Today I Saw God

When God Reminds You Why You are Serving on a Mission Trip at a Kitchen Table

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Note from the editor: In October 2016, a team of nine people traveled to Tappahannock and Montross, Virginia on a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Tornado Recovery Mission Trip. This post comes from one of the volunteers, J. Scott Nicholls.

When disaster hits, even though it may take a long time, buildings, homes and businesses that were damaged or destroyed by nature can ultimately be rebuilt. Personal belongings can be replaced, though keepsakes cannot. It is hard to see the devastating impact these events have on the "individuals," both physical and psychological. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) trips serve to repair property damage, but first and foremost, they work to heal hearts serving as the hands and feet of Jesus.

On February 24, 2016, a tornado outbreak hit Virginia. These tornados killed several people and destroyed many towns and homes in places like Tappahannock and Montross, Virginia. A Floris UMC UMVIM Team served that area Thursday October 6-Monday, October 10.

We were hosted by Upper Essex Baptist Church located in Caret, Virginia, north of Tappahannock.

We were assigned three sites/homes during our time in Tappahannock. The first was Lynne's home. While no tornado directly hit the house, the huge pressure drop blew the side out of her home causing structural and water damage. By the time we arrived, it was in the final stages of being made ready for Lynne. Our team needed to install ceiling fans and frame/drywall some additional space in the kitchen to allow room for a pantry and countertop. We completed the work, and Lynne has moved back into her home.

The next two sites were in Montross. One was Diane's, who lived in a trailer a couple hundred yards down from Ms. Hilda (her mom). Diane's trailer was moved eight feet off its resting space, and her front and rear stairs were destroyed. Since February, she'd had to use a stepladder to exit the rear of the trailer and temporary stairs to enter the front.

Though the tornado did not directly hit her home, it came close. A mere 100 yards away was the concrete pad of what used to be a home, now gone. Our work was to build Diane a new 6-by-8-foot front deck and stairs and a 5-by-5-foot rear deck and stairs. These decks were vital for getting in and out of her home safely. When we finished the front deck/stairs and she and her grandson could walk out their front door, the glow in her face was noticeable.

I was fortunate to lead a team of three new volunteers to work on her mom's home, which sat just up the hill. Ms. Hilda was 88 years old when the tornados struck. She had raised 11 children in that home. It was nearly destroyed in the tornado, which took out a corner of the house and ripped away siding, roofing and other building materials. Ms. Hilda was trying to move to an interior room when the tornado hit, but the door blew in, trapping her under debris. She was bleeding severely. Fortunately, another grandson arrived and pulled her from the rubble, and she survived. She was lucky that her son owns a construction business; family and friends repaired most of her home.

Our work was a single room with a collapsed ceiling and floor damage. It needed a handrail installed from the main level to the upstairs. Over the course of four days, our team removed the carpet, padding, tack strips and half of the ceiling. We installed insulation, new drywall and two coats of drywall compound to prepare the room for being habitable again. We also removed and replaced a damaged section of the flooring.

Like her daughter, Ms. Hilda insisted that we sit at her kitchen table and eat our prepared lunches (local churches supplied our lunches and dinners each day). She also wanted to provide us with warm soup, but the only soup she had was bean soup from a can. Let me tell you, that was the best soup this soul has ever had because of who served it and how lovingly it was offered.

During lunch, we usually tried to eat fast and get back to work. But one day, Ms. Hilda came to the table and said, "I want you to look at this photo album when you all are done eating." For a bit, our goal was to listen and be there for her. Naturally my mind went into work mode, and I thought, "Well this will take time out of our limited schedule to get the work done" But when we finished eating, she showed us the before and after pictures of her home and pictures of the rebuilding process, including some of her in her cast, healing from the physical injuries she suffered when pinned under debris. So for a bit, our goal became to listen and be there for her. I was reminded by God why I was there and that the work we were doing was so much less important than letting Ms. Hilda talk through her ordeal. This was her way of rebuilding "inside" herself.

We finished our work and were ready to depart. Ms. Hilda hugged us. As I was leaving to go down the hill to work with the team on her daughter's stairs and deck, she held my hand. She did not want to let go. This is etched in my mind. I well up with tears when I think about the feeling of her hand in mine and remember hearing her thank us. Though we did help her move toward closure by finishing up the final room that needed repairing, we also were blessed by her being a part of our lives.

If you have not been on a mission trip, listen for the Holy Spirit. When you are called, you will not regret serving. I know this trip was just as moving for me as my first, some 12 trips ago. And if you see any of the missioners listed below, please take time to ask them about their experience. I am sure they will each tell you that they would gladly go on another trip and share their experiences with you.

UMVIM teams have more fun! Ask us: Steve Dripps, Scott Nicholls, Navin Alexander, Rhonda Glasmann, Divya Tucker, Remel Tucker, Jill Morganwalp, Susan Wells and Tim Wells.

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Teamwork and Roof Removal: Sandy Relief Mission Team Update

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Team-sign-300x199Our New Jersey trip started off on Sunday evening as we all arrived at Lacey UMC in Forked River, New Jersey. Many arrived early (or at least on time) and had a chance to enjoy their first meal together as a team, followed by the first team meeting led by our fearless leader Tim Wells. After some administrative items and a briefing by our construction team, Tim led us in an inspirational devotion about being a good neighbor and the story of the Good Samaritan. It helped set the perfect tone for the next day, as we headed to Atlantic City for our assignment. Monday morning came bright and early, and after a full breakfast from our hosts at Lacey, we headed down to Connecticut Ave in Atlantic City ready to spend the week completing an intense dry wall job. However, upon arrival it became clear that God had a very different plan in store for the our team. We were no longer scheduled to complete a dry wall assignment.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-2-e1375886429845-680x1024We were now assigned to removing a heavily damaged roof, and the demolition of a damaged and unsafe garage that had taken in over 3 feet of water. The homeowner Elise, and her son Tru have been in urgent need of a new roof since Sandy struck almost a year ago. While the team had very little expertise in the area of roof removal and rebuilding, what we lacked in skill we made up for in willingness and a heart for helping get Elise and Tru the roof they needed to be able to move forward with the additional repairs that need to be completed on the home.

We quickly divided into two teams, those willing to get up on the roof, and those who preferred to have two feet firmly planted on the ground! As the roof team geared up with harnesses, the other team headed to the garage. For the rest of the day, the roof team worked to remove the shingles from the damaged roof, while the garage team cleared out the garage, and started tearing down the building. By the afternoon, the garage had been leveled, and about one-quarter of the roof had been cleared of all shingles. A large rotted section had been replaced with new plywood to help alleviate some of the leaking the homeowner was experiencing. With 5 p.m. quickly approaching, efforts shifted from the garage area, to clean up of the old roof shingles. The roof team worked to get a tarp covering the exposed roof boards in the event there was rain overnight. Finally at about 6 p.m., tired, dirty but accomplished the team returned to Lacey for dinner and another team meeting.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-1-1024x680Monday evening dinner was pasta, pasta and more pasta – just what we needed to recover from the challenging and demanding work of the day. After our meal, we joined for our evening team meeting to reflect on the day, and plan for day two. Lee led us in the evening devotion, and asked the team where they saw God or Jesus that day. Several people shared their experiences of the day, and we all could feel God working with us to create something special for this family. Ten was lights out, but most of the team was fast asleep well before that time.

Sandy-Day-1-Pic-3-e1375886479768-680x1024Day two started out much the same as day one, with another great meal provided by Lacey! Following our meal we again headed out to Atlantic City for day two. The teams quickly divided again, with the garage team focusing on the remainder of the garage demo, while the roof team continued removing the damaged shingles and replacing rotten sections. By lunchtime, the garage was done with the tear down and removal, and moved on to a new project of creating a new driveway for the homeowners. The roof team made significant progress, and by the end of the day the first half of the roof was cleared just in time for the rain to start! As the teams joined forces to quickly clean up the space, and replace the tarp to prevent any additional rain damage to the home. The team returned from day two, much dirtier than day one, but also much more inspired and eager to move on to day three. The team meeting tonight came early, with Tracy, Jecen and Reagan offering the devotion. The "trio" (mom and two teens) was on their first mission trip with Floris, and each shared what they were experiencing on the trip. A reminder to trust in God, the realization of how great teamwork can be, and a first experience of feeling the peace and joy of doing work for and with others were shared. Many others also talked about how God was continuing to provide for the team, and most importantly for the homeowners. With tired muscles and exhausted bodies the team headed to bed, exhausted from the day, but filled with the power and strength only God can provide as we head to the third day!

– Submitted by the Floris Sandy Relief Team

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What is Cuba Like? by Bill Gray

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old city square in HavanaI'm frequently asked about my trips to Cuba. What we do there is the most popular, followed by a curiosity of the island, and finally the mystique of a communist country. The politics are just that and change in that country is inevitable. But why I go there isn't an easy answer because there is something intangible and mysterious about the experience.

The Cuban Methodist Church is like many outside the US or Western culture, LIVELY. Yes, the worship experience is unlike ours, maybe closely resembling gospel here in the states. They focus on the Holy Spirit much more than we do. The power, existence and palpable feel of the Spirit are real there. I do not expect us to be able to worship like the Cuban's do. That is their style and culture. We have our own. Yes, I wish we would have more action from the congregation. It is hard to clap and be engaged when the "frozen chosen" is all around you but I'm over that.

What I wish and hope for and why I go is the authenticity a much over used word these days, but dead-on descriptive of Cuba. People there believe in miracles. They actually and really do believe in miracles. There is testimony after testimony of healings, of first hand personal encounters with Christ. Worshipers are actually "seized" with the Holy Spirit. Now my first response to this is scientific, western and filled with cynicism. It's simply foreign and that feeling is bolstered by actually being in a foreign land. But if I just get past that, the noise if you will, there is something there.

What is there is faith. Deep belief and trust. These people worship and believe "like a child". They have no western logic and ego to hold them back. They FEEL their faith. They FEEL the Holy Spirit and their response is to rejoice and be glad in it. Don't get me wrong they are educated. That is one thing about their system, right or wrong. My tendency to equate their existence to some Appalachian back woods community and therefore easily dismiss their testimony and actions as "ignorant" or "under-developed" can't be used here. The conflict that is before me is real. How do I reconcile all this? How can I process my experience here in the manner in which I've been cultured? I can't.

Paul says that transformation can happen through the renewing of the mind. Scripture tells me over and over that great things have happened and somehow somewhere I've allowed my innocence of faith to be tainted and pulled until the point that if I can't justify it or explain it, it isn't real. What I realize is that if I let go of that feeling, the need to be right, the need for everything to be explained, in essence control, my mind IS renewed. I can't explain, nor do I understand, quantum physics, the beginning of the universe, etc., but that doesn't make them untrue, fake or false. They remain for me unexplainable. I have to surrender my dismissiveness and when I do I can internalize and feel that all things are possible through God. I can and do connect with Cuban believers in a celebration of life. Yes, celebration of life. Here where things don't exist and people from our standards have nothing, people give freely even though they will have nothing after they give. It is routine here not just a random act. It's unexplainable.

I don't pray for, or want to bring to, our church a different worship style. I don't wish for a more charismatic approach. I'm not unhappy with, nor do I believe we need to change, our own traditions. What I pray for, what I wish for is that we could experience that renewal and rebirth of the spirit that is so present in Cuba. That naivety. That coming as children, that laying down of arms, that surrender of ALL to Jesus that frees us from bondage. See we are the ones in chains even though we live in a free society and they are the free-living in "chains".

Well I'm back. That experience of Cuba, the freedom, the "mountain top" as it were begins to fade. How quickly life here took me in as if I didn't miss a beat. My living in the moment in a semi-surreal Eden like community is now an experience to remember. I'm different though. I recognize the amount of incredulity I really have and frankly allow in myself and can quickly justify in a number of ways. But I'm not alone in this. Far from it. So before I pray for all of us to experience that Cuban worship I begin my prayers with the spirit of Mark 9:24: "God I believe, but help me with my unbelief."

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Bittersweet Goodbyes

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sierra leone10 2Today was the last day at the CRC. The past two weeks have flown by in the blink of an eye. It seems like just yesterday we were meeting the kids for the first time and now we are packing our bags to leave.

This morning we woke up and went right back over to the CRC to finish painting the last house. After four straight days of rolling, brushing and dabbing the paint onto the walls we have become experts and were able to finish all that we needed to by noon. To close out our morning Bishop Yambasuand Bishop Humperstopped by and ate lunch with us. They were so gracious. It was amazing to hear their stories about how the CRC first got started. After lunch it was time to pack. We spent a couple of hours getting ourselves all packed up and ready to head out.

Once we were done packing, the children at the CRC were waiting for us at 4 PM to perform another one of their amazing cultural dance routines. With multiple drums and shakers creating the beat and the voices of the aunties and children, the sound was so beautiful that I couldn't get the smile off of my face. The children walked in, wearing traditional grass skirts, necklaces and paint covering their bodies. Over the next hour they were doing songs and dances known to their African heritage. Each one of the dancers was proud and happy to be showing off their culture. Culture is bred into these children; they have so much pride and love for their country it is amazing. By the end they had all of us attempting to do one of their dances. Needless to say it was a fun time.


We went back over to the CRC for our farewell celebration after dinner at the usual time. Fudiacooked our last dinner of fried chicken. She would have KFCrunning for the hills it was so delicious. The children had prepared two separateplays for us in the Great Hall. You can tell that they had rehearsed and put so much effort and time into what they were doing. Their costumes and acting were wonderful. All of the children were so passionate and creative! The two plays were funny and brought smiles to our faces. In one of the plays the children had to be "Americans" and the older boys had crooked bandanas wrapped around their heads, with baggy pants, and dribbling a basketball. The whole audience was laughing hysterically. After the plays we danced the night away with the children. Playing some of the popular African music on a loud-speaker, everyone was up and dancing. Eric was break dancing with the boys, and the girls had the rest of us trying to learn some new dance moves. It was a perfect way to end the evening and I will cherish that memory forever.

Although the goodbyes were sad and tears were shed, it still was amazing to think about all of the people we have met, the experiences we have had and the memories we have made. I am so glad to have each one of those children in my life. They made my smile a little bigger each day. Tomorrow morning we are leaving the MTC at 6 AMto head back into Freetown., We are hoping to have a relaxing and picture perfect day on River Beach No. 2. Please keep the team andme inyour thoughts and prayers as we travel throughout the day.

Submitted by Allie Broadus

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Reflections from Cuba

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On May 24, a team of 11 missioners left for Cuba for 12 days to build new and paint existing dormitories at Camp Canaan, a Methodist training and meeting center near Santa Clara, Cuba. While there, they did not have internet access. Now that they are home, here are some reflections from their trip.

While I waited in Santa Clara for Aldo to update his Cuban passport (and thus able to leave the country), I waited outside on the busy sidewalk, which was very narrow. I stepped into an apt./house doorway to be out-of-the-way. Soon, a man about 35 or 40-years-old walked up to me and asked where I was from. I was startled, as not many Cubans I meet speak any English. I replied "Virginia" and started to explain its location. He assured me he knew where it was. He then asked, "How did you get here? As few Americans can travel to Cuba due to the strained relationships"I replied that I was with a church group that renovates churches across Cuba.He remarked that I had special "permission from Barack Obama". I agreed but the answer is really more complicated than that. He knew our US president though. I found this interesting because of the lack of news from outside Cuba. He then asked, "Do you believe in God?" I said, "Yes." "Why?" he replied. I then said that I believed God created the universe and is a force in our lives. He explained that he too believed in God and attends church each week but that his faith was shaken about 10 years ago when his infant daughter suddenly died. He asked why would God allow such an event. I replied that we couldn't always understand why things happen the way they do, we just have to keep our faith. He agreed but said it was difficult at the time, but he stayed with the church, prayed, and is now strong in his faith. I think this is a lesson for all of us that adversity is a part of life. It is hard not to blame God, but we must remain faithful, he is always present in the good and bad times.-Gene

Today we visited a nursing home run and funded by the Methodist church. Everywhere we go, including here, sweet people greet us and everyone loves Aldo and Susan. On this visit, Aldo and the man who runs the home spoke about a woman who had been influentialin Aldo's formation as a Christian: his High School Principal in Cuba. I spoke with two of the residents there. One named Bimbino who had lived there for 16 years and had to have his toes amputated due to Diabetes. Nevertheless, he held his faith, was warm and accepting. As I left one of the residents asked to take a picture and was delighted to see her picture. This was the brightest and happiest nursing home I've ever been in. This home is one of the only nursing homes on the island. Praise God that the Church is able to offer such a gift. -Carrie

As this is my 5th mission to Cuba, I've seen and know many of the places we have been and will be. Arriving at the center in Havana, it was a blessing to see the staff there who knew my name. There is a continuous connection that creates a family here. The church is alive as ever. Worship is spirited to say the least. As the days pass I'm increasingly aware of the amount of newer cars, construction that is occurring. Old Havana has expanded quite a bit. In Santa Clarawe walk the town square and the streets. I am alarmed at the number of beggars and offers for black market goods – cigars, Cuban dollars with pictures of Ch, etc. The money that has begun to flow into Cuba from its tourist industry has unfortunately brought other consequences with it. The outside world is changing but the church here remains steadfast. Their belief in the guiding Holy Spirit is so strong. I've never experienced the Beloved Community as I have here on this island. What an experience, what a church, praise God. -Bill

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