Mission Moment #1
Let me introduce myself. My name is Betz and I am a member of St. Lukes United Church of Christ, a tiny church in rural Ottsville, PA. We have been active in mission trips to the New Orleans area for 5 years now. We have been rebuilding for those struck by Katrina, disability or poverty.
Many of our trips have been with our partners on a work team from the United Methodist Church VIM in North Carolina and they have taught us that our work is about so much more than the actual sheetrock and paint. It is about relationships with those we serve and listening to their stories.
I’d like to share a story as it unfolds with you. This is my first segment.
At a time when I was feeling tired and worn out both physically and emotionally I found myself in church on Confirmation Sunday where several of our confirmands spoke to the congregation. As they spoke I realized they were telling us about their interest in joining our church’s mission trips. Kyle was one of those confirmands. He was serious and was willing to start planning a trip. He wanted to go to down south to help others rebuild their lives. I tell you A SPARK was lit. Kyle had hit a nerve and filled me with delight and I marveled. It was energizing. What a wonderful surprise. Amazing.
You might realize, going down south is not a cost free adventure. It takes resources. St. Lukes is a tiny, generous congregation but there are out of pocket expenses. And to add to that challenge, Kyle would need a parent along because of his age. That would be expensive but he didn’t waiver in his commitment. Amazing.
From that spark, lit by Kyle earlier this year we are now a team of 9, the largest team St. Lukes has ever sent down south. For the 2011 trip we made contact with the UCC volunteer coordinator and set up a trip to New Orleans. We will stay in a local church, cook our own meals and work a 40 hour week. Our trip is scheduled for February 12 – 19. Flights have been booked and our team meets regularly to work through the details. We are working on fund raisers and plans for helping our local community before we go. The energy is feelable. (Is that a word, I don’t know but it should be).
Kyle’s parents Neil and Beth have proven to be real assets to the team. Beth has taken over some of the fund raising. Since this is the first trip where we needed to supply our own crew chief, Neil has taken on that responsibility. They are stepping up and making it happen. As always, our team is very diverse. We have young, old, professionals, non-professionals, skilled, non-skilled, experienced and newbies. It is the energy that is created boggles my mind and soul. Of course, being a person of faith I surely believe that we are just the hands and someone much higher than us is doing the real work, but to be part of this is so renewing. Refreshing.
Many thanks to the folks from UM VIM in North Carolina for being our role models, to the UCC disaster relief for connecting us to the south, to the members of St. Lukes for supporting all our work ... and to Kyle, for creating that spark that got the 2011 trip rolling.
Part II ...
Our team got together to help the church paint and repair an old shed and outhouse. The goal was to not only get the work done, but to get to know each other and what talents we all bring to the team. We found out that Donna likes heights, Glenn likes problem solving, Jan is prepared for anything and an excellent leader, Betz likes to work on the ground and while Pastor Suzanne was called to be on the cleaning crew inside she took the time to put a paint brush in her hands and help out. We cans ee that everyone will do what it takes to get the job done. It turned out to be a great day together.
Flights are booked out of Philadelphia, we will stay at St. Pauls, a local church just outside the city of New Orleans. We have decided to rent one large van so we can all travel together. But everything takes resources. Airfare, ground transport, food and lodging.
One thing I have never really done much of is fund raising. Generally we have paid expenses out of pocket in the past; but with a group this size we made a team decision to take on some fund raisers. Since September we have had 5 opportunities going on, some at the same time. I say opportunities because it wasn't all sales. We collected used cell phones too. The specific fund raiser effort isn't near as important to my story as is the human bonding and effort that has gone into it.
I have been so pleasantly surprised. Each effort had a different lead person. Donna took on ordering and distribution 400 WaWa tickets. One team member shared that every ti e she sold a WaWa shortie coupon it was an opportunity to share what we are working on, where we are going, who is on the team, what the cook is preparing for the trip. In a society where we need to be careful who we say 'Merry Christmas' to, we got a chance to make a faith connection.
And an opportunity for those in our every day lives to find out more about us and our interests. It should not have surprised me to know how many of my co-workers and friends have a common interest in faith based activities and bringing hope to others in need. How eager they are to help any way they can.
And the grandest surprise has been our Spaghetti Dinner - hosted by a local cafe and by far the greatest gift from a local business to our mission trip. Vera's Country cafe hosted 120 guests, supplying all the food and opening their cafe on a night that they are normally closed. One of the guest commented that we, as a church, are often together to work and it was great to just come in and have dinner with our church family. I guess the lesson is to be creative when we are fund raising and don't be afraid to ask. Vera and her family were wonderful to work with and were so extremely generous.
So we are ready for our trip. Bags are getting packed, the crew cook is busy planning all our meals and we await our work assignments. Our prayer partners are all signed up and commissioning service will be this Sunday. From the time we leave our homes we are a team, giving hope to others and ourselves. We will wear UCC disaster t-shirts as we travel - and maybe, just maybe someone will see that we are just normal folks and be inspired to say 'we could do that' and join the effort.