For Brownsburg, IN, residents Mike and Carol Johnson, members at Avon UMC, it all started with a Google search. They hoped to travel in their RV when they retired. Yet as they discussed future plans, they felt God calling them to give to others with what God had blessed them. They sat down at the computer and searched, “Christian work campers” and found the NOMADS, like-minded Methodists who retire with purpose and demonstrate God’s love.
NOMADS is an acronym for “Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service,” though some joke that it stands for “Nice Older Methodists Avoiding Deep Snow.” From California to Maine, and even in Alaska and Mexico, NOMADS usually follow the sun as they fulfill projects across the United States.
Each year, the Johnsons and hundreds of other Nomads, mostly retirees, live their faith by traveling in their RVs and doing service projects. With the vision of “fulfilling needs through Christ’s love,” and a mission of “rebuilding lives, homes, and facilities with God’s love and our hands,” NOMADS provides volunteer labor. They assist United Methodist churches, children’s homes, colleges, and camps, and work with outreach ministries and disaster rebuilding projects.
Currently, there are approximately 800 Nomads who take part in around 175 projects each year. About 40% are full-time, while others do 1-2 projects a year.
For New Haven, IN, Nomads Larry and Carol Ewing, members at Taylor Chapel UMC, service has always been a part of their lifestyle. At age 16, Larry would show up at Epworth Forest with a toolbox in hand, ready to fix anything that needed attention. For years, they led a ministry that included a lot of work camps while being employed as teachers.
After retiring, Larry and Carol were visiting their son in Lafayette, IN, where they met a congregant who was part of NOMADS. As former teachers in the trades and home education, they were excited about the possibility of using their skills to serve in their retirement.
When a NOMADS crew arrives to serve, they do anything and everything: electrical, plumbing, sewing, cleaning, dry-wall, and more. It was a perfect fit for the Ewings.
Each year, Nomads from across the country gather for an Annual Meeting. This year, they met in Elkhart, IN, for workshops, community, and business. Of the 189 NOMADS present, 40 were new to the organization.
In true NOMADS spirit, their gathering included a mission project. This year, NOMADS worked with Bashor Children’s Home collecting and assembling welcome baskets for new residents.
Workshops are a highlight of the Annual Meeting for Larry. Many Nomads join with no previous experience or skill in construction. As a former trades teacher, a personal joy of his is seeing others equipped with the tools they need to serve on a trip. Two days of the Annual Meeting include workshops that teach necessary skills like reading blueprints and building walls.
Mike reflected on the highlights of the meeting, saying the best part is “getting to see friends from over the years. It was also amazing to see the determination of folks to get through what we’re facing with COVID-19 and still aiming to do God’s work in everything we do.”
Echoing his sentiments, Larry added, “When you work alongside someone, it really develops the relationship. Seeing friends from around the country who you’ve worked with is a highlight for sure.”
NOMADS holds five service projects in Indiana almost every year. Four of the projects are focused on the Indiana Conference campgrounds (rotating attention between them) and the other is for Bashor Children’s Home.
“I feel God is calling us to this,” Mike said. “One thing that really impresses me about NOMADS is that you have this group of individuals, and they’re doing all this at their own expense. They provide their own meals. Then you come to these Annual Meetings and you see how much more people are willing to give.”
Mike is referencing the Love Auction that takes place every year at the Annual Meeting. Executive Director Carla Kinsey of Arkansas explained that many of the auction items are created and donated by Nomads, such as quilts, stained glass, rocking chairs or other furniture pieces, oil or watercolor paintings, finely–crafted wooden items, baked or canned goods, and more.
Texas Nomads Wayne and Edie Mahan, professional auctioneers, lead the Love Auction and have been serving NOMADS in this capacity for over 20 years. Items up for bid, such as a modest grill, will be sold for two or three times its retail value, while watermelons have been auctioned for $200 per melon.
Truly, Nomads live generously, and the Love Auction builds on that foundation. “This year, we raised $54,000 during the auction, which is a fantastic outpouring from the Nomads who were with us!” says Kinsey. The money raised goes toward project materials and grants, which “helps the neediest of our agency partners to accomplish the work we do for them,” she said.
Nomads often never meet or see the people they’re serving. This is particularly true for NOMADS camping projects.
Rivervale Camp in Mitchell, IN, knows firsthand the blessing and possibility that the Nomads bring. Sunset Cabin, one of its oldest buildings, was built in the 1920s. Its foundation was set on posts, called “Louisiana style.” Over time, those posts have shifted because the foundation of the pillars weren’t deep enough. This caused the building to shift nearly 8 inches. Rivervale staff feared that tearing it down was the only option.
Then NOMADS arrived. Instead of demolishing it, they were able to jack up the building, dig deeper to set new foundational pillars with concrete pedestals, then lower the foundation down. After a new paint job, the cabin was again ready for campers.
A life of mission has no age restrictions, and God continues to call more and more to be part of NOMADS. Within Indiana, there are currently 37 active Nomads and 10 alumni. The North Central Jurisdiction boasts 250 active Nomads with 91 alumni.
For the Ewings, being part of NOMADS is “what we do to give back. We’ve been thankful and fortunate, and we see a lot of people who aren’t.”
The door is always open for more who want to give back in their golden years. No previous handy skills are required, just a desire to follow Christ’s call to love and serve others in need wherever He leads in an RV.
Interested in learning more about joining NOMADS? Visit https://www.nomadsumc.org/ for more information on how to become a member.