Last week, I joined with a group of Plymouth volunteers to go down to Sebring, Florida, to help with Hurricane Irma Habitat for Humanity rebuilding efforts. I was honored to accompany Plymouth volunteers dedicated to making a difference while grounded together in prayer and Spiritual Practices. What a gift and a blessing it is to be one of your members of the clergy!
This was our first official team to go on an “International Build.” It was made possible by the Ministry Team leadership of Lynn Wartgow and Bruce Lieurance. As the last officially scheduled visiting volunteer group to go to this Central Florida location before the autumn (when it cools off again), we felt an increased sense of purpose and persistence. Painting and flooring a house built on a “floating foundation” in the sand was a new experience for our volunteers. More than anything, we learned about the ongoing need that sets into disaster impacted regions years after the initial rush of help comes. When the news changes subject and the national attention moves on from the initial impact of the storm, it is Habitat for Humanity that stays for the long haul…bringing with it the love of Christian community (open and accessible to all people) and missional vocation.
At one point, everyone was taking turns looking deep in my eyes with sincerity and concern. You could say that this mission trip was eye opening. They say that the eyes are the widow to the soul, but it turns out it is also the way to detect a concussion! While getting in the van one morning, I aimed too high (carrying two cups of coffee, one in each hand) and hit my head hard on the door of the van. While there was no concussion after all, the world was spinning for a while that morning. The care I experienced touched me deeply and reminded me what church community is all about. Mission Trips, like this inaugural one with Habitat, both allow us to have a material impact in the world beyond our pews and town, but they also bring us closer together in care for one another.
My ultimate reflection on this Mission Trip comes down to three phases: Home for All, Human Family, and Real Connection. That is why The Outreach and Mission Board and I hope that this trip to Sebring won’t be a stand-alone effort. We pray that it might be the catalyst that ignites our congregation sending more and more groups to go deeper in relationship with each other and the needs of others around God’s diverse world.
Here are two additional reflections from Plymouth members who were on this Mission Trip for Adults:
Lynn Wartgow, Habitat for Humanity Ministry Team Leader wrote:
“I am so grateful for the group of eight wonderful people who joined me for the trip to Sebring. Everyone was incredibly positive, kind, timely, fun, hardworking and enthusiastic. I loved getting to know everyone and feel as if my extended family has just grown. Habitat building trips are a fabulous way to see new places, meet new people, provide a 'hand up' to a deserving family and have a bunch of fun at the same time.”
And Vanessa Reed wrote the following, entitling it, Benefits of Working for Habitat:
“At the age of 78, I have just gained a new family. No, I did not adopt or get married. I spent a week with eight people sharing, giving, and loving hard work. We traveled together to hot, humid Florida to work with Habitat for Humanity. Even though the work, a five-bedroom home for a mother of nine, was often repetitive with lots of walls to paint and floors to lay; there was nothing but laughter, sharing, hugs, and becoming aware of muscles we have not used in a long time.
Hours of work to help this mother and her family become home owners and giving back to the community gave us all a deep feeling of satisfaction. We gained a sense of pride when the building manager said that he never expected us to complete so much work in such a short period of time. His praise sent us home to Fort Collins knowing we had made a difference in the lives of the people we did not know. Even more important than that, however, is that we created a new family with memories to never be forgotten.”
With eyes wide open to the needs around us and the hope for transformation in and through community…let us be Church together.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.