Can you believe it?! Project Transformation now spans 8 regions of the country! Our summer literacy and enrichment camps for the best children and youth are in full swing across the nation being led by the brightest young adults in the most hospitable churches.
This summer’s camp theme is Learning from Heroes! Children and youth will spend their summer engaging activities and hearing stories about heroes who change the world.Truly, there are so many everyday heroes in Project Transformation’s midst–from the children and youth whose beautiful spirits teach and drive us, to the eager young adults who show up every single day to lead and learn, to the dedicated volunteers who read daily with children, to the countless servants who graciously provide food and join young adults in table fellowship, and last (but certainly not least), the staff who fiercely lead these local chapter movements. We are blessed beyond measure because the Spirit of God is at work in this beautiful ministry.
To celebrate, each week of summer, we’ll highlight the heroes–the transformative stories unfolding with children, college-age students and churches. Each story will highlight one of our chapters and align with one of Project Transformation’s 8 core values: Wesleyan Practice of Ministry, Mutual Relationships, Intentional Community, Connectional Ministry, Discernment of Purpose, Empowerment of Young People, Servant Leadership, and Holistic Development.
We are excited to report that the newest Project Transformation chapter began its first summer of programming last week in the North Georgia Annual Conference!
Leading this movement of relationships and community transformation is Diane Ward, a 3-time alumni of the Project Transformation North Texas chapter and recent Emory, Candler School of Theology, M.Div. graduate. Project Transformation is incredibly proud of Diane’s leadership and vision; young leaders like her make us hopeful about the future of the church.
Diane embodies the culture and values of Project Transformation, especially its value of a Wesleyan Practice of Faith. Casey Camacho, VP of Programs at Project Transformation National, interviewed Diane about God’s call in her life and how Project Transformation’s value of a Wesleyan practice of faith is shaping the ethos of PT in a new part of the country.
Growing up United Methodist in Texas, you were heavily involved in your home church. Can you tell us about growing up in the United Methodist Church and what it means to you?
DW: “I would say the most formative thing for me when I was growing up in church was the number of people who supported me and allowed me to ask questions in a safe space. I think about, not just the youth directors, but also the volunteer leaders who guided me and let me ask questions of my faith and openly explore where God was calling me.
Another piece of that space was that those people recognized my leadership skills and continually put me in a leadership role. I mean, at 15 they let me start teaching Sunday school to children! That was really formative for me and those mentors supported me when I did really well and also when I failed.
I think something unique to me growing up in the Methodist tradition was how I was involved in missions so early in life. Growing up watching people around me going on mission trips and other service opportunities then getting old enough to go on them myself was a huge part of my faith.”
You came to Project Transformation with a call to ministry. Can you share more about your call?
DW: “I’ve been reflecting on this a lot this first summer in Atlanta. When I was 14 or 15, I was on a church trip and I began to hear God calling me into ministry. I knew I loved the church and that I was spending all my time in it. This helped me begin to see that working in the church was what I was called to do; that I wanted to spend all my time and life working in the church. So I began to see all that time spent and understand that maybe it was my calling. Also, my youth pastor, Rev. Mike Baughman, was so intentional with me and he sat me down, walked me through my gifts and began asking me questions about what I thought God wanted me to do.
The next summer after this youth trip, I knew I felt called to be a missionary–a missionary, probably international, in the traditional sense. In all of that I knew I felt a general call from God to “Go!”, and I interpreted it that I should go to far away places and love people like Jesus did.
So I entered college on a religion, pre-seminary track and when I showed up to PT that was my understanding of God’s call for me.”
Did Project Transformation help you understand your calling in a new way? How?
DW: “Yes! Certainly. There have been two times where God has spoken to me clear as day in my life. The first time was the night before my first internship began with PT North Texas. The night before I moved into community housing for the internship, I was praying that God would move in my life, and I felt God clearly say, “This summer is going to change your life.” So I showed up at move-in day anticipating that moment–feeling like life was going to be different for me in a particular moment. And, my life didn’t change in a moment, but it did over the whole summer. The summer changed my life.
It was that summer that I discovered gifts for fundraising when I organized a drive to provide Bibles for all the youth. It was through Friday Experiences that I understood that mission was happening EVERYWHERE, and that I didn’t have to go anywhere far away to be in the deep relationships that God wanted me in. These relationships could happen locally.
So after that summer, I quit playing college soccer and started working for Project Transformation North Texas’ after school program. This was one of the best decisions I ever made. And, through the journey of that year, I no longer felt called overseas or outside the United States. I felt called to community based nonprofits and local churches. All along, what was always clear about my call was that God was telling me to “Go!” That’s how I ended up in Georgia. That’s the second time God spoke so clearly to me–when I heard my call to go to Candler for seminary.”
What would you say was uniquely Wesleyan about your Project Transformation experience?
DW: “Being part of Project Transformation allowed me to see the beauty of the United Methodist connectional system. My favorite thing to do was to sit at dinner with volunteers and hear their stories of how and why they came to PT and what moved them to volunteer. This connectionalism gave me a larger understanding of what it meant to be United Methodist outside of doctrine and theology, although hearing their stories helped me understand those things, too. PT showed me the way United Methodists can be in relationship to one another even outside their own congregations.
The second thing my experience with PT did is help shape my really deep value of sharing meals with people. Before my experience at PT, my family had dinner around the table. The practice of sharing a meal has been incredibly formative and helps me better understand my call to the sacraments, particularly to the sacrament of holy communion. At the table there’s value of sharing meals with strangers. It’s one thing to share meals with the same people repeatedly but there’s something about sharing meals with strangers that is really powerful. People come together around food and drink. It’s a basic human need–we have to eat and drink to survive. So there’s something powerful about coming to the table together, even with a stranger, that brings fellowship and it ends up being all about mutuality. I believe the greatest way to get to really know people is when we bring relationship to the Lord’s table and receive God’s grace and love.”
You’ve been working for the last several years in and around Atlanta to share Project Transformation’s model of ministry and start a new chapter. How have you seen a Wesleyan Practice of Faith come to life in Atlanta?
DW: PT in Atlanta started with a lot of listening, especially since I’m not from Atlanta. It started with really listening for if there was a need or an interest in what we had to offer, as well as talking to people who are leading similar ministries. All this was much easier because of the connectional system than it would have been otherwise.
I also think there’s this deep understanding from Wesley about social holiness–that God calls us to go and do. I think Wesley’s understanding of personal holiness and his general rules are all things that are action driven. In my work with churches, I’ve heard many people say that their congregations want to get involved with something that will make a real impact in their community. I think people see that Project Transformation will make a difference because it is able to offer volunteer opportunities that are so focused on relationship building. I think when we focus on relationships in mission we begin to feel God’s presence and understand Scriptures like ‘for where two or more gather in my name, there I am with them.’People get to live out an experience of this Scripture first hand by the intense power of the Holy Spirit when we’re in deep relationship. That’s when we see that God is everywhere.”
Diane is on track to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. Project Transformation is so grateful to have been a part of her Wesleyan faith journey and leadership formation. It is so proud to see her investing right back into North Georgia’s children, college-age students and churches.
God is still calling. Young people are still answering. There are everyday superheroes in our midst. A Wesleyan practice of faith is alive and well. The risen Christ is transforming us, our communities, and the world. Glory be!