In Oklahoma’s sweltering summer, ABHMS volunteers get bitten by ‘mission bug’

Rebecca Pitzer, a member of Linden Avenue Baptist Church, Dayton, Ohio, says doing gardening at Bacone made her feel 20 years younger.
Second from top:
Volunteers transformed thousands of Campbell Soup labels into gift cards for the children at Murrow.
Second from bottom:
Julie Hamm and Lydia Polzin of Westover Baptist Church, Iowa, and Julie Morris of First Baptist Church, Westfield, N.J., take a break from the Oklahoma heat and humidity.
Bacone College student Selena Lacy joined ABHMS volunteers giving McCombs Hall a facelift.

Debby Menzel drove for two days from Ohio to get to Muskogee, Okla., for American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ first volunteer work week at Murrow Indian Children’s Home and Bacone College.

Menzel was fulfilling a New Year promise she made to herself to be “a better friend to Jesus.” With the help of financial support from the mission board of her church, First Baptist of Dayton, the retiree was able to set off on her first mission trip. First Baptist Church, Edwardsville, Ill.—midway along the road trip—helped, too, by finding lodging and meals for her in private homes on both legs of the journey.

Despite all the planning and support, however, she considered canceling the trip, because she feared there wasn’t a lot she could do: “I am out of shape; I am not a plumber,” she said. She persevered, though, convinced she “could hand somebody a wrench” at least.

As it turned out, there was more than enough for her to do, along with the other 32 volunteers who participated in the five-day volunteer effort, July 17-21.

The heat index in Muskogee that week hovered around 105 degrees. But that didn’t stop the volunteers from Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, New Jersey and West Virginia as well as Ohio. They hauled mountains of mulch and weeded overgrown garden beds. They scraped and painted the soffit of Bacone’s MCombs Hall from the perch of a bucket truck. And they moved four truckloads of furniture out of McCombs, formerly the art building, to make way for refinishing floors and painting walls, as the hall becomes the center of a bridge scholar program that supports students underprepared for college.

Thankfully, there were inside jobs as well. At Murrow, volunteers moved refrigerators, installed a showerhead, painted doorways and glued 4,354 Campbell’s soup UPC labels to submission forms to ensure redemption before the company’s Labels for Education program ends in 2018.

Betty Martin, executive director of Murrow Indian Children’s Home, says, “I don’t know what we would do without mission groups.” Volunteers at Murrow—a group home for neglected or abused children—provide funds to repair and replace items that no longer work effectively as well as the human resources that get the work done. “Volunteers are a very important part of this mission,” Martin says.

At Bacone, Dr. Leroy Thompson, chair of the Christian Ministry degree program, echoes Martin: “Volunteer groups are our lifeblood. Volunteer groups do the work that needs to be done so we don’t have to pay for that work, which means we can invest in the students instead.”

Investing in students means awarding $5 million each year in unfunded scholarships. A significant portion of Bacone’s scholarship offerings includes 150 annual $10,000 awards given to students with tribal affiliation who meet admission requirements. Bacone focuses on providing educational opportunities to American Indians, who have the lowest graduation rates of any ethnicity in the United States.

Nora Nichols, another retiree from Ohio, says she’s “caught the mission bug” from her work in Oklahoma. Like Menzel, this was her first mission trip, and she learned that there’s something you can do, no matter your health or age. A survivor of two strokes and cancer, she found the work she did “contagious and fulfilling,” because she was “giving back what God has given me.”

American Baptist Home Mission Societies will sponsor another volunteer work week at Murrow Indian Children’s Home and Bacone College in 2018. Watch for dates and registration information, along with dates of other volunteer opportunities sponsored by Volunteer Mobilization Ministries.