One of the main work projects that we have been doing here in Pikeville, Kentucky is building wheelchair ramps for people who are elderly and disabled. When our last group was here they installed three different ramps throughout the week, (on top of a few other work projects).
One of the women who we installed a ramp for was Miss Linda Cochran. She is not in a wheelchair yet, but she does anticipate to be put into one in the near future. She has only been outside of her house two times in the past six months because she needed so much help getting down the stairs and out to the car. Our group didn’t actually finish her ramp because a thunderstorm blew up on their last day of work, so Nathan, Steph, and I decided to go and finish it for her on Friday evening.
The only work that needed to be done on the ramp was putting on the handrails, so Nathan and Linda’s son, Seth, worked on that while Steph and I just chatted with Linda. She was such a sweet lady, and she was so grateful for this ramp. She already had three dates all planned since she could finally get out of her house and down to the car. Both of her sons were going to take her out to do something fun, and her sister was going to take her out to dinner at a restaurant.
Watching her walk down that ramp all by herself, (even without her walker), brought me so much joy, and I knew that there was absolutely no other place on earth that I would want to be at that moment. It really made me understand the concept of being more blessed to give then to receive. The pure delight that I could see on her face brought me more happiness than I could have ever experienced had I been receiving something. Also, it was so awesome to be able to share the love of Jesus with her by doing such a practical thing. All it took was some two by fours and a drill, and we were being the hands of Jesus to Linda. This moment is one that I will remember for a long time, and I look forward to many more like it here in Kentucky!
Note: Check out all the exciting things that are going on with Experience Mission on our website www.ExperienceMission.org
Outreach in Pike County, Kentucky looks a little different than it does in some of the other Experience Mission communities. There is a very high population of shut-ins here who are mainly elderly, disabled, or many times both. Since there is such a high number of these folks, our main outreach opportunity is to go and visit with them. Most of them are pretty lonely, so they really enjoy just sitting and visiting for a little while with us “young folk”.
Miss Myrtle Bartley is a prime example of one of our outreach visits. She is 100 years old (but she told us not to tell anyone or she might not get a boyfriend), and she loves to just sit and chat with us. When our last group was here, I took out four girls to visit with her. While we were there she asked all kinds of questions. One of these was if any of us had boyfriends or husbands. We all told her no, we were too young for that! She proceeded to say that she thought we would all make great “hillbilly wives” and she would work on finding us some husbands! Then she told me that she’d try to find me an old man with a Cadillac and a lot of money to marry who was about to “slip on a banana peel right into the grave”. According to her, that’s how people do it nowadays! Obviously we all got quite a laugh out of that, and I’m pretty sure that she really enjoyed seeing us all get a kick out of it! Miss Myrtle is such a great lady, and I’m so glad that I have the privilege of bringing other people out to meet her and hear her stories!
Year round trips starting in August 2010.
Christian Youth Mission Trip
Walking through the Jonesboro Trailer Park in Atlanta this summer, Jason Pope of the Salvation Army saw something that in most communities would be considered fairly shocking: As a black lab with no apparent owner wandered along, several teenagers drove up, stopped to shoot the animal with a BB gun, and then drove away.
Sadly, the incident was one of many reflecting a general environment of chaos and instability in the dilapidated, impoverished community comprised mostly of struggling immigrants.
“It’s hard to describe it exactly, but it would remind you of being in a two-thirds world country and seeing poverty when you’re there,” Pope said. “There are no boundaries for the kids in that community. Another kid walks up with a dead squirrel, playing with it like it’s a puppet, trying to get it to climb up trees, and we try to explain to him that he shouldn’t do that, that he could get sick.”
“When there’s no hope there, they just make stuff up,” Pope said.
Like other teams working in new urban communities across the country this year, the Experience Mission Summer Staff Intern team assigned to Atlanta had to adopt an approach of patience, consistency and sensitivity to try to reach the children.
Most kids in the struggling community were generally defiant and uncontrollable and had grown up surrounded by outside influences that glorified gang culture, intern Matt Crouch said, adding that one gang in particular had a heavy influence on the community.
“These guys growing up are seeing that’s the way to get the money, that’s the way to be cool,” he said. “So they’re 10, 11 years old and they’re trying to be part of the gang.”
Crouch said he and fellow interns were the regular objects of curse-laden tirades or obscene gestures as they returned to the community day after day to forge new inroads. At one point, Crouch was even bitten by one boy.
“He just wasn’t happy that he got out in four square. He was just going crazy, and I had to hold him back from hitting another kid, so he decided to bite my arm,” Crouch said. “I just had teeth marks and bruises for a week.”
But they didn’t let that incident or the constant deriding they received from many children dissuade them, and instead showed up every day and walked through the community to talk with families there. Crouch speaks Spanish—something that allowed him to communicate more personably with the dozens of Mexican families living there.
It was slow going, but Crouch said he found that if was able to win over the confidence of one family member, it most often translated into an open door with the entire family.
He said it was startling to see some poverty stricken families working to instill healthy discipline in their kids while others approached parenting with a sort of abandon. More active parents, he said, were constantly worried about the negative impact of the rebellious, uncontrolled children.
“It was amazing just to see the different sides of the spectrum and how they can exist so close in one community, and how they can affect each other.”
Results worth the effort
Slowly, Crouch said, holding Kids’ Club in the community every day and having the same three interns show up consistently started to send a trickle of structure through the group they were working with. That had been the hope from the beginning.
“One of our great challenges was to build at least some set of boundaries so they could feel safe and have some kind of discipline throughout the summer,” Pope said, adding that the only place they had to hold Kid’s Club, in an open field, didn’t necessarily help add to the sense of order.
Still, Pope said community members noted the improved demeanor of the 25-30 children who regularly participated in the Kid’s Club. He said their language could be used as one barometer of their progress, and recalled one day when a particularly prolific young boy went a whole day without cursing. One of the interns complimented him.
“I asked him how that felt, and he said, ‘It feels good,’” Pope said.
He said major improvements like those were most visible in the last few weeks of the summer. Pope said that while mission teams have been to Jonesboro Trailer Park before, they typically came for one isolated week. Having a stable leadership team and a consistent flow of volunteers made a significant difference this year.
“They always knew they were going to have that consistency week after week and it wasn’t just a drive by deal,” he said.
By the end of the summer, what would have been a five-minute walk through the trailer park turned into an hour-long trek for Crouch—he was stopped for small chats at nearly every home he passed.
“That was what was so hard about leaving,” Crouch said. “It takes about that much time—I was there two months, every day—to finally be accepted, where people finally start trusting you significantly.”
All urban locations initially tough
EM Executive Director Chris Clum said it was similarly difficult to make headway in other stateside urban communities, but that like in Atlanta, volunteer teams ended up spearheading the establishment of new, potentially life-changing bonds.
“Early on, we struggled in the urban communities,” Clum said. “It was a bear the first half of the summer. But the relationships we formed with our partners…it was extremely rewarding to the teams. We were able to make some pretty strong inroads, and it made a significant impact.”
In Portland, Maine and Fort Wayne, Ind., volunteers had the opportunity to work with predominately Muslim refugees—something of a unique experience for a stateside mission trip.
“There were many opportunities to talk about Christ with the Muslims, and it was done in a very appropriate way, so we’re always pleased about that,” Clum said.
Experience Mission is offering Summer 2009 trips to Atlanta, Portland, Fort Wayne, Baltimore and other urban locations. Learn more at www.experiencemission.org or call the EM office at 360-732-0986.
Find one of our upcoming short term mission trips:
Sometimes it’s hard to understand why houses take so long to be completed, but with all the different steps – some which require a greater level of skill than others – and multiple inspections that must be passed before moving on to the next step, the lengthy process makes more sense.
It had been around a month since teams had been able to do any work on Brigitte’s home because we were all waiting for it to pass inspection. Recently we discovered that the house had passed inspection two weeks ago, but no one had been notified. This was both frustrating and exciting news – we wished we could have been working on it for weeks, but we were excited for our very last team of the summer to begin the drywalling process.
Part of the Tennessee Team spend the entire week at Brigitte’s, and with Cory’s guidance put up sheet after sheet of drywall, and finished nearly all the insulation – a job slightly less than comfortable. When I finally got to see the site toward the end of the week, I was shocked at the progress they had made. I remembered almost two months ago when I had helped hook up some of the plumbing in the bathroom, when I could see every corner of the house from the moment I walked in the door.
Another house that has been a slow but slightly more steady process is Ray’s. We have had a group working on his house almost every week, but for the last month it seemed like each team would redo the same tedious process – mudding and sanding, mudding and sanding. It’s a task that has to be done, is not quick or easy, and takes a great amount of time to get right. The last two weeks have brought an end in sight, however, and our last two teams were able to actually texture both walls and a ceiling after mudding and sanding. On Thursday, EM’s last workday for the summer in Pearlington, we could all tell that Ray was excited, in his quiet way, to see such visible progress on his home.
A sign outside of a church, visible from the main road that winds through Pearlington, sums up where many of the town’s struggles and their faith intersect: “Katrina was big, but God is bigger.”
Mexico Mission Trips
Diane Andrews of Bellview Community Church has built her ministry out of encouraging women. She has spoken to women in churches throughout Colorado, the United States and the world. Not too long ago, she presented a message to missionary women in Thailand and most recently she decided to continue to share her message – a special talk on Psalm 23 – with the women of Iglesia Cristiana Vida, the church of Ruiz, Mexico.
When Diane first proposed to do something for the women in the community, we were very excited. Occasionally groups will decide to reach out to the women – especially those that are most visible during the trip, such as the cooking staff – and they are always very appreciative of the special attention.
When Wednesday morning at 10:00 arrived, however, our attempts were almost stopped by an abnormal daytime storm that raged throughout the morning. As rivers of water ran down the road in front of the church, we knew that most efforts to come to the gathering would be thwarted. We sent Jim out in a car, however, and after traversing the muddy streets he came back with one woman; he had found her walking in the rain, and she explained that since she had decided to miss work to come to the sermon, no storm would stop her. Not too long after, another car pulled up and out piled more women.
All in all, there were five in attendance for Diane’s message. It was one of the smallest crowds that Diane has spoken for, but her ministry was no less effective. Diane explained that she really wanted to make the women feel loved so besides simply giving her talk, she bought beads to make bracelets that went along with her message. Each color of the bracelet symbolized a different section of the Psalm. The women mediated on the Psalm and joined together in fellowship and prayer, each leaving feeling as though they had truly been blessed by the experience.
Plan an upcoming Mexico mission trip. Visit www.ExperienceMission.org
Honduras Mission Trips :: Belize Mission Trips
Repeatedly listed by local residents as the most pressing needs in their community, water and food will be the focus of new EM mission trips to Honduras in 2009, while church construction and ministry expansion for the Family of God Church will be the focus of new trips to Belize.
EM staff members Josh Gray and Steven Barry traveled to Honduras on July 4 to assess the possibility of setting up trips there, and while they were prepared to see poverty - Honduras consistently ranks among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere - seeing it first-hand was still overwhelming.
“There are a lot of places where you see the poor and they stand out and it tugs at your heart, but then most other people seem to be doing OK,” Barry said. “That’s not really the case in Honduras. You see signs of really extreme poverty pretty much everywhere you go.”
Gray and Barry stayed on a small ranch in Junquillo, a village of about 1,000 people that sits in the pine-covered mountains between the capital city of Tegucigalpa and the city of Danlí. Junquillo is known for its remarkably low crime levels compared to the rest of the country, but nonetheless remains just as poor.
Most short-term mission trips deal with basic construction projects–typically things like improving churches or building homes or restroom facilities. While those are all definite needs in Honduras, during a community meeting to help prioritize work projects for next year’s teams, residents of Junquillo and nearby Ocotal said they spend most of their days simply figuring out how to get adequate water and food.
“It’s amazing when you ask somebody, ‘What are the greatest needs you have in your community?’ and they say, ‘Water and food,’” EM Executive Director Chris Clum said. “Our response has to be, ‘Yes, we will come. We will help you with the water, and we will figure out how to help you with food.’”
There are reservoirs in both Junquillo and Santa Clara that contain clean drinking water. However, only Junquillo has a distribution system, and it uses cheap plastic tubing and releases water only twice a week. Ocotal residents, along with Junquillo residents without an effective storage system, must hike up steep hills to the reservoirs. Some spend several hours each day just gathering water.
For those who bear that responsibility—frequently children—it marks yet another obstacle in a day already wrought with challenges families must work together to overcome. Keeping food on the table is a constant battle. Most full-time workers earn less than 100 Lempiras a day, or about $5, and it costs $3.50 to buy beans alone for a few meals.
“The bottom line is just that the cost of living is too great for the amount of wages that are available,” Gray said. “I was surprised by that and just struck by the needs, but also the resilience of the community.”
Some don’t have the wherewithal to provide for themselves at all. One 92-year-man in Junquillo has no regular source of income and only his now elderly daughter to support him however he can. He relies on friends of his gracious enough to bring by food and lives, as one nearby rancher put it, “by the hand of God.”
In nearby Belize, there is a drastic improvement in the overall quality of life, but the country is still poor.
There, EM hopes to work with the nationwide Family of God Church, which is facilitating successful community outreach programs but needs assistance with infrastructure in order to accommodate growing congregations.
“I was impressed by the Christians that we met in Belize - their warmth and excitement toward us - but I was quite surprised by some of the barriers they have in their ministry, specifically relating to resources,” Gray said. “The churches we visited didn’t have walls, and I’m not even convinced they’re staying dry.”
The term “nationwide” can be deceiving. With only 300,000 people, Belize is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, and the capital, Belmopan, is the smallest national capital on the planet. One example of the country’s lack of infrastructure: The Belizean labor department has a Yahoo e-mail address.
Experience Mission is facilitating mission trips to Honduras and Belize for Summer 2009. To learn more, visit ExperienceMission.org or call the EM office at 360-732-0986 . Join one of EM’s Central America Mission Trips.