Bonnie Jones retired on June 30 from her position as director of youth at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton after nine years of service to the church, community, and beyond.
“Bonnie has excelled at what she has done over the past nine years,” said Pastor B.Failes. “Lots of my laughs and thrills have been when I have been with Bonnie on youth trips, outings, lock-outs, meetings, and all sorts of anything.”
The church honored her with an ice cream social reception in the church picnic shelter on July 16 in between services.
The church also presented her with a check for $900 to be donated in her honor to the ASP “Rebuild Rainelle” project. ASP (Appalachian Service Project) is a Christian mission focused on repairing and renovating homes in poverty stricken areas of Appalachia as distant as Kentucky.
The Rainelle project is a long-term recovery effort to help rebuild the community of Rainelle, W.Va., decimated by the June 2016 flooding— the worst in state history. Ninety percent of the homes in Rainelle were destroyed in the downtown area. At least 50 homeowners have no resources to rebuild. Each home to be rebuilt requires a $20,000 matching sponsorship under ASP. Jones says the $900 donation puts them almost at the $20,000 needed for the project.
Jones has participated in about 30 mission trips with the youth and with women at the church. The majority of her trips have been with ASP, beginning about 19 years ago.
Bonnie and her husband Dave Jones first got involved with ASP because of their daughter Megan.
Dave Jones says that when the children were young, the family had a tradition of “Forced Family Fun,” which he sums up as “this is what we’re going to do, and you’re going to like it.”
“Megan came home from a youth meeting and said she had found the perfect vacation for us and had signed us up with ASP,” said Jones.
The family didn’t question her and in the spirit of “Forced Family Fun” that’s how their commitment to ASP got its start.
Reflecting on years of mission trips, Jones says her most distant and most physically challenging was to Brazil in the mid-2000s. In extreme heat, the youth group built the foundation for a children’s center, moving great piles of dirt in blistering temperatures.
In 2014, she led the youth to Costa Rica participating in the Rice and Beans Ministry distributing rice, beans, and powdered milk to the impoverished population and then praying with them, in an effort to first meet physical needs, and then spiritual needs.
“Costa Rica smacked me in the face,” said Jones. “I was so disturbed by what I was seeing when we delivered food— the poverty, the raw sewage in the streets. One home was literally created from a piece of vinyl and three trees.”
Jones says her most mentally challenging project was a women’s mission trip to Jonesville, Va., for ASP, in which the women had to figure out how to replace a floor joist by jacking up the house, replacing the rotted joist with new one, and lowering it back without dropping the house, putting it back in place.
Jones says it is hard to say which mission trip was the most fun because “all trips with youth are fun,” but the one to Brazil was the most beautiful, walking on the beach by the ocean with spectacular views at sunrise.
She became the youth director at Thrasher following in the steps of her son Matthew, who served as the youth director until he left to go to New York for grad school— a reversal of what usually occurs.
When the church called her to take over the position, and she told them she was “too old,” she says they laughed at her.
Jones says that mission trips lie at the heart of the youth program by “getting kids interested in serving others, which is what we are called to do.
“We help them grow in their faith,” said Jones. “If we get them involved in service at early age, they will have a lifetime of service.”
The youth held a party for Jones a month ago and presented her with a rocking glider, presumably to relax in. That probably won’t happen as Jones is also the director of the Lynn Haven Baptist Church Preschool. She plans to continue in that position a while longer. She says it has been a “joy to work with new pastor Rev. Hay and his family at Lynn Haven.”
Jones has a degree in early childhood education, and says the youth “are just taller.” Her training in working with youth “has all been hands-on” with “lots of good mentors” along the way. Pastor Failes says that the hardest part of being a youth minister for Jones and other directors may be that “they graduate,” and new youth group forms continually.
Jones says it has been a “true blessing” in her life to be the youth director at Thrasher and that she will still be around “to be their friend.”