High School Youth Group
Mission Trip to Nashville, TN
by Georgette Huie
It’s an all-too-familiar story: after disaster strikes, those with means rebuild quickly, and the touristy profit centers are given top priority for funding. There is a certain logic to this, but it is hard nevertheless to know someone is suffering simply because they don’t have enough money. This is the story in Nashville.
In May 2010, Nashville and surrounding areas were flooded. The popular downtown area, a mecca for country/western music artists and fans, was under 30 feet of water. You wouldn’t know this was the case today, as the area bustles with activity. There is not one drop of evidence of a flood here. This was the first area to receive help and funding, while residents still wait, over one year later, for help to come.
The major Christian denominations joined their resources and set about coordinating work teams to help. But as we discovered, the coordinating effort is difficult in Nashville, as numerous organizations and suppliers are all involved and dependent on one another. We were fortunate: we at least had a worksite, some projects, and tools (though not many) to begin work. Other teams weren’t as fortunate and had to improvise.
We were assigned to a home in Joelton, a small town about 30 minutes north of Nashville. The home belongs to Enrique, a sometimes entertaining, sometimes exasperating character. He also happens to be a hoarder. Lucky for us, other groups had cleaned out the yucky mess that you might imagine a flooded hoarder’s belongings to be. Our job was to finish removing insulation, to demolish the floor (much to the delight of our boys), to remove window and door frames, to level the access road by shoveling dirt, and to clear out small trees and weeds. We also took on the task of rescuing three kittens who were living in deplorable conditions.
It’s easy to be motivated when a helpless little old lady, for example, is the victim. But to step it up for an able-bodied hoarder was a challenge. Such are the experiences that mission trips seem to bring. As we got to know Enrique however, it was easier to see that he was who he was, likeable yet helpless in fighting the compulsion to hoard.
Despite the initial lack of sufficient tools, and despite the fact that another sizeable group (from Ellington, CT) was on site, we finished our tasks in good time and in a quality way. We were then dispatched to help the city of Nashville clear branches and trees blown over by several tornadoes that had hit the area. One home did belong to a little old lady: her large tree had toppled over, roots and all, missing her house. She did not have the means to clear the tree, so our group and another (from Mystic, CT) made some headway with it. Some of our boys and Alexandra Walsh were thrilled to be given the opportunity to use a chainsaw. They were of course, given thorough instruction and close supervision. The root system stood two stories tall, so it was a massive undertaking.
It is clear that without volunteer groups such as ours, many folks would never be able to reclaim the quality of life they once had. UCC staff inform me that next year’s focus will be on North Carolina and Alabama, both hit hard this year with tornadoes.
While the primary purpose of a youth mission trip is to help those in need, the secondary benefits can be just as important to the group and its individual members. Saugatuck’s youth live in different towns and attend different schools. Even those who attend the same school may hang out in different friendship groups. Building a solid youth group means building relationships and creating bonding experiences. There is no better opportunity for this than during a mission trip, when the group is together 24/7 through a variety of activities.
The bonding this year happened early, as all 13 youth chose to sit together during a movie, filling one complete row in the theater. The bonding continued at the home of Don and Susan O’Guin, former Saugatuck members who now live in Murfreesboro, thirty minutes south of Nashville. The O’Guins invited the whole group to a BBQ and swim party. Their hospitality enabled us all to relax and enjoy a beautiful evening together. The 10 boys in our group took over the swimming pool and, working together, created giant waves which flooded the patio. While this is a typical teenage boy thing to do, it was also a watershed (pun intended) bonding moment for them.
The bonding continued the next night, as we took in dinner, live country/western music, and country line dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon, a famously huge place in downtown Nashville. Boys who swore they would never get on the dance floor no longer had any compunction about joining the girls. Daniel McCarthy even felt moved to offer a breakdance in the middle of the floor, in front of dozens of patrons. By participating together, we all helped each other step out of our comfort zones, and had great fun as a result.
It seems to me that we have moved somewhat away from merely being individuals who happen to be on the same mission trip, to being group members who are connected in a special way, a way which informs and guides our life together. There is a difference, and one which I hope will continue to grow as the youth group reconvenes in the fall.
Thank you for your prayerful and financial support. And thanks to the chaperones: MaryEllen Hendricks, Dana Johnson, and George Wargo.