Harmony youth finds new direction through volunteerism
Monday, January 06, 2014 5:44 AM
The van would be full as it pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the paved streets of cities or dusty roads of the countryside. Over the course of the first hour, the van would gradually empty; its human cargo leaving to embark on day-long adventures taking them who knows where. Groups of three, wearing shirts identifying them as volunteers from the Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), would knock on doors and ask the homeowners one simple question, "Do you need help?"
Harmony resident and Fillmore Central graduate Michael Himlie is volunteering through the Brethren Volunteer Service and helping with disaster relief projects in the eastern United States through Brethren Disaster Ministries. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Michael Himlie is one of those people who eagerly asked perfect strangers if they needed help. The Harmony native, Fillmore Central graduate and son of Todd and Kay Himlie, has already spent three months in the eastern United States helping a lot of people. At home for a couple weeks during the holiday season, Himlie explained why he has been focusing on the needs of others and how it has helped him.
The tall, blonde-haired Himlie wears a simple necklace carrying the symbol for the Church of the Brethren. The cross of Jesus Christ and a wave of water on the symbol represents Himlie's faith and his desire to serve others.
Himlie has been a member of the Christian denomination his entire life and attended the Root River congregation growing up. Though the congregation was small with few youth, Himlie said it was and still is a great influence in his life. "They helped me become what I am today," he said.
Through the church, Himlie and his family were very involved with summer camps held at Camp Pine Lake in Eldora Iowa. In fact, Himlie's first time attending camp was when he was 2 weeks old. As he grew older, he felt a desire to become a counselor, "knowing that I wanted to give to campers the same joys as I had been given."
When he turned 16, he went through training and became a counselor, following in his father's footsteps. His experiences at camp taught him to serve others.
During his high school years, Himlie became more involved in youth leadership in the church. He served on the Northern Plains District Board as a youth representative and on the National Youth Cabinet for the Church of the Brethren. These roles had him traveling throughout the United States, talking with other youth and finding out what their joys or concerns were.
"It was a good influence," he recalled, adding, "It led me to serve others."
After Himlie graduated from Fillmore Central High School in 2012, he started studying at McPherson College, a school affiliated with the Church of the Brethren in Kansas. For him, the end of the path was clear, but how to get there was still uncertain.
"I knew I would go into the ministry," he stated, specifying youth and outdoor ministries as his track. With a sports scholarship helping him out financially, Himlie majored in religion and philosophy. During his first year, he discovered he wanted to focus on peace studies. Following chronic injuries throughout the winter and spring, which prevented Himlie from participating in sports, he began to consider going into BVS.
BVS was started in 1948 by the youth of the church who identified as conscientious objectors. Instead of entering the armed forces, they would serve at least two years in parts of the country that needed assistance. The main goal would be to promote peace through non-military means. The principle of peace through service has carried through even when the draft ended. Most volunteers are Himlie's age, fresh out of high school or college. There are also retired couples that serve.
Himlie felt it was time for him to put into practice the lessons he had learned at home, camp and college. He told his parents he would be leaving school for a little over a year to join BVS.
"My dad's first reaction was, 'When do I get to hop on a plane and come with you?'" Himlie said, smiling.
His mother's reaction was encouraging as well, though given with some trepidation. "Mom was worried about my safety, but both were very excited," he added.
It helped that both Todd and Kay were able to fly out with their son a week before he started his BVS orientation and volunteer themselves.
On Sept. 22, Himlie and 23 others started a three-week orientation at New Windsor, Md. Following their instruction, the members would be called to serve with a specific organization, maybe even overseas. Himlie was told he would be serving with Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM). He underwent three more weeks of training and then was transferred to Binghamton, N.Y., where he was a project leader with groups of volunteers. There, he helped direct BDM volunteers in building a new house for a family displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
All the work BDM does is typically for long-term relief from disasters like Hurricanes Sandy and Irene. Groups of volunteers usually serve a week at a time, while project leaders stay on for several weeks. "I was a bit nervous about not having anyone that I would know around me for more than a month," explained Himlie. "It was very exciting to build new relationships every week."
From Binghamton, Himlie helped direct work in Schoria, N.Y., and Tom's River, N.J.
Leading up to the holidays, he was able to be a part of a house dedication for a family. "It was very touching. It's nice to know that while I'm spending the holiday with my family, they are spending time with their family in their own home," he said.
Himlie goes back to work on Jan. 2 and will continue to work with BDM until Oct. 14. At the same time, Himlie is looking to become part of his church's Youth Peace Travel Team. If he makes the team, he will participate in work that Himlie is looking to make a part of his entire life. The team would travel to cities during a 10-week period, spreading messages of peace. He would go back to his BVS work following that period of time.
Following the completion of his BVS work, Himlie plans on returning to school and completing his studies. He will then move on to Bethany Theological Seminary to complete his ministerial training.
In the meantime, Himlie has learned to "rely on the day" and other important lessons. He credits his family with helping him develop a strong work ethic, something that has only been strengthened through his volunteerism.
Himlie noted, "Instead of a break from life, this has transformed into what I want to do for the rest of my life." He said it has opened his eyes to more of what the world is and what the world needs. Through service, he has brought a little more peace to that world.