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NOMADS Live Mission in Motion


September 20, 2021

If you’re going to spend your later years wandering the earth, it helps if you spent your first 70+ years being a genuinely nice guy. 

“I have received over 40 invitations, so far, from family and friends to visit them and use their driveway or bed and shower,” said Rev. Max Marble. 

Marble is moving about the country in a Volkswagon camping van that has some of the conveniences. The former director of the Office of Creative Ministries for the Missouri Conference sold his house earlier this year. The van is his only home. 

Although he is accepting some of those invitations, he’s also doing more than traveling and visiting. He’s one of the newest Missouri members of the NOMADS. The Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service provide volunteer labor of recreational vehicle travelers for United Methodist organizations across the country. 

Marble and his wife Sally tent camped in Colorado for 44 of their 48 years together. When Sally was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she urged Max to get a camper van and continue traveling. They enjoyed the van together during her remaining time. After she passed, Marble began looking into the NOMADS, an organization he remembers from when it was first getting started. Marble was Volunteers In Mission coordinator for the South Central Jurisdiction. So 33 years later, Marble signed onto the NOMADS, with his new name, NOMADMax. He uses his videography skills to share his weekly story with a video, calling his video production “company” Rolling Marble.

The first three NOMADS mission projects Marble signed up for were canceled due to the pandemic. Finally, in August of 2021, he was able to get started. At press time, Max was finishing up his third week in ten Sleeps, Wyoming, working at a church camp there. He had wifi access but no phone.

NOMADS typically work a four-day week- Monday-Thursday, six hours each day. The day begins with devotions and a brief team meeting to outline work and identify any specific needs. A four-day workweek leaves a three-day weekend, giving team members time for personal endeavors such as shopping, laundry, visiting family, and exploring the area.

Currently, NOMADS offers about 175 projects each year and has more than 900 active members. NOMADS on regular disaster and drop-in projects donate a total of more than 110,000 hours of volunteer labor each year. In addition, multiple Disaster Rebuilding Projects are staffed each year, in various locations around the country, where needed. 

There are about 17 NOMADS in Missouri, primarily couples. Marble isn’t the only prominent Missouri Conference leader who has taken the
NOMADS path. Lettie and Rev. Gene Morse have been NOMADS for about six years. 

“We find it a wonderful way to be in mission service for the church,” Gene Morse said. 

Before he retired, Gene was executive director of Kingdom House (now LifeWise STL) in St. Louis. He continues to be a director of sorts for the NOMADS. In addition to doing projects, the Morses currently serve as Project Coordinators for seven projects located in Missouri (Hillsboro UMC, Central Methodist University, and Jo-Ota Camp), Kansas, and Nebraska (four Great Plains Conference Camps). 

Martin and Donna Bondurant worked with Morse to turn their home church at Hillsboro into a NOMAD site, establishing a parking area for four RVs, with hookups. So far, they’ve hosted two official groups, and last year provided a place for some NOMADS that didn’t have anywhere else to go because NOMADS projects were officially paused for COVID. 
“They still wanted to stay busy, so they worked on some outdoor maintenance projects,” Martin said.

The Bondurants know what host sites need because they are NOMADS themselves. They chuckle about how that came to be because, unlike Marble, they weren’t wanderers. 

“I’d never been in an RV in my life,” Martin said. 

“And I hate camping,” Donna added. 

But they also felt they had become a little too comfortable in their lives. They were active in leadership in their local church, but Martin considered how he could do more. 

“He’s the kind of person who can fix anything, and nothing scares him. He’s willing to give it a try,” Donna said.
 
They looked at options and started giving serious consideration to NOMADS, even though Donna had no interest in campers. Considering the pros and cons, they were wavering a bit when their son told them about a client who had an RV trailer for sale in New Mexico, priced below market value. They contacted the person to find out more about it, and when he heard what they had in mind, he dropped the price another $9,000. 

“I told him I didn’t even have anything to pull it, and he said he would deliver it,” Martin said. 

Minutes later, a church friend called the Bondurants and said an acquaintance was looking to buy a house in town. They told him they were still several months away from moving, but he wanted to come and take a look anyway. The buyer made a cash offer the same day and also wanted to buy the furniture. Their son found them a similarly good deal on a new truck, and soon they were living in an RV full-time, spending three weeks at NOMAD project sites, and then having three days to get to the next site. 

“It was only after we got started that we realized that 90 percent of the NOMADS aren’t doing this full-time. They still have a house to go home to,” Donna said. 
But they embraced the full-time NOMAD experience, working on projects from New York to California. One run was from a site in Florida to one in Montana – 1,800 miles one-way. 

It was 2017 when they started, and they worked on 21 projects. They are currently taking some time off for a health issue but plan to resume work in January. They now have a small apartment in their son’s home and are typically gone for 10 to 12 weeks, working on the south in the winter and the north in the summer. 

Ask them about their favorite part of the country, and they’ll say you can’t beat the wide-open spaces in Montana. But when it comes to their favorite NOMAD experience, it was working with developmentally disabled adults at a group home in Macon, Georgia. 

They were building raised beds for a vegetable garden, and the group home residents were working with them. The Bondurants said that speaking into the resident’s lives and having them speak into theirs was very meaningful. 

“It wasn’t the most scenic place and not the best place to park an RV, but I can still see the faces of the people we were working with,” Martin said, noting that being able to work with the residents on the project was such a great experience for everyone. 
Some NOMADS got hooked on mission work initially and then found the NOMADS as a way to do more of it.

Bruce and Janette Lenhardt, members of Lee’s Summit UMC, first experienced mission work when their church helped with recovery after the
Joplin tornado.
After that, someone told them that as RV travelers, they should check out the NOMADS. They did and ended up doing about a dozen mission projects with the NOMADS. 

“It was just a way to travel and do good work,” Bruce Lenhardt said. 

They do about two projects a year, working on disaster relief projects. These are not the first-response type of disaster projects but are helping people with long-term recovery, sometimes more than a year after the disaster had struck. Most of the disaster relief sites accept six rigs. 
The Lenhardt’s tow a 39-foot fifth-wheel RV trailer behind a Ford F-350 diesel dually truck. They have always been do-it-yourselfers and enjoy using their talents and skills to help other people. However, as they come into their mid-70s, they need to slow down a little. 

“We enjoy it, and it gets into a lot of hard work,” Bruce said. “With the last project, we were on our hands and knees the whole time putting in flooring. It took us a few days to get over that one.” 

Jeanette finds the service, and the conditions that the people they are helping are faced with, to be humbling. 

“It makes us realize how blessed we are,” she said. “Helping people in situations like this awakens us to realize how God wants us to serve.” 

For more on NOMADS, go to www.nomadsumc.org. 
To follow NOMADMax on his adventures, go to 
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xvo4WPM7Cg.