The five young people who comprised this year’s Micah Corps spent the summer learning a lot about justice ministries – and just as much about themselves.
“I think I’ve learned more about being Methodist than I ever thought I would in my whole life,” said Charlotte Carroll, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an Omaha native. “I like the benefit of that, because I was doing this to challenge my faith journey, so I’m excited I had the time to experience that this summer.”
With a 14-year history that began in the former Nebraska Conference, Micah Corps shifted this year from a traveling group spending a short time in each city to setting up base in one city – this year, Omaha – to fully take in the justice ministries.
“There’s definitely been some growing pains with that shift, but I think overall, for the goal of justice, being grounded in one space in Omaha has allowed them to grow deeper and more meaningful relationships,” said the Rev. Maddie Johnson, program director.
Omaha First and Saint Paul Benson UMC hosted the five and their coordinator, Mariah Fusco. They stayed at student housing at Creighton University and frequented Urban Abbey, the Omaha coffee shop ministry, to work on projects.
Early on, they learned what many of their elders might not be aware of – the differences between mercy and justice.
“Mercy is on a much smaller scale, and I feel like it’s addressing the needs of the people as they come up, but not addressing what the root of the problem is, which is what justice work is,” said Emily Smith, a Wichita native and student at Wichita State. “Methodists love food justice. They love to do food pantries and food pantries are awesome, but that is mercy work where justice work is addressing why a community is in need of a food pantry – is it food desert issues, transportation issues?”
John Finch, who lives in Omaha and is a student at UNO, said too many churches are hesitant when it comes to justice.
“The church is mainly afraid of new things, but once they see division they hop on the bus,” he said.
Lumiere Bisisi, who was born in the Congo, raised in Kenya and has spent the last 10 years in Fort Worth, Texas, said he learned about different facets of justice ministries.
“I am impressed with what the churches are doing when it comes to justice,” said Bisisi, studying at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Fusco, a Texas native and recent graduate of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, served as the Micah Corps coordinator.
“It has been really enlightening to learn how intergenerational ministry is alive and well in ways I would not expect,” she said. “They were open to learning more about mission and were actively engaged. While it is a young adult internship, I feel like the mission and vision is one that is attempting to take all of the children of God and use them in amazing ways.”
Odyssey Mann, an El Paso, Texas, native, said she was amazed at the power that individuals have in ministry.
“Being in this small community, you really believe in the power of small and the power of one,” said Mann, a student at Southwestern College in Winfield. “Micah Corps has taught me that I have a lot of voice in this. That’s something I’ll take with me forever.”
While the Micah Corps interns did not travel as much as in previous years – and in 2020 and ’21, the interns were limited to online-only engagement – they did make their traditional trip to Washington, D.C., to talk with their respective states’ lawmakers and visit the General Board of Church and Society offices.
“The Church and Society Building was on my bucket list,” Mann said.
They were in D.C. at the time of the announcement of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, which left them stunned as they watched protests.
“Despite the sad decision, there’s so much hope that things can change,” Mann said.
Their two-month experience in Micah Corps, which concludes at the end of July, has changed or altered the career plans for several of the five.
“I always thought law school was the plan,” Mann said, trying to decide now between law school and seminary. “I just know I have to do justice work.”
Carroll, entering her final year at UNO, said she thought she would have to leave Omaha to make a change, but Micah Corps has changed her mind.
“There’s so much passion I have for my hometown to be here,” she said.
Smith said as a social work major, she had been considering working for a hospice, but this summer has her considering law school.
“I think that Micah Corps has pushed me to law school even more,” she said, hoping to be guardian ad litem, an attorney representing the best interests of children. “I’m gonna live a long life and I’m gonna do anything I want.”
Finch, who was born in the Ukraine and came to America as a teenager, said he wants to start a nonprofit organization to better serve children in orphanages throughout the world.
Bisisi said he is intent on going to law school after he graduates next year.
Despite the differing backgrounds of the five, Fusco said the group quickly formed trust with each other.
“One of my fears coming into this summer was that there wasn’t a group dynamic that was projected, but from day one they really just found ways to engage each other’s interest in ways to push each other to justice work,” she said.
Johnson, a former Micah Corps coordinator, said having the group present in one community was advantageous for all involved, and that the group might move to other cities in the Great Plains Conference in future years.
Coordinator of the Wichita-based Neighboring Movement, Johnson said she didn’t get to spend as much time in person with Micah Corps as she had hoped but checked in with the group frequently through interactive online sessions and could tell they had a strong dynamic.
“I’ve really seen them grow to love and care about each other, but challenge and hold each other accountable and try to live out Micah 6:8,” she said.