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Mission on the Bay

I’m writing this from the “Mission on the Bay” near Gulfport, Mississippi, where I’ve been as one of two adult sponsors of youth on a St. James’ youth mission trip.

We arrived here on Sunday night, and jumped right into the week’s rhythm: “lights on” in the barracks at 6:15, breakfast from 6:30 to 7:30, followed by cleanup duty in the dining and bathroom/shower areas. (There are about 45 teenagers here, so staying a few steps ahead of the mess wave is important!)

We then leave for our assigned worksites. Our group of six has been assigned “Miss Georgia’s” home in Pass Christian, about a fifteen minute drive along the shoreline. We unload our tools and equipment from the Mission on the Bay truck and trailer, and start working.

Miss Georgia has been living in a FEMA-issued trailer in the backyard of her property ever since that day in August 2005 -- just about five years ago -- when Hurricane Katrina hit.

This Bay St. Louis area of Mississippi -- not New Orleans, as many imagine -- had the unfortunate distinction of receiving the eye of Hurricane Katrina, and therefore the most direct hit, water swells, and destruction.

“Destruction,” is the opposite of “construction,” and we’re here to construct...to build up that which was torn down. And so, with a break for sack lunches, from our time of arrival until about 3:00 in the afternoon -- the point where the heat becomes quite literally nauseating -- we’ve been hard at work installing flooring, preparing window and door openings for framing, and painting. (And no, the electricity isn’t hooked up yet so there’s no air conditioning!)

At least that’s what the youth have been doing: as unskilled labor, Kim, the other adult sponsor, and I have been in the yard using (on Monday) a gas-powered weed-wacker, which we thought was difficult, hot, sweaty work, until the spark plug wire broke and we were downgraded (Tuesday through yesterday) to a scythe. And the weeds in Miss Georgia’s yard are taller than Jack, who at 6’2” is the tallest youth in camp.

All the work we’re doing -- even the weed-wacking -- is important, because part of what gets destructed in a natural disaster of this magnitude is hope...hope that one can ever get back on top of the yard, the house, the bills. So, we work all day to construct...construct Miss Georgia’s hope that one day soon she’ll be able to move out of that trailer and back into her family home, and enjoy a sense of normalcy again.

When the day’s work is over, we head back to camp for showers, dinner, and evening free time. Free time has been one of the delights of this trip: playing games of Uno, Clue, and Connect Four together, plus random pickup basketball and volleyball. There’s a television and even a couple of internet computers in a corner of the dining hall, but -- I find this fascinating -- none of the youth seem to be interested.

“Lights out” is at 10:00, although there’s been a bit of a palace coup in that regard, and things don’t really settle down until almost 11:30. Funny how well you can sleep in crowded, smelly conditions when you’ve been working this hard!

Like all missioners from St. James’ -- those who have just returned from Liberia, those who work Katrina relief, and those who work close-by in Leesburg -- we are receiving more than we are giving. We are grateful for this opportunity to serve. And grateful to everyone for their support of outreach mission trips, and for keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.

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