By: Amanda Willis
For three years, Minnesota United Methodists have made the 1,200-mile trek to New Jersey to help rebuild the houses and lives of those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
This year, 21 people, ranging in age from 14 to 65, made the annual week-long trip to the East Coast in late June.
The group’s work has changed over the years. During the first trip, the volunteers did mostly clean-up and tearing down of drywall. The second trip was more about prepping the houses for rebuilding. And on this last trip, one of the work groups was able to hand over the keys to a house that was finished—representing the culmination of many hours that volunteers spent working in conjunction with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“It truly was a God moment when we handed over the keys,” said Gail Johnson, a member of Richfield United Methodist Church. “The three-generation family was so grateful that we drove as far as we did to do the work.”
Fewer Minnesotans made the trip this year as compared to last year, when almost 70 participated in the relief efforts, but there were some advantages to having a smaller crew. For example, the communication was easier between this year’s two work groups compared to last year’s seven, and things ran more efficiently.
The group stayed at the United Methodist Church of Somers Point, New Jersey. The church installed multiple showers and regularly houses volunteer groups that make their way to New Jersey to help with relief. The church even provided two dinners to the Minnesota crew as a way to show their gratitude for the work of all of the volunteers.
Lydia Chapman, 18, a member of North United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, worked on a house that had been badly damaged by sewage and needed significant repair. By the end of the week, she was able to show the homeowner that the house was very close to being finished. All that was needed was a few more coats of paint and some flooring.
“It just felt great that we gave her more of the outer appearance so that she was feeling more like she was about to go home,” Chapman said.
This was Chapman’s third mission trip to New Jersey, and she did more than learn construction techniques; she also met new people and made new friends.
Jack Griffin, retired, and a member of Centennial United Methodist Church in Roseville, has been on more than 25 mission trips throughout his lifetime. He took a lead role in teaching the younger members of the Minnesota group how to complete various construction tasks.
“They were eager and great learners,” he recalled. “If they have the energy, the skills can be taught.”
Before he retired, Griffin taught at-risk youth—and it’s a job he feels helped prepare him to follow God’s call in his life.
“I feel like I’ve been called to be a servant to use my skills to help others out,” he said. “It’s easy for me to be the hands and feet and to share.”
With the help of many volunteers, UMCOR has now completed more than 100 homes in New Jersey and continues to add more homes to its list for construction. The homes selected are usually for those who are elderly or disabled, and vulnerable individuals (those who had hired bad contractors) were also recently added to the list.
Griffin noted that the work in New Jersey is not yet complete, but by coming together in service to others, United Methodists are making a difference.
“Christ was a carpenter—he was a good one,” he said. “The rest of us are just little helpers.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church