August 16, 2002
For the sixth year in a row, The Herndon United Methodist Church Youth Group went to Tennessee for its Mountain TOP team trip. TOP stands for Tennessee Outreach Program. During the last week in July, the 30 youths and their leaders repaired four homes in Tennessee.
Usually the houses are owned by individuals who are handicapped in some way or are in extreme poverty. Several churches, along with Herndon United Methodist, worked together during the week.
“It’s good for our kids because they grow up in a fairly advantaged area,” said Anne Harrison, director of program ministries at Herndon United Methodist Church.
Harrison organizes and plans the event for the youth group yearly: “We help them learn to work together as a team.”
Fund-raising for the event begins in October of every year and continues until the group leaves.
The young people do a variety of activities in order to raise enough money for everyone to go. Scholarships are offered to those who want to go but are financially unable to do so.
The youth group holds a spaghetti dinner to raise funds, and there is at least one car wash. A silent auction is also held, where local businesses donate items to be auctioned off. Another fund-raiser, done not so much for the money as for the team-building, is phone book delivery. "We don't make as much money as people think." Harrison said.
HOWEVER THE MOST FUN fund-raiser that the youth enjoy is called "flocking." This fund-raiser involves the youths placing bright pink, fake flamingoes in people's front yards, officially indicating that they have been "flocked."
Members of the church congregation donate money for the youth group to do it. When someone is to be flocked, four youths and an adult go out at 10 p.m. and place a flamingo in the yard.
Hopefully those who have been flocked will want to flock someone else, thus continuing the money-raising process. This past year the event raised $1,500 for the trip.
Harrison also appeals to the congregation during a church service, asking for donations. "This church sticks behind us in everything we do." said Harrison.
The church must pay the Mountain TOP program $325 per participant. Each person who wants to go on the trip must raise $135 if possible. The rest of the money is paid for through fund-raising.
EVERY YEAR the group travels to the mission program together in large, rented vans. The group spends two days in a hotel, one day each way on the trip.
“Our goal is to serve God through the people of Tennessee.” Harrison said.
During the trip, the youths study the Bible and have fun together as well as working to repair the homes.
“Mountain TOP is a very, very well-run program.” said Harrison. “One of the goals of the program is that our kids get to meet other people.”
The group works with youths from other churches nationwide, doing anything from yard work to construction on the house, and the young people form close bonds.
During a service the week before the youth venture to Tennessee, a commissioning service is held for those going on the trip.
A few weeks after they return from their mission, a service is led by the youth. This year, the service will be held on Aug. 10 and 11.
Youth members give testimony as to how the experience affected them and sing songs with the congregation that were sung on the trip. The service gives the congregation a glimpse of what the mission project is all about.
Matt Ensler, now 21, has gone on the mission project since he was in high school. For two years he also worked at Mountain TOP as well, as an organizer for the program. This year, he decided to travel with the youth group, rather than be an employee for the program. He believes that this program is very spiritual and fun. "I encourage it strongly. It’s a wonderful thing to do and really makes you realize how lucky you are."