Two college students who are veteran mission workers are serving as Regional Mission Volunteers for the Conference this summer.
Natalia Berkey of First UMC in Kittanning, a student at Asbury College, and Denise Nicole Stone of Greenstone UMC, a Boston University student, are working out of the Conference Center in Cranberry.
They’re learning about the six regional mission agencies, making site visits and helping out where they can, while devising strategies to raise awareness of the regional ministries in local churches.
“The Regional Mission Volunteer program is modeled after the General Board of Global Ministries' Global Justice Volunteer program, a part of Generation Transformation,” said the Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, Conference Mission/Volunteers in Mission coordinator. “It is designed to give young adults an awareness of how the United Methodist Church is impacting our region for Christ and involve them in significant ways in furthering that impact.
“The program incorporates peer learning, leadership development, service, and spiritual development to create missional leaders. They see first-hand the impact that Christians coming together can have, what it takes for that to be possible as an organization, and perhaps they come to see their own mission field through a different lens,” she explained.
“Our goal is to have an impact on mission engagement within our region now and for years to come as participants go on to their next phase of life as leaders, whether in the local church or elsewhere. We know that young adults who engage in ministry and mission stay engaged in the church more often than young adults who do not get that opportunity -- and many young adults hunger for a peer community of Christians with whom they can do that. That knowledge is what’s behind Regional Mission Volunteers and our Young Adult Mission Team to Bahamas Methodist Habitat.”
Denise and Natalia got to know each other two years ago as members of the Ebenezer youth team that spent time in Zimbabwe as part of the Conference Partnership program. They both were part of the Unstoppable young women’s group at Mission u last summer. Both have also served as voting members of the annual conference and Natalia has served on the Youth Ministry Team.
Most summers, Natalia has participated in mission trips with church youth groups to various parts of the U.S. and to Canada.
Denise traveled on the Mission of Peace to India, and last month was elected to the national board of United Methodist Women.
The young women said they were interested in serving as regional mission volunteers because they are doing something that can make a difference. “It’s not just a summer job,” said Denise.
“I am learning so much about what we are doing in the region,” Natalia said. “We’re from different backgrounds. Denise is from the Pittsburgh area and I’m a small country church girl.” Natalia’s father, Rev. Wade Berkey, served small churches in the Butler and Indiana districts, including the Grampian and Karns City charges, as she was growing up and currently serves at First UMC in Kittanning.
“That’s one thing I like about our Conference and serving as a mission intern – it’s different. We’re learning more and seeing how things are in other settings,” she explained.
Among other projects over their eight-week internship, the young women are working on a video highlighting the six regional mission agencies – the Erie United Methodist Alliance, Connellsville Area Community Ministries, United Methodist Church Union, Johnstown Human Services, Prison Outreach Ministries and the Eastbrook Mission Barn.