TROUP, TX (KLTV) - While some East Texas teenagers are camped out in front of TV and computer screens this Summer, a different kind of camp is drawing others closer to God.
About 40 middle and high schoolers from Dayspring United Methodist Church in Tyler are building a community of love through the iServe summer mission camp.
Kelly Boyken, an 8th grader, is excited by the opportunity to serve those in need and make new friends. "God loved to help people, so if we help people it's like we're doing what he wanted us to do."
It's not your typical summer camp. iServe reaches out impressionable youth, shaping their faith through missionary work in neighborhoods across Smith County.
"It teaches them to serve," said Jeff Sparks, Dayspring United Methodist Church Youth Director. "And we can be the hands and feet of God. This year's mission is 'Act Out in God's Image.' And so by doing this, they're serving and loving others in the community."
Now in its third year, iServe participants helped construct three wheelchair ramps, paint three homes, mow three yards, volunteer at Hunger 4 Love, and paint the Whitehouse Food Pantry.
Their service work gains context through devotionals and worship services each morning and evening. Sparks says it allows students to open up. "They (often) don't know the right words to say and they're afraid of what they're going to be looked upon by others. I think they feel safe in a community like this to talk and explore. And hopefully we're planting seeds and giving them opportunities to talk about it."
The camp helps form the students' personal foundations that are set in spirituality. Youth will have some extra support from their friends during those uncertain teenage years. Fellowship and fun are built into the structure of the week-long camp.
"Christ's love is unconditional," said Lola Clark, a middle school student. "So it doesn't matter how different you are, he's always going to love you."
The camp provides an opportunity for young people to live their faith, something Pastor Matt Stone says is a responsibility of all Christians. "I think it's so good for our kids to have an opportunity to do the things that we say we believe. To love people. To give people who need food, actual food. To give people who need drink, actual drink."
Stone says he hopes each student gains a sense of knowing they can have an impact in the world. "There's a reason that God has blessed us. There's a reason that God loves us. Part of that is so we can love other people.
5th grade student Mason Parsley spent much of his afternoon painting a wood-frame house. New to Dayspring church, he says he has a new found appreciation for the Golden Rule. "We're a little thing that God made up and he loves us dearly and says we're beautiful."
Students are divided into small groups of five, led by an adult. Each day, they reflect on the life of Jesus, using his service as a model. "When we work together as the body of Christ, when we come together as a community, incredible things can happen," Stone said. "Jesus shows up when we're together. I think if they walk away knowing that they can actually have an impact on the world around them, I hope that's a life lesson that will stick with them."
Their service to others doesn't end with the camp. Older students can serve in U.M. A.R.M.Y. work camps through college and into adulthood.