had earned throughout the experience, the Soldiers of God's first stop of the final day was Grissom Air Force Base where they toured and participated in a flight simulator. Dinner was spent at the Wheeler Rescue Mission in Indianapolis serving more than 150 men.
According to team leaders, adult members and parents of the "soldiers," the goal was met and exceeded. Karla Padfield, Twelve Mile UMC member and Sunday school teacher said, "A fire has definitely been lit, guiding each of them to a higher calling."