Church and Community Worker builds relationships while encouraging discipleship
For Rebecca Parsons, being a missionary with some of the poorest members of the Roanoke (Va.) community means empowering people to take charge of their lives and inviting them to experience God’s love for the world.
By Sandra Brands
For 24 years The United Methodist Community Outreach Program in Roanoke, Va., has been meeting the needs of their neighbors living in poverty by providing weekday meals and school supplies for children, after-school programs, a community coat closet, summer camp scholarships and other support.
“It’s a very compassionate charity of meeting immediate needs,” said Rebecca Parsons, a Global Ministries Church and Community Worker serving in mission at the center.
The work Parsons does with the program is one of the ways Global Ministries supports the mission. It is part of the commitment to sharing God’s love in the world and making Christian disciples.
For the 29-year-old Parsons, a member of Wooddale United Methodist Church in East Stroudsburg, Penn., inviting others to be disciples means building relationships.
“To build a relationship with a child so that they trust you enough to want to know what makes you tick, how your relationship with God inspires you to be with them — when in other situations you may be a world apart from that child — are all ways to practice being a disciple of Jesus Christ,” she said. “To pray with a child who’s had a rough day and to have a child question you about your faith in God is a way to be a disciple.
“Discipleship isn’t an instant thing to do,” she said. “It’s a lifetime journey about being in relationship with God and God’s people. So we don’t make disciples. We invite them. We frame ministry in a way that incorporates all and looks to serve all.”
Many of the volunteers at the Community Outreach Center come from the 72 local United Methodist churches in the Roanoke District and from mission teams all over the state, she said. But, the center is also looking to broaden its reach to others in the community who care about these children, making connections that offer others a glimpse into the work of The United Methodist Church while providing opportunities to serve.
“We’re excited about the possibilities of keeping our United Methodist heritage but also expanding to make connections with others in the community,” she said. “That’s an exciting piece because it puts you in touch with a broader and wider world of folks who care, who may not automatically stumble on the United Methodist connection, but who really care about children and want to be in mission with these children. They have resources we don’t have on our own; we have been connected to social services in some way that we couldn’t have done without them.”
Parsons said that the center had begun to look at ways to provide advocacy support and to help empower the people of the community to take pride in and support their local schools and government.
“We hope to see more the widespread changes of gaining a better school system that’s more just,” she said “I don’t think it’s good enough to do justice just because it’s a good thing to do. It has to come from the understanding that this is a faithful commitment I’m making as a Christian, and God is at the center of all that I do.”
As a faithful Christian, Parsons said, serving as a Church and Community Worker is how she carries out Jesus’ mandate to bring about God’s changes in the world.
“It’s so easy to fight against the current and to forget that God is the one in control,” she said. “Having the faith it takes to surrender to that flow is something I strive for. The more willing we are to be in the flow of God’s spirit and presence, the easier it is for us to be helpers in bringing about the kingdom of God.”
Visit the Global Ministries web site for more information about its mission and vision, and how Church and Community Workers and other missionaries share God’s love with the world.