PT builds international bridge for young adults
Some 60 young adults in Oklahoma will turn their attention to Ukraine in August.
Right after completing eight weeks assisting children here in Project Transformation (PT), they will cheer on a group of United Methodist young adults launching a similar program thousands of miles away.
Project Transformation Oklahoma is a Christian literacy day camp for elementary-age students. Nine churches in the state will host some 500 children June 8-July 27. The United Methodist-supported program began here in 2002.
The Eurasia Episcopal Area, which includes Ukraine, "is taking the best practices of PT and making it their own," said Sarah Nichols. "I feel like we’ve found kindred spirits over there."
For the Oklahoma Conference, she directs Young Adult Mission & Service and also PT, both ministries within the Office of Mission.
The origin of the Ukraine Conference program is in an international trip by Nichols and Jeremy Basset, Office of Mission director, in early 2016. They represented the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries at a summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Led by one bishop, the Eurasia Area covers eight time zones, and the common language is Russian.
"The young adults there were really hungering for this culture of mission," Nichols observed. "We wanted to be a resource if they needed it."
Later in 2016, Bishop Eduard Khegay and two young clergymen of the Eurasia Area visited Oklahoma "to have more in-depth conversation about what we do in mission here and what our setup is," Nichols said.
She described the encounter as "come see what we do," rather than "do it our way."
"That’s my favorite part about the work we do here: sharing equally."
The time included visiting young-adult PT leaders. The travelers "fell in love with PT."
In January, the two Oklahomans returned to Eurasia, at the invitation of Bishop Khegay, to encourage young United Methodists there to implement something like PT.
As a result, at the church in Serednje (population 3,505), Ukrainian young-adult volunteers will offer language and math help to people of Roma ethnicity during four weeks in August.
In support of the camp, Oklahoma’s Office of Mission has committed $5,000 from funds given by OKC-Chapel Hill UMC, according to Rev. Basset. The donation also covers travel costs for Basset and Nichols.
Basset said he found the Church in Eurasia "committed to a missional perspective as its reason for existence" as well as "concerned about the departure of some key leadership because of opportunities out of the Area."
He said the bishop wants to:
develop experiences for the Area’s young-adult members — many are first-generation Christians — to understand mission in the Eurasian context; and
introduce best practices to guide them in those experiences.
"Something is connecting the culture in our Office of Mission, in Oklahoma, to the passion that these young people are exuding," Nichols said. "I feel like ‘shoulds’ are popping up within that faith community. Children should have access to quality education and a safe place to go when they’re not in school. In the name of Jesus, they’re going to make that true."
She said UM young adults in Eurasia are "already doing wonderful things. They’re on Christ’s mission, and they are so open to talking about how they came to be believers in Christ. We have to connect Oklahoma with these young people; Oklahoma has to know."
So during PT this summer she’ll encourage digital conversations between the groups. Nichols wants the Eurasian young people to know "56 college kids in Oklahoma have your back and are excited for you" as the August camp approaches.
Then she will go to Ukraine in August as a key volunteer for that camp’s first week, sharing digitally with Oklahoma’s PT members while she is away.
"I’m not going for that missionary-on-vacation feeling. I’m going because my friends and young people I really care about are there, they’re talking about the way God’s working through their church, and I want to be a part of it."
Sarah Nichols welcomes three international guests at the Office of Mission in the Oklahoma Conference headquarters. From left, the men are Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Area and pastors Dmitrii Lysin of Kainda, Kyrgyzstan, and Volodymir Prokip of Lviv, Ukraine.