Heading to Republic, Washington, U.S., this past summer was our fifth mission trip with middle schoolers from Grandview, Washington, Church of the Nazarene. Every trip has had its own flavor, challenges and accomplishments. Every trip has also been a chance to see God at work among our kids but also in the orchestrating of details - seems he is always at work ahead of time preparing opportunities for us to "reach out and touch someone." Very exciting and faith building!
This trip was no exception. Every spring we notify the district that we are available to help a church for several days with projects, or community outreach. At times, we have not had a response from within our Nazarene district, so we have gone the next layer to surrounding districts. So we have found ourselves in towns with a population of 500, as well as urban settings.
This year, our missions coordinator forwarded an email from a church in Republic requesting help with improvements on their church property and parsonage. There was some yard work, but also a need for skilled carpentry in the parsonage, which was my husband's department. We pursued this option for a mission trip, yet, as a leader, I was nervous about the amount of work they had that would be appropriate for middle schoolers. We can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, but it needs to be something within our skill level. We usually have a group of 25-30, and that's a lot of young bodies to keep moving for several days.
Well, I shouldn't have worried, as again, God knew the big picture. A week prior to our anticipated arrival in Republic, a fierce windstorm came through the area with microbursts of 100 to 160 miles an hour. As it is a very wooded community, many people lost power, had huge trees fall in their yards, and it was actually deemed a federal disaster area. So we shouldn’t have worried about whether we would have enough work. There were tons of tree limbs, debris and general cleanup.
And this is where the stories begin.
I went on a work crew one afternoon to the home of a woman who lived alone after having raised her grandson by herself. Her yard was full of debris, as well as two fallen evergreen trees. Her garden shed had been overturned. Her fence to keep out deer had been torn down by the storm. It was a mess, and yet I sensed she normally finds great peace in being out in her yard, as there was evidence of much tender loving care over the years. How overwhelmed she must have felt by the destruction, and yet she was grateful that day that the roof remained over her head.
We went to work. We hauled all the limbs from one tree that had been cut off by a neighbor. We raked, replaced rock and fixed the fence as best we could. We were feeling disappointed that the other tree had not had its broken limbs removed, which meant we couldn't haul it off. Then another neighbor came by and "happened" to have a chain saw in his truck. He cut up the other tree so we were able to haul most of it off. The woman said it would have taken her weeks to move all of that, as she tires easily. It was fun to be a blessing.
Other teams did the same, hauling and stacking firewood, raking debris, moving tree branches and limbs, weeding flower and vegetable gardens, painting and cleaning homes for numerous people in the church and community. These families each had their own story, their own struggle – many with health issues – and it was fun to brighten their day.
Another woman, who was fighting her second round with cancer, came home to find six of us weeding her flowerbed. She said that simple act gave her hope, as she loved to spend time out there, but had been too weak, and it had become overwhelming to her. Now she felt she could tackle it and actually enjoy it. In fact, the next day when we drove by her home, she was out in the flower bed.
Our mission group was the talk of this small town. People wanted to know, what are all these kids doing? What a witness – just serving out of love. It was hard work. Sometimes it was hard to connect the meaning of what we were doing with the sweat and fatigue. But our devotions one morning had to do with Matthew 25 and we talked over all the people Jesus identified with – the hopeless, the sick, the hungry, the desperate, and yes, the overwhelmed. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” He said.
On top of what we do each spring for churches and communities, there is also a very tangible benefit for our group. Individually, it opens our eyes and hearts to the needs of those around us, and we become conscious that we can make a difference. It also draws our group together; working, eating, sleeping, driving and playing together for almost 72 hours has a way of bringing our group to a new level. And, our kids get to experience the support of our local church body, who give generously to support our gas and food needs, allowing all kids access to being on the mission trip team.