Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sweet Home Alabama

This trip had been planned for a long time.  And I looked forward to it with anticipation and a little apprehension.  I looked forward to spending time with Scott and Gracie.  I looked forward to spending time with lovely people from Messiah Lutheran Church.  I was excited to see what challenges we would be offered and what help we could provide on this mission trip.  Those were my expectations.  I was a little nervous about the long drive and getting tired.  This concern was quickly erased.  Yes, the drive was long, but we had a well-directed and fearless leader at the front of our seven vans.

We ventured to Peducah, Kentucky our first night.  We were welcomed with open arms to a church there.  A small stop on the way, but one filled with hospitality.  We traveled with 43 people and were able to pack our vans in less than 30 minutes and trek further south.  And as we traveled we kept in touch with each other via walkie-talkies.  We would count off and make sure everyone was present we would point out sights that should be seen.  Like hay bales that were misidentified as buffalo.  Ponds that were hilariously identified as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Good times.  And all of this kept us together.  All seven vans.

Our destination was Wetumpka, AL.  That's pronounced two different ways.  Younger folk tend to say WAtumpka and older people say WEEtumpka.  Either way it was to be our home for a week.  We knew that our lodging would be at Mulder Church, but what we didn't know was how amazing our accommodations would turn out to be.  The facility is beautiful!  And even better, it is airconditioned.
We lacked nothing.  We slept comfortably---well as far as sleeping on floors goes.  We ate well and we were able to shower for five minutes four times during the week.

And what tied all of this together was the staff of Youth Works.  Four amazing people who energized and inspired all of us.  We happened to come to Wetumpka for the last week of their programming.  We were to close out the final week of Kids Club and do some home improvement projects for people in the community.  It was our intention to help this community as much as we could.  Yes, that was our intention.

We loved on the children at Kids Club.  They were eager to learn.  They loved to sing and dance.  And they loved to run and play.  This is a group of children that live in a trailer park.  Poverty has been the only life they have ever seen.  At noon every day these kids come to a trailer that the church has purchased and they are welcomed with open arms.  They are cheered for and celebrated.  They have a lunch provided for them.  They do crafts, read, write and exercise.  Sounds like school?  It's intended to feel that way.  It is a loving structure that feeds their bodies and their souls.  And at the end of the day all the staff and volunteers walk the children home.

We were blessed to be able to visit with residents of a nursing home.  The facility was amazing.  So bright, beautiful and clean.  Such kind faces greeted us as we walked through the building.  Some of us had a beach/summer party with residents and others spent time with people who have Alzheimer's disease or dementia.  It was proven over and over again that with age comes wisdom.  One of the residents prayed for one of our youth.  We played games and sang songs.  We met a lovely little girl named Savannah who's mom is a therapist.  She was dressed in scrubs and is ten years old.  I asked, did she work here? "Yes, ma'am.  Full time, Monday through Friday."  We chatted more and there were so many more yes ma'ams.  I complimented her on her fine manners and her reply was, "it's all about love and discipline.  It's yes ma'am and yes sir or it's push ups."  I then asked, do you have very strong arms?  And I received a mighty "yes ma'am!"

Our work projects ranged from scrubbing the outside of a mobile home and prepping it for painting to folding clothes at a thrift shop to landscape clean up.  Every bit of these projects bettered the community.  The thrift shop sales helped support a home for children who have incarcerated parents.  At that facility part of our group helped clean the grounds.  We cleaned and painted mobile homes throughout the community.

So back to what I had expected from this trip.  I had expected the home improvements, working with children and visiting with older people.  What I didn't expect was to leave Wetumpka with so much more.  I saw and experienced God's work every second.  The smiles and hugs that we received.  The stories that were told to us about individuals in the community.  The history that we experienced at the Rosa Parks Museum and the Civil Rights Museum was so enlightening.  The people of Wetumpka would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.  They were so kind and appreciative.  Seeing that a fresh coat of paint could be just the thing to help you feel proud of your home.

I saw a church group see a need and make moves to improve it.  To set up a church community within a mobile home park so that children could have a safe and educational place to go.  I saw amazing smiles from children and parents when their kids got their new backpacks and school supplies.  I saw children come to a safe place to play, be loved and to be fed.  I experienced a place where older people are respected and loved and nurtured.  I saw our group from Messiah become a close community with the youth and leaders from Minnesota.  And I felt our lovely people from Messiah become my family.

As I was unpacking my suitcase I took out my tennis shoes.  I notice a couple of pebbles stuck in the tread of my shoe.  My first thought was I should take those out.  But those are pebbles from Wetumpka, AL.  Those pebbles remind me of the walk that I took into this amazing community.  They remind me of the beautiful people in Alabama.  The pebbles remind me of my Messiah family.  And they remind me of the amazing life that God has given me.  I feel so blessed to have been part of this week in Wetumpka.  My faith has been strengthened.  So as I put those shoes with the pebbles stuck in the tread in my closet, I know that some day I may lose the little rock reminders, but I know that my heart is forever full with my love for God, my Messiah people and a sweet community named Wetumpka, Alabama.

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