Last week, high school students in Canton, Ohio, were finishing classes.
This week, they're finishing a basement.
A group of 79 people – 30 adults and 49 youth – from the Church of the Lakes United Methodist Church (UMC) in Canton, Ohio, (East Ohio Conference) traveled on June 10 to the Southern Tier. Their mission is to rehabilitate homes and churches affected by the 2011 double bombardment of tropical storms Lee and Irene.
Most of the youth attend a weekly contemporary worship service in Canton: “Christ has anointed our souls” or CHAOS. Regular attendees are invited to participate in annual mission trips. These excursions around the eastern side of the U.S. have included Cincinnati, Chicago, New York City, Biloxi, Miss., Logan, W.Va., and Florida.
The schedule rotates every three years – year one: urban work within Ohio (such as service to a soup kitchen in Cincinnati); year two: travel for a missional need (such as this trip to the Southern Tier); year three: serve the residents at the Columbus Colony for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio.
Every two years, a group from the church also builds a home with Habitat for Humanity. This year’s construction is the church’s eighth build since 1999.
“We are a fairly fortunate congregation,” said Dan Rosovic, one of the adult leaders on this week's trip. “That’s what we try to teach the kids, that you are extremely fortunate.”
Although the mission trips provide the youth with a sense of that, the real providers of witness are the adults.
“We have a group of adults that have been with these kids long-term,” said Rosovic. “Not only to give them direction, but also to give them example.”
A graduation of sorts
John Kocher is a member of the “post-high group.” He finished another year at Malone University in Canton where he is studying social work, and joined this mission group for his seventh trip. He is one of the 700 who attend the Church of the Lakes UMC on an average week.
Originally the plan was to go to Alabama, “but we found out about the floods and, logistically, it worked better to come out here,” Kocher said.
The church plays the role of benefactor for the group, and the mission trip participants pay for part of it.
“Students and adults pay part of the way,” said Kocher, “and we get great support from our church.”
Part of that support goes toward travel expenses and for materials needed. Often the host sites will provide the tools, but not always.
“If they have stuff, great,” said Kocher. “But if not we’ll go out and get what we need.”
Even after a seven-hour ride and a couple of days of hard work, there is camaraderie among the group. And part of that comes from focusing on their theme for the week: 1 Peter 4.
“We talk a lot about what God did for us and the spiritual ramifications,” said Kocher, "and now what do we do for others. That is the way we serve God, by service to others.”
To follow the group from Canton, Ohio this week, read their blog.
It’s not just about the work
Although the Southern Tier is in need, and will continue to be for years to come, the hammers and nails are not the point, said Greg Forrester, recovery director for the Upper New York Annual Conference.
The work being accomplished at the First Endicott UMC, Nimmonsburg UMC, Owego UMC and on 15 residential handicap ramps throughout Broome County by the Canton group and others is a blessing, he said, but what should be celebrated are the relationships being built, rather than the walls being constructed.
“This is the largest group I have ever worked with out of one church,” said Forrester. “But if we did not have faith partners in the community, we could not have hosted them.”
Faith Partners in Recovery is an initiative aimed at providing long-term flood recovery support to residents of Broome County. Composed of multiple denominations – United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ and Roman Catholic – along with Habitat for Humanity, Faith Partners is the largest rebuilding and volunteer management effort in the county.
The connection is key, said Forrester. Connecting with the region, connecting with faith communities and connecting with residents, “this is connection at its finest as I see it.”
“If any community recovers it’s (only through) a partnership of faith partners and secular community,” said Forrester. “It truly has to be a partnership.”
*Christian Vischi is the communications associate for the Upper New York Annual Conference.