ENID, Okla. — Students from three communities concluded a week-long mission experience Friday with Forgotten Ministries, serving low-income families in Enid and learning ways to serve those in need in their own communities.

Peggy Grisham, an assistant with Forgotten Ministries, said more than 60 youth and adult volunteers from Emmanuel Enid, Hennessey First Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Dighton, Kan., spent this week learning "how to serve others in the community."

The youth were divided into three mission teams to undertake a variety of projects throughout the week, including adding a new roof and siding at the Forgotten Ministries Refuge at the Well transitional women's housing ministry, planting flowers in low-income neighborhoods, serving free snow cones at Champion Park, hosting a block party at the Forgotten Ministries training center, providing vacation Bible school for neighborhood kids each morning, serving at the Don Haskins Park ministry and spreading the Gospel and free hamburgers during a "grill walk" Thursday evening.

Forgotten Ministries director Jeremiah Herrian said the week-long program focuses on spreading Forgotten Ministries' message that "the church has left the building," and teaching the youth to find ways to serve beyond church walls when they go home.

"We just try to expose them to different ways you can serve," Herrian said, "so when they go back to their own communities they might have some ideas of how they can serve there."

One of the largest projects of the week was the "Paint a House" mission, providing a fresh coat of paint to low-income homeowners in need.

Grisham said Forgotten Ministries tries to offer the program twice a year. Last fall they painted four houses, and this week the missions volunteers painted two homes.

"We're just trying to improve the community, one house at a time," Grisham said. "We're just doing what we can to improve this neighborhood, and to teach service."

Volunteers were busy Thursday afternoon painting the home of Rae Graves at 616 E. York.

She said having the help of the volunteers has been "a blessing, just a wonderful, true blessing." 

Graves said the painting project was especially meaningful to her because the house is her childhood home. 

She grew up in the home just a few blocks from Carver and Booker T. Washington schools, but moved away as an adult. In 1998 she returned to her childhood home, and has lived there since. But, disabilities have made it increasingly hard for her to keep up with maintenance.

Watching the youth paint her home, Graves said words couldn't adequately convey her gratitude.

"Words aren't enough," she said. "I'm just thankful to God for allowing this to happen, and thankful to them for coming out to do this."

Emmanuel Enid pastor Wade Burleson said he wanted Emmanuel youth to experience serving neighbors like Graves.

"Our desire is to help our young people develop a spirit of service and humility," Burleson said. "(There's) no better way to accomplish that than to be on mission to help Enid and her residents prosper by serving the community selflessly and sacrificially."

Drew McElhaney, youth pastor at Hennessey First Baptist Church, said he and his youth group members were motivated to take part in the mission trip by a passage of Scripture from Mark 10:45: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

"We want to establish a culture of service in our youth," McElhaney said, "because ultimately that's what Jesus did for us, and that's why we're out here."

McElhaney said he wanted the youth to take home new eyes for ministry, to see opportunities to serve they may not have seen before this week.

"I want them to see need where they didn't see need before," he said. "I want them to learn the habits of service, to embrace being uncomfortable for the sake of others, and to sustain that culture of service when they go home to Hennessey."

Hugo Rodriguez, a senior at Hennessey High School, said the week-long mission experience has given him a new appreciation for the needs of his neighbors.

"I've learned to appreciate the little things, because some people really aren't as fortunate as I have been," Rodriguez said. "Appreciating an air conditioner that works, or a freshly painted house — it's just about appreciating those things we might take for granted, but that are really important to other people, and just being thankful to God for the little things."

Rodriguez said the mission experience gave him an opportunity to pay forward God's love.

"It's great to give back and share the love that God showed us," Rodriguez said. "God does love us, and I try to love like God loves us."

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.

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I am a retired Naval Officer and small business owner, outside of my work at the News & Eagle. My wife Tammy and I enjoy serving together at church and attending Gaslight and ESO. We have two daughters, three dogs and little free time.