Reflections by Rev. Charles of the just outreach mission trip to BackBay, Biloxi MS
Wednesday, March 18 flight from Boston
to Atlanta and on to Biloxi. Few bumps along the
way but all on time. Picked up rental car and
arrive at BackBay Mission soon after 10pm (11pm Maine
time). Met Elizabeth and John of Chicago area,
leaders of a group of 12 youth at the Mission this week.....
also here is a group of college age youth from NY state.
Interesting-- Elizabeth does ALL their cooking. Goes
to work site in the morning, then grocery store as necessary--
and back to the Mission to fix the meal. I'd heard
that this is the approach of some groups. Chatted
in the kitchen for 45 minutes of our various experiences,
then to bed. Tomrrow I drive to Jackson MS to
meet Ed and Virginia Pittman-- summer residents of the
Kennebunks, South Church and MS residents.
Thursday March 19 A simple breakfast
and morning conversations with Craig who heads the Housing
Recovery program.... catching up on the past year and
look at future possibilities; all very encouraging.
Met Benji and others as they began to vision the projects
the current groups here may complete and what we may
be doing on Monday (likely painting but never plan too
early, things can/do change quickly). Then off
on a 2.5 hour drive to Jackson, the state capitol and
a leisurely visit with Virginia and Ed Pittman, summer
residents of the Kennebunks and South Church- and permanent
residents here. His long history of service in
state government and dedication to values of public
ethics and integrity came though again and again with
the stories . Lunch during the driving tour of a great
city, and then a visit at their home including meeting
daughter Jennifer, public school teacher. Then
drive back to the Mission, arriving about 9pm and had
some great left-overs from the Chicago group for a late
bite to eat.
Leisurely conversation with group leader
Dave in the kitchen, MA schooling and familiar
with White Mts and wildnerness ministry. How ministry
has changed over the years, strengths of his group this
year of all girls and what happens on the work site
as they have learned to operate power saw, nail gun,
etc. Confidence and self-reliance and community
all grow. This is one reason we do these trips.
Friday March 20 I had a chance to see both sites
and met a homeowner Debbie where we'll likely be next
week. (The program usually has 4-6 house projects
going on at once, depending upon weather and skill level
of each weekly group, decisions are made. The
Chicago group nearly did 100% of all the siding on her
home this week, amazing. Believe we'll be doing
caulking and painting-- ext and interior. Also saw the
other work site of the NY group-- again, such spirit
and accomplishment. Stopped by Ms Dawn's home
from last year's crew and visited with her for a bit.
She is so, so grateful- expressing thanks to God again
and again. Invited me inside and and full
tour of the house which was only half completed when
we were there. A thrill to see her again, a shining
light. Ran a few errands, did some reading
"Quiet" on the porch walker and a walk in
the morning down by the water. Tomorrow the South
Church crew arrives and we'll begin our week together.
We will work/continue the work of those before us, a
blessing to have known some of their faces-- Elizabeth
requests pictures as she helped the owner choose the
color if I understand correctly. Quickly apparent
that we take some pride and appropriate ownership in
the places where we work. Lives are changing,
that is clear.
Saturday March 21 Big day today - the 14 from
South Church arrive! But before, finished up some
wash for the NY / IL folks who left at 5am and needed
some help. Had quiet breakfast on my own then
to the Visitor Center to watch the 'We Are Biloxi' movie--
amazing the stories of folks were endured Katrina and
the actual footage of the storm. Ie. Nearlhy
fifty police/fire fighters of this community
alone lost their homes -- losing everything but
the uniform they were wearing while on duty.
Then off to the airport where all arrived safely....
and nearly all the luggage--- just not on the same flight
!! So good to see them. Amazing, most
got up that morning 3-4 a.m. to make a 7:10am flight
out of Boston. Miriah cleared off 4" snow
on her car before driving up from CT to mee the
group at Logan. Nancy came in from FL and met
up with the group at Atlanta airport. Once here,
folks rested and soaked up some warmth. With our
rental cars, one group later went to the beach, a group
back to the airport for luggage, a group to grocery
store... and Joe fixed the non-workikng grill (though
he asked someone else to try lighting it!). Dinner
was burgers and salads - so many hands jumping in to
prepare-and a true prayer of thanksgiving before we
ate. Folks called home as Laura / Lydia / Sam eyed the
sprayer washer in the kitchen and offered to do the
dishes. Could the gospel actually be residing
in these teen eyes of mischief ?! These three
washed/dried everything within reach ! Seeing
a need, they rose to the occasion. Already we are
seeing the spirit of God at work. Folks
hit the sack early after a long, long day of travel.
Church not unitl 11:00 am tomorrow - thank you God.
Sunday March 22 Morning worship
at First Missionary Baptist Church of Gulfport, warmly
welcomed before we even walked in by Pastor Sonny Adolph
who remembered us once again. Lively and spirited
worship- 'rejoice in the Lord always'. ' If you
find a perfect church, don't join it. For if you
do, it won't be perfect any more.' We all need
God and all need each other. The foundation of
the gospel rings true in all expressions.
Then off to Susan and Dennis' home
in Pass Christian, folks I had met last summer hiking
in NH-- and who said 'when you come to MS, we'll have
you to our home.' A full southern spread with
rice and beans, gumbo, salads, bread and three desserts
including bread pudding and sweet potato pie!
How kind and gracious~~ Afternoon was quiet back
at the Mission for a few hours before the group from
FL arrived. Nice , nice folks- quickly shared
brownies and ice cream as a large group which Lydia,
Sam and Laura made-- delicious! An 8pm orientation
session for us all from Jeanette.... and lots of conversations
here and there, people making connections (our Kristen
and their Rachel went to the same elementary school
in Rochester NH!!) A rich and wondrous day.
Monday March 23 Patience Monday
- we were reminded.... gradual start-up. We went
to attractive and recently built home that had
been fore-closed, town of Gulfport took possession,
sold it to Back Bay Mission who then gave it a face
lift; new tiling, redid kitchen, trim paint...
then will be inspected tomorrow and put on the market
for low income family. FL group went to another
site, doing roofing. Tomorrow we'll move to new site
in need of major work; exterior paint all around, trim
paint on doors/windows, caulking all seams, a bit of
finishing up hardy board siding. We'll be there
the rest of the week.
Kristen and Sue did supper once again;
oven baked chicken (so good !!), root vegetables and
salad with garlic bread. Evening the FL group
is doing the Myers/Briggs test with any/all present---
fascinating to watch listen. (They are 10 high
school youth, five adults.) Quiet evening as well
with misc conversations.
True beginning of community... our
three teens and one of theirs walking back from the
beach together as we were returning from work site late
: "Give us a ride, please give us a ride!"
"Squeeze 'em in, get on in" the last 1/4 mile.
Such good people. One more reason we are here,
reaching across both miles and generations.
Tuesday March 24 The house in
Gulfport needed a few last touches so Heather, John
and Joe headed that direction while the rest of us went
to Ms Deb's home next to the Air Force base in great
need of attention. Painting needed on the full
exterior plus caulking of all joints - keeps moisture
out as well as insects. Twelve of us on site....
plus 8 Development people of the Mission down here for
meetings. A little too many folks given the number
of ladders and all, but it worked. And Ms Deb
came by at end of day--- and stood out front with tears
coming down... many lives touched in that moment.
God at work with paint brushes and tubes of caulk.
The FL group made supper (TACO TUESDAY),
a South Church meeting after to confirm next day plans,
then free evening. Five of us; Joe, Sue, Datyon and
Miriah took a walk down the beach for fresh air and
filling our souls with the evening.
Some of our youth have been invited/asked
to work with the FL crew tomorrow on roofing - how clearly
God is at work. And wow, did they work at
Ms Ethel's home. She is one of eleven children
all born in that house. At age 14, she delivered
her new born baby sister there as the mid-wife didn't
quite make it on time . Ms Ethel oversees the
Micah Day Center here at the Mission as a volunteer
... last year was recognized as City of Biloxi Volunteer
of the Year while we were here--- however it was
somebody else who said 'you know, she has a roof that
is leaking but she'll never ask for help'. As
Craig said, she is family.... and roofs that are leaking
go to the top of the list.
Wednesday March 25 Nearly all
of us Ms Debbie's home on Iberville Road, putting a
second coat of paint on nearly the entire home; John
and Joe cutting trim boards, Don working on his window
with great precision, Dayton up on ladder, Linda and
Nancy taking the side entrance area and north side,
Miriah and Sue the south side and Heather with Laura
who joined us at mid-day working the caulking gun as
Kristen worked up off an extension ladder. Great
amount of work done, and at lunch time we visited the
FL site where some of our youth were invited to work;
Lydia and Sam along with Denise. And work they
did, hot up on a roof doing shingling! Kristen
and Linda and I dropped by Ms Dawn's home for a visit--
and of course, she invited us in to see her new home....
humbling. Dawn has now been in her home nearly
one year--- after being out for eight years! Dishonest
contractors did marginal work for her years ago, exhausting
all her money and leaving a house unfit for occupancy.
Interesting story as Sue and Kristen cleaned-out
the walk-in fridge.... tossed out some chili apparently
from a previous group as it had a date of 2-3 weeks
ago. Well.... they felt horrible as it previously
been frozen and was now thawing out to be used tomorrow
at the Micah Day Center for the homeless here at Back
Bay. Would you believe they then found all the
ingredients to make up a substitute large pot-- including
meat from Taco Tuesday meal here... and by end of the
day, chili was available for the Micah Center once again.
Ellen and Bill joined us to head over
to the Baptist Church for a supper invitation by their
Pastor and people- followed by Bible Study. Pastor
Adolph was so good in his sensitivity to other traditions
and understandings of faith and Bible reading- honoring
all and inviting wider thoughts and ideas. I was
very much impressed and at ease with his theology.
Amazing how much we do believe and read in similar fashion
allowing space for one and all. We ended with a large
circle around the sanctuary with 75 of us, all ages---
and I was honored to be asked to offer the closing
prayer and benediction. Pastor is not hestitant
to welcome me once again to speak.
Thursday March 26 Weather is
very questionable today though we headed to the Iberville
house where Mike has been our site supervisor, nice
guy- quiet and steady; from Ohio and frequent volunteer
at BBM. Despite the forecast, we jumped in doing
more caulking, Dayton finished the end of a second coat
up high on extension ladder, and most the rest of us
started the white trim paint. Looking very nice
with clean, crisp white with the sea mist color.
However, radar showed nasty storms getting close so
stopped all painting so as to not lose our work, did
some raking of the yard and headed back to the Mission
building. As this was our half day of work anyway,
some rested and others headed to the Visitor Center
to view the Biloxi/Katrina film, then off to the Ohr
Keefe museum of potter (late 1800's -early 1900's) and
the opening of the Katrina Plus 10 exhibit--- good timing
Interesting story as we sat down to
compare notes of money spent for food with the FL group.
Linda first gathered all our receipts and Andy gave
us their figures so we could then reconcile 'who owes
whom how much; making sure we pro-rate the amounts for
them leaving early and having arrived the day after
us. Would you believe, it cost South Church
(with round figures) $ 120 / day to feed our 15 folks
three meals on -snacks-etc. And the
calculator showed that it cost FL folks $ 119 / day.....
Evening-- Bill and Ellen joined us
for dinner- they will be the next long term volunteers
; she in the volunteer office and he as a site
supervisor. Lengthy conversations about the new
media today (Bill was an ABC news producer with
extensive travels including a lengthy stay in KPort
when the Iraq War broke out in January 1991.
'Do we report the news or create the news?' How is it packaged,
who writes it? Also interesting with five of us
talking about hunger and needs in Maine, how statistics
are used/embellished, etc. Earlier --
young Sebastian from the FL group had cake for his 17th
birthday and lots of evening conversations -- so good
to share this meal with new friends. Our youth
and theirs bonding naturally and quickly-- now we have
to separate them ! FL group leaves tomorrow, 7:30
Friday March 27 After a fond
farewell to the FL group who drove out at 7:30AM, we
finished up our breakfast and headed to the work site.
Over the course of the day, we put a second coat of
white paint on the entire house by 3pm. Visits
from Ellen and Bill brought a surprise of three dozen
Krispy Kreme warm doughnuts !!! And just
when we were ready for a mid-morning break. What
good people ! Then soon after and some of us were
still chatting-- one of the ThunderBirds Air Force Jets
began its preparation for the big air show tomorrow---
screaming by just over our heads (our work site was
just at the end of the runway) ---literally a few
hundred feet above. Folks on ladders felt their
supports tremble and those of us on the ground, our
insides were quaking. And for the next hour plus--
these precise flyers practice their manuvers as other
planes of different types continued to arrive.
Some folks went out for sandwiches from the VietNamese
Bakery.... I walked across the railroad tracks fifty
feet away (more noise !) to a Korean restaurant--
selecting such instead of my tuna fish sandwich (ordered
Mongolian beef and shrimp which was delicious--- and
the side dish was VERY VERY HOT-- could not swallow
by any stretch!!
We continued with our painting... and
must say the house looks quite attractive. Having
purchased some new numerals for the address to be posted
over the front porch door, Lydia finished a second coat
of paint earlier and took the 10' step ladder and affixed
them accordingly. We all took pictures.
We could tell we were slowing down,
mid-Friday afternoon; we washed out brushes and brought
all the ladders inside, tools to the trailer, and headed
back to the Mission for a 4pm wrap-up meeting with Craig
to review the week. And excellent it was.
We offered a few constructive suggestions from our experience.
Learned more of how the Mission invests in property,
and how a site like that for our week began with an
estimate of $ 6000 and quickly grew to $ 15,000--- as
plumbing was not functioning and none of the electricity
in the home was grounded. Craig said he refuses
to leave a house with more needs for safety of resident
or security of the building.
Did I say, before we left the work
site.... Ms Debbie came over to say 'goodbye' and 'thank
you' one more time..... with more tears of a tender
heart. As Craig said, we not only restore homes
but also we are restoring hope for individuals.
No further reminder will we ever need.
Dinner, we headed out to The Shed --
a quite funky and well know bbq restaurant--- mighty
fine including pecan cobbler for dessert !
The week has clearly exceeded our hopes
and expectations. A Lenten discipline of service
and sacriface - lessons of discipleship and being participant
in the formation of community one day at a time.
Not easy, and not always pretty; but the character of
the people we have met - those of MS, those FL, those
in our own group and ourselves- have all grown in depth
and what a further revelation of that which resides
/ shines in our souls. No one could participate
in every aspect of this trip - different work sites,
different people met in a grocery or at a local hardware
store (the owners took seven feet of water on the second
floor in their kitchen !). These 'border crossing
experiences' bring us to places far from home ,
yet bring us home in a new manner and as a new creation.
This is the working of God, around us and within us.
Now time to clean our area for the next group, and to
begin our trip home.
Saturday March 28 Up early to
do final cleaning before heading to the airport at 8am...
and a group picture before departure. Said 'goodbye'
to Nancy at Gulfport airport as she is on a later flight
to return to home in FL. Our regional jet had
a smooth flight to Atlanta where we had time for a quick
bite to eat before boarding flight to Boston.
Some dozing, some reading ("Quiet" by Susan
Cain) and conversations with those in our group.
More goodbyes at Logan as some headed out with C+J bus,
others had cars... Mariah heading back to CT.
June Bug glad to see me-- wondering
what this travelling is all about. Nice to be
away, such a good trip; and nice to be back home.