By: Amanda Willis
Joe Abe knew that the Minnesota Conference’s Hurricane Sandy mission trip would involve helping those in need. But he didn’t know he would return from the trip having gained more than the knowledge of how to use a circular saw.
Each day, Abe worked on repairing the home of an 88-year-old man named Ed—and as he worked, he got to know Ed.
“He had so many years of experience and is sharp as a tack,” said Abe, a senior business major at the University of Minnesota and an active member of its campus ministry, the Wesley Foundation. “He offered so much advice, and the breadth of his knowledge and experiences was very humbling to me.” For example, Ed, a former construction worker, showed some tricks of the trade while the group was replacing his floor—and he talked about what it means to be a leader.
Humility, sharing, and strength are just a few of the things that 68 Minnesota United Methodists experienced on the nine-day mission trip in mid-August. Group members ranged in age from 14 to 78 and came from 20 United Methodist churches across Minnesota (and one in Iowa). This is the second year that the conference has sponsored such a trip, although this year’s group was significantly larger than last year’s 45-person team.
Hurricane Sandy damaged hundreds of thousands of homes when the storm hit in October 2012, and relief efforts have been ongoing ever since.
“I love serving the people in the community who have been hurt so badly by the storms,” said Karen Evenson, the mission trip’s co-coordinator and a member of Fridley United Methodist Church. “God nudges us to serve others and, as we go ahead and do that, we are blessed...It is beautiful to see everyone in community together, as I believe God intended.”
The Minnesota Conference group divided into seven teams of nine to 10 volunteers, each with a balance of experience and ages. They worked on repairing homes, condos, and duplexes.
Each day started with a devotion and blessing at breakfast, then the smaller groups headed out to their individual work sites. The volunteers worked long, hard days, doing everything from framing doors and painting walls to laying floors. Many say the highlight was hearing the stories of the people they were helping.
Jessica Hibberd, a 27-year-old member of First United Methodist Church in Stillwater, worked on the home of a married couple. Her small group framed walls and put up sheet rock and insulation underneath the couple’s house—and she was touched by how grateful the couple was for the assistance.
“They were amazing people,” she said. “They were so grateful that on Friday he and his mother-in-law made us lunch—he made us Jersey dogs and his mother-in-law made us eggplant parmesan.”
The Minnesota group stayed in what used to be a United Methodist church. Prior to the storm, the church had sat empty and was ready to be sold. But after the storm touched down, the Greater New Jersey Conference transitioned it into a host site for their A Future with Hope project, an ongoing recovery program that provides case managers, professional construction supervisors, and thousands of volunteers to those in need. The New Jersey Conference works on this program in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Rev. Alan Bolte, pastor at Grand Rapids United Methodist Church, worked in the same group as Hibberd. He remembers when, the last day, people from the larger Minnesota group came together, even though it was time for dinner, to help one of the smaller teams that had fallen behind and needed extra hands to finish its project.
“Immediately, 10 people, youth and adults, volunteered to go and help,” he said. “It was good to see so many people willing to give up our own time at the beach and delay having a meal in order to go help others.” The small team finished its work thanks to the assistance of the larger group.
Evenson said the trip was incredibly rewarding, and she learned a lot along the way.
“I learned a lot about managing 68 people and how to help them all get information, food, and supplies,” she said. “I learned even more about being patient and being blessed in the midst of difficult situations.”
The group’s hard work paid off.
“[The homeowners] were thrilled,” Hibberd said. “When we got there, some walls were framed out, but the drywall hadn’t been put up yet. The more we put up, the more their house began to look like a home.”
After the group returned and participants had time to reflect on their work and experiences, it became even more evident just how much their trip impacted their connection with God and others. Jeff Goeldi, a member of Racine United Methodist Church, wrote a letter to Bishop Bruce Ough, expressing his gratitude for the conference’s support of the opportunity.
“Our church is a very small rural community church,” Goeldi wrote. “As a congregation [we] would have a very hard time supporting an endeavor like this by ourselves, but because of you, your staff, and the other volunteers, we bring back to our congregation new vision and new life that we see revitalizing the work of our food shelf that not only serves our small community but also larger surrounding communities, our free community library housed and supported in our church, our community [clothes] closet, summer reading program in the park, and free movies with popcorn for the entire community.”
When asked if Abe would return next year to help for a third time, he responded with an enthusiastic “yes!”
“Not only is there a broad range of ages, there are a variety of churches who attend,” he said. “You gain perspective on Minnesota and the people of your faith. There is a real unifying bond that goes on there.”
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church