This week on DioDocs, the Office of Mission and Outreach, once again, is sharing the voice of our youth. Nicholas Smoot and 12 other missioners from Grace Church, Alexandria, took off for New Jersey this past July for a week of mission work. They were welcomed by A Future with Hope in Lacey, New Jersey.
A Future with Hope (AFWH) partners with Lacey United Methodist Church where they are a proud member and logistical hub for the program, providing housing, meals, and other assistance, to numerous teams of missioners that come to help rebuild year-round. Together with AFWH, roughly 150 families have been able to receive enough help to move back into their homes. The ultimate goal is 500 families. Even with the drop in media coverage, the people of AFWH and Lacey UMC continue to serve. There are still almost 10,000 people (over 2,000 families) that are still in need of aid, and Grace Episcopal Church is happy to do as much as it can.
Nicholas Smoot, one of the youth missioners, wrote on the blog, “Grace on the Road” throughout the mission trip. Below is a re-post of his final entry from July 25, 2015, “NJ2015 – In Conclusion”, which beautifully sums up the whole mission experience.
As our missioners have all arrived home safe and sound, and are now settling back into the routines of home life, I feel this is a good time to reflect on what I like to think of as the “Walt Disney Week.”
The ride home always provides a great opportunity for everyone to reflect on the experiences of the week – the obstacles we overcame, the stories we heard, the joy we brought to those around us, and the memories made that will last a lifetime. It goes without saying that Mission is an incredibly powerful experience, even when it involves getting up at unholy hours to do backbreaking work – but it’s that laborious effort we put in that reminds us of three things: we are never truly alone; help is always available to those who seek it; and everyone plays an important role.
Let’s break this down a little. Saying “we are never truly alone” sounds cliche, and it’s easy to pass off with answers like “Well, yeah, there’s billions of people on the planet, of course we’re not alone.” But when you talk to the people affected by tragedy, such as those we met this past week in New Jersey, you start to realize that when all is lost, loneliness settles in like an immovable fog. When your government has told you “Sorry you lost everything…but Sandy wasn’t a hurricane so you’re on your own,” it can really seem like you are. What I learned, and in speaking to others I’ve come to find is a common theme, is that nobody needs to feel truly alone. Nobody in New Jersey needed to feel like they had to go their own way when it came to getting their lives back in order because there was, and thankfully still is, an outpouring of support to those who have nowhere to turn. That support came not only from us, but from organizations and groups from all over the country. I think it’s important for all of us to continue to remember to be present for those who may feel alone, because New Jersey is still in need of our love, and I’m proud to say Grace doesn’t love lightly – we love deeply and are committed to making sure everyone knows that we love them, God loves them, and they are not alone.
Speaking from experience, asking for help is not an easy thing to do. Seeking advice, direction, and support from others is difficult, even though it doesn’t have to be. Interestingly, though, providing help is often so much easier than asking for it – it’s even fun, at times. I had a very interesting discussion with Mary Murphy, one of the homeowners we met during this years’ trip, and she had a perspective on help that I think is worth sharing. Mary told me that there is never shame in asking for help, because everyone needs help at various points in life. Helping others not only benefits the person who needs the help in the first place, but brings together communities and people that may not have otherwise interacted. She told me stories of the various groups that had come to work on their house, and about how asking for help is not only a learning experience, but a bonding one, too. Groups of disjoint people who were acquainted in name and united in goal came together as newfound friends because they broke the barrier we all struggle with – they asked one another for help while responding to their plea for help. And it wasn’t always complicated help, sometimes it was advice on techniques, or how to use a particular tool, but whenever someone needed the help, it was there for them. That really opened my eyes – I’ve made many new friends on Mission, and become so much closer with old ones, all because they were there to help me when I needed it, and vice-versa. That bond lasts long after Mission, too. Help is a very powerful uniting force, and in Mary’s case, it’s brought communities from all over country closer, both physically and in spirit. Even when all is lost, help is always there for those who seek it. Regardless of when, where, or why someone is in need, God provides help.
Finally, and very importantly, everyone plays an important role. Mission is a very new experience for many, and provides many new experiences for those who return. Regardless of experience, every Missioner plays an important role, even after Mission has ended. I remember on my first Mission trip, at times I felt like there was nothing I was doing that really furthered our cause – like the day I spent sorting a bucket of screws for three hours. Lo and behold, if I hadn’t sorted those screws, doing some deck work the next day would have been an agonizingly drawn-out process, but at the time it didn’t seem like I’d done enough to help. Leaving a work site when it’s not finished is agonizing, a struggle felt year after year. But much like sorting screws, the work that is incomplete or feels inadequate holds importance. This year, we were able to complete work at two of our three assigned sites. While we weren’t able to complete the third site’s task list, we were able to achieve an incredible number of tasks, and learn quite a bit along the way. I’m comforted by the fact that we sorted our screws, so to speak, because the next team that’ll be in the Murphy house will be able to put enough of the finishing touches on to ensure they can move in to a happy, safe, storm-resistant house. Everyone has played an important role in the recovery effort, even if the gratification hasn’t been instantaneous.
With our lessons learned, friendships forged, and our tools packed away, I can say that Mission 2015 was a resounding success, and certainly sets a high bar for next years’ trip. Walt Disney once said “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” which is certainly what we’ve done for another year, and will continue to do in years to come. Through the grace of God, the Grace Mission Team will continue to show that everyone’s contributions are important, to show that everyone is loved unconditionally, to provide help to those who seek it, and to continue having fun while doing the impossible.
Intro Written By: Ashley Cameron
Post Written By: Nicholas Smoot
Photographs By: Nicholas Smoot