Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Discovering Living Water" by Madeleine McGill

Hi my name is Madeleine McGill, I am a rising sophomore at Walt Whitman high school and this year was my second mission trip.

Expectations. The human mind naturally creates expectations when completing tasks. So instinctively when embarking on a journey to New Jersey, my mind went crazy with expectations. Well I should probably say high expectations; I had really high expectations for the trip. As I waited for June 14th to arrive my brain filled with pictures of me building houses and talking to families about their heart wrenching experiences.

It would be an understatement to say that after three days of what seemed like simple yard work that my expectations were not met. One day we dug a hole and then filled it with dirt; another day we picked up garbage on the side of the road, weeded, and spent countless hours raking. My body was filled with a surge of disappointment and a part of me felt regretful. Why couldn’t they rake their own yards? We drove by empty lots and halves of houses. Why were we not fixing that kind of disaster? The trip was not at all what I expected. I was stuck in my own head telling myself that I was not doing disaster relief but that I was being used to do other people’s gardening.

It wasn’t until day 4 that my eyes and many of my work groups, were opened. We pulled up to a park that did not look damaged at all, and my feelings of disappointment seemed to resurface instantly. We met up with a woman, named Brita, yes like the water filter as she explained, who worked for a volunteer committee that helps with the environment in New Jersey, and were informed that we would be spreading mulch in the park’s community garden. Brita began to tell us about her story of loosing all of her businesses and how it wasn’t until 12 weeks ago that she got a working kitchen in her home and not once did she shed a tear. It was when she began to tell us about how our work, spreading mulch, was such a big deal to the community and sense of normality that she began to cry. The moment she got emotional was the moment I realized that I was doing disaster relief.

When people think of Hurricane Sandy they think of ruined, homes, bridges, schools, and communities. Honestly, that’s what I thought of too. And when people think of disaster relief they think of building, repairing or painting homes or shops. That’s what I thought of too really. But the truth is, disaster relief has a lot to do with building, repairing, and painting hope for those affected. So while most of the people that went on the trip to New Jersey did not directly help an individual or build a new home for someone, we did so much more than anyone could ever believe. As the victims of Super Storm Sandy try to forget about the disaster that happened on October 29, 2012, their worst fear is that everyone is going to forget them. For them, looking out the window and seeing that some trash was picked up from the abandoned house across the street, is a place to start. It is a glimpse of hope. After learning how much of an impact we were having we began to notice how truly thankful every local was.

I set myself up going into this years mission trip with the preconceived thought that disaster relief is helping repair a home or actual structure and my expectations were not met. When I got home I looked up the definition of disaster. Disaster only means a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage. The dictionary does not specify whether the damage is to a garden, house, road, or person. Our disaster relief was the repair of anything that was broken by Hurricane Sandy. After I realized that I had the wrong conception of what I was “supposed” to be doing for the whole week, I realized that my expectations had been exceeded and that I had been doing disaster relief all along.

In John 4 versus 7 through 14 Jesus teaches a woman about the living water that God gives to his children. Water is vital to human life. We need water to drink, and provide crucial nutrients to our cells so we can live. Water also bathes and cleans us, after a day of working hard and getting dirty. In the bible the concept of living water is a metaphor for God’s love for his children and how it is essential that we have God’s love as we go through life. John compares God’s love to the most important substance in the world: water, to show that God’s love is just as important. If we drink this water, we shall never be thirsty. Jesus tells us to embrace him, follow his teaching and we will be fulfilled.

While in New Jersey our mission team helped to spread living water, as well as accept living water. During our trip, we helped to spread the love of God to everyone in the community. While spreading mulch and picking up trash we revealed to the community that God’s love is everywhere even when you think you can’t see it or have lost all hope. We received God’s love everyday when people on the street asked us where we were from and thanked us for just being there. Even when our group felt like we weren’t doing anything for them they showed us that God’s love is strong in how it works: in subtle ways. I was thirsty when I based the work I was doing on my own expectations. Once I was able to reframe the idea of disaster and think from the resident’s perspective I was fulfilled and no longer thirsty after my one drink of the living water, and my one taste of God’s love.

Expectations. The human mind naturally creates expectations when completing tasks.

Expectations. God’s way of teaching us new things about ourselves, others, and most of all Him.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Discovering Living Water" by Gayle Goff

(This sermon was delivered on Sunday, June 29 at Potomac Presbyterian Church as we shared are experiences with our church family).

First simply THANK YOU. Thank you for supporting this wonderful mission trip. It is because of you that we were able to both bring and receive Christ’s living water last week. Thank you.

In an early devotion we talked about what “living water” meant. I’d always considered it to mean simply water to drink – something absolutely essential to life but not very multi-faceted. Clearly in Jesus day the symbolism of water had a resonance much more powerful than in our world where water is so easily and cheaply available. But Pastor Kendra had us consider all the ways water enriches, nourishes and sustains us.

First of course, Water is essential to life – giving over this week to serving people helped bring my spirit back to life. It woke me up, sort of like watering a wilted plant and seeing it recover.

Water also provides extraordinary beauty to our life – our chance to visit a park on the ocean provided both worldly beauty and spiritual beauty as I reflected on how absolutely wonderful it was to be there with this group.

Water cleanses – I must admit I let work and daily demands take me away from God and too often act in ways not pleasing to our Lord. Slowing down to take this trip washed away daily cares and allowed us to approach God in a more real way.

Water provide enjoyment - and truly the Lord was at work in our group as we played and worked together. Sometimes I found myself laughing so hard my cares just melted away. Yes indeed water, the Holy Spirit can provide enjoyment.

I could go on with other ideas on the living water poured out on us last week but I want to tell you about stories. 

First – the church where we stayed
Imagine a sanctuary similar in size and shape to ours; the building is new - only about 6 years old. It has a big cross up here in the front and Presbyterian worshipers. Now change it a bit and imagine windows all around – “to let the world in” they said. And replace the pews with chairs and folding tables in the back which can be rearranged in a multitude of ways to worship, serve meals, host meetings, do paperwork for the weekly community food pantry and even allow visiting volunteers to sleep there. It is truly a living sanctuary; not a sterile place. Imagine letting different groups of people live in the building week after week and have the run of the place, cook their meals, use the kitchen, shower and play in the building, along with worship and service. I kept struggling to wrap my brain around that idea. Somehow they do it though, and manage to keep the place tidy and in very good condition. Now that you have that picture in mind, let me tell you this church has a small congregation – only a little over 100 total members. The day we attended, our group of 30 approximately doubled the attendance. Now here’s the startling thing about this church, despite this small size - every week someone was a volunteer manager for a visiting group coordinating their work, orienting them to the building, setting up a weekly dinner to be shared by the visitors and the homies. Let me tell you, this is a very different way for a church to be a vessel to bring God’s living water to this world. 

 And how successful are they? I don’t know how you measure success in an endeavor like this, but in less than 6 months last year they were able to facilitate not just 5,000 hours or 10,000 or even 20,000 hours of service, but over 50,000 hours of community service – in less than 6 months. That was last year, I don’t recall the numbers for this year as I was so startled when they told us that number. The people in this church are modest hardworking souls One night I saw Karen, the volunteer who helped with our visit, in the office at about 11 pm – turns out she was working on name tags for us for the church dinner the next night. Just wanted to get it done she said. The people at Morning Star showed me a new meaning to being a welcoming congregation. They were genuinely pleased and thankful to have us there. Imagine that – we worked only four days and they acted like we were doing so much for the community. Their appreciation and hospitality made it hard for me to feel like we were the ones giving. In fact on this trip, I would have to say that often I couldn’t tell whether we were bringing God’s living water to others of if they were giving it to us.

The other story I want to share with you involves Jim and Mike.

On our last day we all worked at the home of Jim, a 74 year old disabled Viet Nam Vet who lived in the same house all his life. During Superstorm Sandy - Jim stayed in his home and awoke to water above his knees – since his house is raised about 3 feet, that meant the water in his yard was over 5 feet deep. Now you also need to know, Jim is a bit of a collector. His yard was overgrown with the greenery he loves so much and packed with a multitude of objects. He was receiving help through a Habitat for Humanity program which helps homeowners fix code violations and keep them in their homes even when they’re struggling to maintain them – So through that program, we helped sort items and tidy the yard, trim plants, bundle debris, pull off the old shingles on the side of his house (in preparation for installing siding.) and generally made a huge impact in a few hours. Jim was appreciative and involved, though also a bit sad about the huge change. Imagine people coming into your yard whacking your plants and totally rearranging things. 

But the person who touched me the most there was Mike, the Habitat for Humanity project leader. His calm and very respectful approach was an inspiration – it was only because he treated Jim with such love and respect, that Jim was able to participate in the project and maintain his home. As Mike said it – if Jim didn’t want this and participate, we wouldn’t be here. To me and perhaps many of us- it would have been very easy to be disdainful of Jim’s collections, to label him a Hoarder as though that made him something less than us. But Mike was anything but disdainful. He was respectful, non-judgmental and treated Jim with simple love. Because of that, he was able to open our eyes and lead us to be a helpful resource for Jim. I could see Christ’s love and acceptance so clearly through Mike. 

You should also know that Mike is a person with challenges. Several years ago, he lost a great deal to a fire – even some of his loved ones. He was angry and turned away from God. Now he is finding his way back and asked to participate in our devotion that day. His presence enriched us – brought living water to us. We prayed for Jim. Mike told us we were a walking prayer for Jim. It was once again an experience where I couldn’t tell where the line was between giving and receiving.

There is so much more to talk about, but before I close I must tell you the young people this week were absolutely awesome. They were God’s hands and feet and ears. They listened respectfully to those whose lives have been turned upside down. They worked hard, even when they didn’t fully understand why the work was important – and they played hard too. So since I’m out of time I’ll stop and invite you to please join us in the fellowship hall and ask all of us about the experience you supported –

Ask us about living water
Ask about A-ed & the Costco run
Ask about Diane, the single mom of 2 who will soon move into a new Habitat for Humanity home we helped with.
Ask about yoga
Ask about the men at the American Legion Hall
Ask about what kind of music Charlie listens too
Ask about Hakuna Matata

Thank you! May we continue to follow in Christ’s footsteps and bring his living water to the world.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Friday Recap

It was a nice day on Friday to relax after a long week of work. In the morning we took a driving tour of the barrier island to learn more about the local ecology and the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. It was relaxing. 

Then we went straight to Six Flags. When we got there, everyone was excited to go on the King Da Kong roller coaster, but when they found out it was closed for the week, they were bummed. 

After a long day at Six Flags, the whole group headed to dinner at a crab shack. 

After dinner there was a little confusion when one group thought they were suppose to go back to the church instead of going to the beach for devotions. 

So everybody ended up coming back to the church in the end. We had a long group devotion and then a little free time to finish those care cards. Then it was off to bed with the last sounding of Hakuna Matata.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reflecting on our week in New Jersey

This past week was incredibly eye-opening, to say the least. Between working on a house for a single mom and her two kids who had been affected by the storm and helping organize the backyard of a disabled war veteran (he was quite a collector!), I was exposed to experiences which truly made me reevaluate what my blessings are in life. I was quick to call the war veteran a "hoarder," and I regret that - I learned that, like many other people, I am so quick to judge people based on a brief exposure of their existence. I learned that our job as Christians is to love one another (just as Jesus did), not judge - that was never God's intention for us as brothers and sisters of Christ. What really made the experience special to me was being surrounded by the people in my church family - it's amazing how much you can bond with people when you put your phone down and talk to people for a week!

Overall, this year's mission trip was different from last year's because we were working with natural disaster victims rather than strictly impoverished people, but I know I don't just speak for myself when I say that I grew so much closer to my friends, and more importantly, God, this week, and had a complete blast while doing so. The challenge will be to keep my currently very strong relationship with God and my church family constant after this amazing week.

The main theme we learned this week is the recurrence of water both literally and symbolically in the Bible. I was reminded this week of how much I physically and spiritually need God (like I need water), and that He is powerful and omnipresent (just as water is). I have loved our trip to Bayville this year and wish I could do it over again!

-Amanda Kuhn

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fun Day-We had so much fun we ran out of time to blog!

Friday was our fun day. In fact, we had so much fun, that we ran out of time to write a blog post for the day! Rest assured, we are doing well and now packing up for the drive home. We'll get a post about everything that we did on our last full day in New Jersey in the next few days! We'll also post some end of the week reflections. So stay tuned...

Finally, as a reminder, everyone is invited to worship on Sunday, June 29 at 10:00am. Our mission team will be leading worship and sharing some reflections about our trip. Everyone is also invited to a lunch following worship that day where we'll share more stories and pictures of our week of service and fun.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Group 1 Final Work Day

Today we finished working on our house. We dusted and cleaned the cabinets and counter tops to make final preparations for the dedication ceremony on Friday, June 20. The ceremony will be in the morning, so unfortunately we will be missing it.

After finishing the house we said our good byes to Diane, the future home owner, and to Don, our supervisor. We then went over to a new house to help do clean-up work for a Vietnam War veteran, Jim. He was a collector, but was very helpful in letting us know what to keep and what to throw away. We got to rake leaves and organize pieces of wood, stone, metal and other miscellaneous objects. Although we only go to work at Jim's house for half of a day, we got a lot done since all of the work groups came to help us. We didn't get to completely organize and clean his yard, but we made a big difference and Jim was very appreciative of the work we had done.


Today we were able to speak with a nice lady named Britta, who explained reasons why were are doing the work we do.  We spread mulch around an indigenous garden and, thanks to a nice man working with a front loader, we were able to finish in under 2 hours.

Next, we traveled to a house where the other group was working, and helped them finish organizing and fixing a Vietnam War veteran named Billy's house. While most of the group were working on Billy's house, Mark and Jack traveled next door to a nice Puerto Rican man's house and helped him with his yard work.  Jack mowed his yard while Mark clipped the edges of the fence.