'A desire to serve' - Know Sweat gives youth a mission

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Change youth; change the world.
   The motto of the Christ-in-Youth organization suggests a highly ambitious goal. However, it was a philosophy being driven home nail by nail on a muggy Wednesday morning by young people committing one week of their summer to improving the lives of others.
   "If you're not serving, you're missing the point," said Ben Hedger, 23, a CIY representative for the Tri-Cities projects. "Mission trips help expand your perspective about what God wants you do to in service."
   Volunteers Melissa Delaney and Tessa Brown were putting their carpentry skills to work at the East Tennessee Christian Home (ETCH) in Elizabethton by building a wall as part of the renovation of the Home's gymnasium. The two were among more than 300 young people giving their time and energy to Christian-based service projects in Northeast Tennessee this week as part of the "Know Sweat" program.
   "You know that you've helped to do something for other people who are not as fortunate," said Brown, 11, a 7th grader on her second Know Sweat mission trip.
   A ministry of the Christian Churches/Church of Christ, Christ in Youth sponsors Know Sweat where middle school and high school students go on missionary trips around the country to rebuild and restore projects designated by the CIY.
   Brown and Delaney are among 21 members of the Youth Ministry Group from North Point Christian Church in Lewisville, Texas who journeyed to spend the week renovating buildings at ETCH.
   "It helps you realize there are good people in the world," said Delaney, 22, youth leader for the North Point, "and you are capable of making a difference."
   Volunteers have spent the week at the home, a shelter for at-risk children placed there by the state and families. Hedger said the program functioned as an introductory mission trip to foster a benevolent spirit of service among youth. The idea was to extol the virtues of doing missionary work as a commitment among participants.
   "We encourage them after they do Know Sweat to do a longer mission trip up to 10 days or 16 days," said Hedger who interned with CIY two years ago while attending Ozark Christian College.
   For the third consecutive year, Know Sweat has brought students, program managers, and supervisors to the Tri-Cities region. The program is designed to bring junior high and high school students together to work on a variety of benevolent work projects identified by CIY administration.
   Milligan College provides accommodations to Know Sweat missionaries during their week-long stay. Students work at a fevered pace during the three day work schedule. Days begin at sunrise with devotional Bible study. Volunteers then hit their work site and spent 7 to 8 hours doing basic carpentry work.
   "You just need a desire to serve," said John Stinson of Northwest Christian Church in Witchita, Kan. Stinson and his volunteers made their first trip to Tennessee as part of the Know Sweat program.
   "I like working with my hands, and it seemed like a good opportunity to do a great mission," said John Schall, 17, of Northwest Christian. Schall and his colleagues spent Wednesday morning constructing a privacy fence around the home's garbage dumpster.
   East Tennessee Christian Home provides shelter for at-risk youth who are wards of the state and children placed at the home by their families. ETCH Executive Director Leon Dutka said roughly 18 children presently called ETCH home. The home recently received state certification to place children in foster care.
   "About 50 percent of our funds come from churches, individuals and business donations," said Dutka. "The reimbursement from the state does not cover our costs for housing the children."
   In addition to the Tri-Cites, CIY volunteers this year will spend three weeks in Cincinnati, one week in Memphis and Joplin, Missouri and two weeks building homes in Mexico City. Missionary trips are old hat to North Point Pastor Mike Farra who has taken missionary groups around the United States and abroad through the organization.
   "Christ-in-Youth is an organization the church trusts," said Farra. "We have gone to Colorado, Oklahoma, down to Mexico City and the Dominican Republic."
   Based in Joplin, Christ-in-Youth sponsors missionary work, conferences and retreats for young people around the country. Brown made her inaugural one week trip with CIY in Joplin last summer. "We built a sidewalk and that was pretty hard, but it was a lot of fun," said Brown.
   It was the first trip for her and most other missionaries to the see the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. "I like it better than Missouri," she said. "It's a lot prettier."