CRESTVIEW—First United Methodist Church’s youth program had a welcome problem. In less than three years, it grew from about 10 kids to more than 90. The youth house across Texas Parkway from the church was bursting at the seams. Now the ministry has brand new facilities and equipment, and participation is higher than ever.
Finding the associate/youth pastor, the Rev. Brandon Dasinger, among the hubbub of Wednesday youth nights isn’t always easy. His boyish countenance makes him easily mistakable for one of the many teens shooting pool, playing foosball or pingpong, or just hanging out. The kids say it’s appealing that Dasinger easily blends in among his flock.
“He’s so nice and easy to relate to,” 16-year-old Matthew Slayton said. “And he’s young.”
“He’s cool. It’s easy to forget he’s a pastor,” Taylor Ruschmeier, 17, said.
“Brandon does a good job of getting the kids involved,” parent Jody Woodward said.
Dasinger, however, credits Woodward, his fellow adult volunteers and an initial handful of kids for the success of the program.
“It was really a team of adults and a nucleus of kids that got excited about this and about God,” Dasinger said. “They invited their friends to come along. We didn’t have cool facilities, and we didn’t have the greatest band, we didn’t have any sound system. There was no reason for our growth. There is no way of explaining it except it’s what God wanted.”
Though First United Methodist runs the program, not all o participants are Methodists.
“The one thing I think is unique about our youth group is their families go to different churches on Sunday, but this is where the kids come on Wednesday,” Taylor’s mom, Kari Ruschmeier, said.
“There’s something for everyone,” Matthew said. “Nobody cares what church you go to.”
“I’ve never brought anybody here that didn’t fit in,” Taylor said.
Around 6:30, the ruckus in the Big Room of the church’s new family life center settles down and the kids take seats for midweek worship. Quiet prayer precedes praise singing led by a student band. As student leaders take over the service, Dasinger quietly steps aside.
The youth ministry isn’t just about fun, games and Wednesday night worship, however. In addition to counseling kids about typical adolescent anxieties ranging from relationships to peer pressure, Dasinger also stresses the importance of serving the community.
“Our youth serve in our church’s soup kitchen several times a year, where they prepare and serve a meal for those in our community,” he said. “They also assist in cleaning our church’s cold night shelter.”
Participating in the countywide Mission Okaloosa, First United Methodist’s kids helped build bunk beds for the Children in Crisis shelter. During a 30-hour fast, they collected pledges to support the World Vision hunger program. Operation Christmas Child is a favorite cause.
“We get shoeboxes and we fill them with toys and stuff for needy kids,” Taylor said. “We had a fun packing party!”
The group also undertakes an annual summer mission trip. Last year they ventured into inner city Nashville, Tenn., and helped fix up the homes of underprivileged families.
“When the girls had to use an outhouse for the first time, it was like, wow!” Kari Ruschmeier said. “It was an eye-opener.”
Matthew was part of a team that built a new roof on one of the houses.
“It was pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do that.”
“Next summer, our senior high students will be traveling to Haiti to assist an orphanage,” Dasinger said. “The middle school students will be doing local service projects here in Crestview.”
The kids said that performing community outreach projects is satisfying.
“Last summer, we dug trench lines for pipes, (and) then we went inside the building and built bunk beds,” Matthew said. “It was hot but it is definitely rewarding.”
And the kids aren’t the only ones who benefit.
“Sometimes, when you get to helping youth, you don’t get as much adult spiritual growth, but Brandon takes care of us as well,” Kari Ruschmeier said.