Words from the Minister

Pentecost marks 50 days after Easter.  Often called the 'birthday of the church', the book of Acts - chapter 2 - records the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus.  A mystical and marvelous event is told of individuals with a multitude of native languages  understanding each other's speech despite their differences.  Just imagine!  People from different countries understanding ~truly understanding~others in their midst.  How we still pray for such in these days of community unrest, distrust of many institutions and the frequent absence of civil discourse in our nation's halls of leadership.  Let us still claim our faith that the Spirit of compassion and justice will rest once again upon the hearts of us all. 
May Pentecost come once again.
Rev. Charles

 

 

Reflections from BackBay Mission Biloxi, MS 2018

Thursday, April 12 After a 90 minute airport delay, it was off to DC  to see my daughters and birthday celebrations that evening.  Fortunate for me, the next day was the formal inauguration of the new president of American University  (where both Laura and Anna now work, and Laura's college degree received), Sylvia Burwell--  fifteenth president of the school and first woman! 
A delightful picnic followed on the quad as clearly spring has arrived here. 

President Burwell comes from a small town in W. Virginia, very down to earth in character and recently served as head of the Office of Management and Budget as well as cabinet Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. At one time, head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with an eye and ear for social justice and poverty issues within and  beyond this country. Her words underscored the importance  of an educated and informed citizenry, connected to values as well as community; all the more critical in our current climate.   I was greatly impressed.

Also began a new book that Anna gave me, DEAD WAKE-The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.  
Very good.    Dinner at an outdoor cafe..... and now rest.     

After a LONG travel day on Saturday April 14, we were about to touch down at Gulfport/Biloxi airport when a sudden wind shift occurred and the Captain pulled up and went around two more times.  Then the bad news- we were going BACK to Atlanta!  Couple more hours later, we tried again, tip-toeing through a nasty front once more--- and landed about 11pm. 

Sunday morning, April 15 we attended worship at First Missionary Baptist Church in Gulfport where we were warmly welcomed in a Spirit-filled service of music and message.  Wow! Our time in worship included bringing greetings from South Church.   Finally, concluding with an altar call as two folks came forward and spoke out of days of homelessness saying, 'It's been hard but it's been alright.'   We witnessed gentle tears on their faces as they re-affirmed their love of and service to Jesus Christ.  A humbling morning to say the least. Truly helping to set the tone for our week.In the afternoon, some went to the Biloxi Shuckers baseball game, some to the visitor center to view the Katrina film, some toured area neighborhood of recent Mission projects, some rested and some grocery shopping  A group lead by Kristen and Missy jumped in to fix a delicious dinner.... topped by ice cream sundaes celebrating Rev. Charlie's birthday last week.  Tomorrow, we begin our volunteer work; Loaves N Fishes soup kitchen, Micah Day Center for the homeless and housing renovation/restoration.  Back Bay Mission remains an active presence here on the Gulf Coast since 1921.  We are part of thousands 'cloud of witnesses' who have come to learn and serve.

Monday, April 16
'Be ready, please, breakfast done and lunches packed for 7:30AM.'  Thus we began with orientation to the week from Craig and Benjiwho oversee the housing rehab program.  Most of us went to Walker Street where we painted exterior home along with caulking, plus some interior work.  This house received flooding in Katrina and now has at least one family member bed/house bound.  Great work crew with Bill, the long term volunteer and our group supervisor. Three levels of scaffolding, up and down- and moving around the side to back side of home.

Other group did some organizing of the Mission's tools and supplies, then to Gulfport to do final prep on a house ready for city inspection before being ready for a lower income family.  A house becomes a home.

Another delicious dinner tonight; pulled chicken, roasted vegetables, rice---- evening trip down to the beach for many - 3/4 walk--- and some then out for ice cream.  Such a delight to watch / listen to conversations amongst this group of 22.  Folks meeting again 'for the first time' to quote the Marcus Book entitled 'Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time'.  Learning of family, work, backgrounds, social concerns/issues and more.  And such a fun mix of ages--- blessings abound, God is in our midst.

Tuesday, April 17
Quite a day of significant learnings and experiences.  The Walker Street crew continued its painting, moving scaffolding, and painting some more.  Dayton working on some interior closet doors.  
Third coat of blue and second coat of white trim.  Close to being finished.  

The other crew went to W. Biloxi to an apartment of a previously homeless person.... and with the program director, discovered it to be in very poor condition throughout.  It was disturbing in many ways and called us to be cautious of judgment when not knowing circumstances.  One of our folks spoke of the weighty combination of addiction, poverty and mental illness.  Another reminded us that homelessness is a 24/7 job.  Hats off to this crew for extraordinary work, and will return there tomorrow. Heather had the opportunity to join a local teacher in her fourth grade classroom and gained insights on many levels.  A first for our many trips to the Gulf Coast.   

Folks at Loaves N Fishes served until the food ran out... well over 100 folks at noon time,  half that many at breakfast and similar number 'meals to go' for the home bound.  Ellen and Bill joined us for dinner, delicious chicken piccata prepared by Alicia, Andy and Julie---- wow!  And collective reflections of the challenges and insights of the day.   Such trips as this, we are reminded, are learning experiences; experiential lessons in the many facets of human nature and condition- not always pretty yet very real. Tomorrow is a 1/2 day of work, then group decision to head over to New Orleans for afternoon visit and supper in French Quarter area, hour and a half drive to the west.

Tuesday, PS   At the Loaves N Fishes soup kitchen, the couple who were at church on Sunday and came forward for the altar call walked in... and mutual recognition.  In addition as a small number of our group walked down to the beach for sunset time, a group from the Micah Center-Homeless Day Center recognized them and said, 'Don't I know you?'    Our presence and witness is perhaps more significant than we realize.  How often is that true in most of life?!

We have now heard news of Barbara Bush's death.  We pause during our evening reflections, offered a prayer for this gracious women-- embraced in our local community and known around the world. 

It is now 6:15am Wednesday, April 18, a few folks are getting- someone kindly started a cup of coffee.  The Loaves N Fishes crew departs shortly.  I'm blocking out work crews (staying about the same), counting seat belts and asking the early birds how their work site is going:  Is _____ still coughing? Is _______ better after the nose bleed.....? Pondering the day to come.  This will be a ' 1/2 day' - encouraged by the staff of the Mission for all groups.  Take a breather, rest abit as this not our normal "day job".... and visit the area.  Our group decided to go to New Orleans, 90 miles to the west along I-10; a city where never had been yet again, a place of national history 13 years ago.  For me, as group leader, though so - so tempting to go as well; knew it would be wise for me to lay low for the afternoon--- step back abit----- even though I'll miss 'my people.'
 
Thursday, April 19
Two major sites today, extension of yesterday's work plus one new.  The Stennis Apt work crew is finished up, what began as a real mess is now ready for occupancy and
new hope for one destined and accepted into the program -- Home At Last.  Great work all around.  Walker Ave is wrapped up with new lock sets.  We began a new site at HomePort, a six unit apartment developed by the Mission for Veterans who are homeless.  The numbers in this county and country are staggering.... and some say shameful.  Thorough cleaning throughout, ceiling fans-furniture-appliances-cabinets.   You name it, we cleaned it: 409, scrub-bubbles and more.  Tomorrow we likely begin painting throughout.  The door jam had been forced in a break-in attempt--- Andy to the rescue to do repairs.
 
At lunch break sitting outside, a gentleman stopped by to visit a friend in another unit and engaged in conversation.  Two tours of duty in Iraq, 20 years of service, stories of fear and comrades, of travel and home.   Warm and genuine as he spent time with our group - a great blessing. Supper was our night out together to The Shed - local, funky bbq spot.... then stopped at Quakes for ice cream on the way home.  Oh my..... !   Ping-pong and conversations back at the Mission, and early bed.  Folks worked hard today, all around; and great satisfaction expressed by all in what has been accomplished.

Friday, April 20 Another rich day with profound reflections at the table as supper concluded and closing reflections.  The connections of the homeless community here- what about Portland services- why the difference in 'there' and 'here' - people here on the Mission staff truly practice and live forth 'dignity' for all with whom they work and interact- too easily we fall into 'judging of others' as all of us are guilty- a good feeling of 'paying back' our Veterans in working at HomePort today~ and shameful how as a country we have left so many in such great need- so important not to leave this sense of community here- what fertile ground for learning and growing..... and more. This is why we come. This is how lives are changed.  "Good things await us" we said often in our preparation to travel --- how true this has been and greatly exceeded.

As to actual work site today....A crew to Loaves N Fishes where they met a family with two very young children traveling through, feeding well over a hundred.  Double crew at HomePort and now a full coat of paint throughout all walls and baseboards and trim.  Lunch was sandwich order for many from Le Bakery owned/operated by a Vietnamese family... and pastries for special treat, provided by the church.  Also folks at the food pantry - very busy they reported- and at the Micah Day Center for the homeless where a barber came on monthly visit for haircuts.

Tomorrow we can sleep in a bit (usually up and dressed with breakfast items cleaned up and lunches made for 8am departure.  I feel a deep joy and delight in this group of community living and learning - exceeding my expectations in so many aspects.  To watch the connections taking place and widening horizons in crossing over the border--- real transformation on many fronts. These week long reflections are but a sampling of the tapestry that has been woven.  For the support and encouragement of so many, I am grateful.

April 21, Saturday morning was leisurely since the flight back to Maine wasn't until mid-afternoon.  After breakfast, we began initial clean-up of the Mission building space in which we have been living.   Later some folks went to the Ohr art museum nearby, others to the Katrina Memorial who hadn't gone earlier in the week, others to the Jefferson Davis historic house and property.  Bags were to be packed and pulled out front by 12 noon, lunch taken care off and last clean up.  Group picture out front, more stories and laughter, then to the cars heading to airport 12 miles away.  

It was hard to bid farewell to these folks (since I'm staying an additional week with a group from No. Hampton UCC, NH who arrive shortly)- these people that I've come to hold with great affection.  Great joy and delight in this week together with experiences that we will continue to process in the days ahead.  Stepping outside our comfort zones and into a land / experiences far different than our 'norm'-- which causes us to ponder: "What is normal... and who gets to decide?'

Thus a chapter closes in a book still being written.  We remain at task, light and love to share.  Rev. Charlie

Reflections with New Hampshire UCC Church GroupWorship on Sunday again with the First Missionary Baptist Church in Gulfport and lunch together at The Shed.  Afternoon was quiet for reading, walk, resting before Ellen came at 7pm for welcome and initial orientation.  I admire how Dick - leader of the group- empowers the youth for sign-up, meal/menu decisions and the like. 

Monday I had the opportunity to work in the food pantry after helping to unload a truck of USDA food (including frozen blue berries from Machias, ME !)  One by one, folks came and  chose their items into a small grocery cart.  It is believed this remains the only 'client choice /client selection' food pantry in MS.  That is, individuals select from the shelves rather than have it pre-bagged and carried off. Working with three others of the NH was a great way to quickly know them.

In the afternoon, we joined the rest of the group at the HomePort work site and continued painting where we left off last week. I and a few others worked on caulking outside railing caps, doing repairs (using nail gun after Bill's instructions) for the remainder of the afternoon.  Evening meal was stir-fry  -  very good!

Tuesday brought the need for an adult to go with some of the youth to the Micah Day Center for the homeless.  I offered to the NH leaders I could/would go to free them up for other tasks they were on.  Worked out fine as all these years I had never done so before.  Clients could take 15 minute showers, after each we would wash down the shower stall and sink.  Today was not a laundry however.  We had about 10-12 folks through the morning until the sewer backed up and everything shut down.  (We later learned that a pair of underwear was the culprit, down the toilet.)  Did have a chance to chat with some of the folks, where they had slept (under the interstate bridge), where grew up (Oregon was one individual) and any benefits through military service (one was eight years in the Navy, 7th Fleet).  Glad for this unexpected opportunity that was put at my feet ~ and I didn't turn away.

This evening, an invitation to join Ellen and Bill for his birthday and attend the Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball team in town less than a mile away.

Wednesday Enjoyed the Loaves N Fishes soup kitchen--- watching the NH kids and cracking 8-10 dozen eggs for breakfast.  Large, large bowl and of course we kept had to go fishing for shells.  Then one of the girls took the electric mixer to scramble them up.... and one of the beaters fell out of machine and into bowl!  Funny and laughter, as she tried to go fishing to get it out !  Breakfast for about 60-- several we recognized from the Micah Center the day before-- all homeless..... 52 meals to go on wheels..... just over 100 lunches served.  Started at 6:45am (up 5:45am !!) and done about 1:30pm.  LONG morning.

Final Reflections from New Hampshire UCC Church Group
After a great day at the Loaves N Fishes soup kitchen, I went with the crew to 19th Street in Gulfport.  We were fortunateas some morning rain moved through and allowed us to do prepping 
of the house by caulking... and caulking... and caulking.  By end of the day, should be ready for initial painting tomorrow.  I met Dorothy, the home owner who is living with rheumatoid arthritis as well as M.S.  A very modest home in a somewhat challenging neighborhood.  Most pleasant in character as well as in gratitude.  Enjoyed working with the NH group, very much feel like belonging. Card games last night as well as keeping an eye on the Bruins who won in their game seven. Later today, a bayou trip (or kayaking venture) as further exploring/learning more of the Gulf Coast.  Supper is 'make your own pizza and toppings. As I do initial packing this evening, I'm most grateful for this second week of working and learning.  A new site, a new home-owner, blessing of weather and people. I continue to be touched by the warmth and hospitality of folks here, their richness of character shines forth.  One more article I wish to pack and bring home.  
For the support of the South Church community, I am grateful.