Ecumenical effort 4/1 Earth marks Iowa mission trip
Written by Connie Larkman
April 23, 2013

It's a simple equation that made a profound difference in a small corner of Indiana, devastated February 5, 2012 by deadly tornados. Thirty-seven volunteers from six Northeastern Iowa congregations, three days of recovery and rebuilding work that added up to 1,400 earth care hours, donated during a mission trip to Holton, Ind.

"Living in the Heartland we recognize our beautiful earth not only as one of God's greatest creations, but also a base for livelihood to those who live in or near farming communities such as we do," said Holly Kelly, the youth group leader for First Congregational UCC, Anamosa, Iowa. "Showing up in Holton to find one of the first jobs was to clear a large corn field scattered with debris created a real sense of connection between our little corners of the world in my mind."

The sense of connection brought the youth groups from First Congregational UCC, Hope UCC of Hiawatha, and neighboring Iowa Methodist, Lutheran and Catholic churches together on a bus to the tiny town in Indiana. During the April 12 – 15 mission trip, the group cleaned the storm debris from the field so it could be planted, insulated new homes under construction as part of the recovery effort, primed and painted the interiors of two homes, and moved more than five tons of dirt to create drainage berms around the foundation of those new houses.

Gabe Wolfe, one of the young volunteers from First Congregational UCC, said the hard work was worth the effort. "I cleaned the field, was on the dirt crew and also helped with the electrical work. It felt good to know we could help the people get into their homes faster."

"We experienced our own disaster in 2008 with the great flooding throughout the Midwest, and many people lost their homes," Kelly said. "We remember the help we received from out-of-town folks during our time of need and how good that felt. When Mother Nature wreaked havoc in the lives of the people of Holton, it was our turn to help."

"I didn't know anything about construction before the trip and now I've learned some of that," said youth volunteer Chase McLaughlin. "It really felt good to be able to help the people out."

Mark Buck, transitional pastor of First Congregational UCC said it was a perfect project for Mission 4/1 Earth. "Our trip was in the planning stages months before Mission 4/1 Earth was announced, but the work we did played heavily into the theme," Buck said. "Installing insulation, tornado debris pick-up, creating drainage for homes to replace those destroyed by the storm, wiring, painting, and meeting the new residents, all made us feel not only a part of our own work community, but of a community of people who would benefit from the little bit of work we could do to help them rebuild their lives. In speaking to the congregation of First Christian Church of Holton, we quoted from the Psalms: 'How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity.' We lived that psalm not only among ourselves, but with the residents of Holton, and the mission staff that is helping them rebuild their community and their lives."

On Sunday, April 21, back at home, the young people of First Congregational UCC shared their experiences during worship. Kelly said that most of the people in church that morning were very interested in hearing about the trip, and that several members contacted her afterward to express "how pleased they were to see how much our kids got out of the trip. It was a redeeming experience in their young lives to learn first-hand that they really can make a difference, even though not adults yet."

"It was humbling to see the gracious attitude and hospitality of the people of Holton, and to know that we could make a difference for them, said Kelly. "It felt really good to be able to "pay it forward."

For more information on Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days, visit, read these stories, or join the movement on Facebook.

To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written, report in as often as you like here.

Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement.


Ms. Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115