One of the highlights of the mission trip to New York was the expected visit to a 9/11 memorial. A highlight because I had hoped that we would get a chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.
One of the church members from Christ Community suggested and then took us to a 9/11 memorial at Breezy Point. There was a deck on the beach looking out over the bay, with a great view of the cityscape, including the Freedom Tower, filling up the lack of space left by the World Trade Centers.
Along the deck were tributes to each person from Breezy Point who was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. There were lined up all along the deck. It was a moving tribute to the individuals the community lost. Moving, as well, because there were so many.
In addition there was a cross, made with beams from the World Trade Center Towers. A cross was beat, bruised, and bent. A reminder to us that in the darkest of tragedies and storms of life, there is One who has been there. One who is always with us, and One who loves us through the worst life can offer us.
Fridays on mission trips are often times the hardest. The team members are running low on energy, often due to the lack off sleep, while running high on emotions. Mission trips provide a unquine opportunity for individuals to grow closer to others, God, and themselves, all while helping others. This has most certainly been true this week.
After our quiet time/devotions and small group discussions, we loaded up and headed out to Breezy Point one last time. Some worked with Habitat for Humanity workers in finishing up Sheetrock in the winter chapel. Due to the electrical work not getting fully finished, we were not able to do the whole room in drywall, but pretty close. They also finished a layer of flooring in the winter chapel.
A handful of team members made signs about the free cook-out to post along the road, reminding people about what was happening. Others started setting up for the cook-out, which included setting games, a face painting/craft station, and of course the grill.
After lunch, small groups had a chance to walk up to the local store to get a soda or a snack. Then we headed to the beach along the bay. The group gathered in their small groups. They used this beach time to share with one another where they saw God in each other this week. This included qualities or things they did that touched them or made a difference. When the group arrived on Saturday they were given a stone and asked to keep the stone in their pocket during the week. Last night each student gave their stone to their small group leader who was to choose a name for them. The name was to symbolize who the person was from he leaders perspective. The students were to do the same for their leaders.
As the groups went around their circles sharing where they had seen God in each other, the leader shared his or her stone for each person. After this personal, spiritual, and emotional time, the team had about 20-30 minutes on the beach.
Then it was back to work. We had to finish getting ready for the cook-out and set up the stations. At about 5pm the first few people arrived, and they slowly started to come in. We had 100s of hot dogs and hamburgers, but 100s did not show up. Despite that the team had a blast spending time with those who did, especially the children. Speaking of children, we brought with us shirts and onesies decorated by children who attended Peakland’s Easter Egg Hunt back in March. One little girl put her shirt on right away and wore it the whole time. A member of Peakland made quilts for infants. We handed those out as well. One grandmother was extremely grateful to take one and share it with her new grandchild.
And the puppets! Four youth came up with three or so skits and practiced them throughout the day. Then they preformed them at different times through the evening. And they were at hit! At one point they lead the crowd that had gathered in singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
Before the cook-out was over we presented to Paul, the leader of the church, a small gift. We took a scrap piece of drywall and Linda drew a cross and flame on it, wrote the name of the church and date of the trip, and then everyone wrote a short message to them and signed their names. They hug it up in the winter chapel right away.
Paul shared that in the time following Hurricane Sandy very little work had been done at the church, and while hundreds of volunteers with Habitat for Humanity came through their church doors, very, very little work had been done on the church. Most of the volunteers came to work on homes. Paul, with some passion, expressed how more was done on and for the church in this one week than any other since Sandy.
After cleaning up the cook-out and putting it all away in the U-haul, we played a few rounds of charades in our small groups. Then we gathered in one large circle and we went around the circle sharing where we had seen God this week, it was a great time of sharing. Very moving!
We then went down the road in Breezy Point to a 9/11 memorial that was built there. A huge number of Breezy Point residents were tragically killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Standing there is a cross, made with two beams from the Twin Towers.
It was about 9:30tonight when we said good-bye to Breezy Point. We crossed the bridge back into Brooklyn and volunteered for cleaning duties, so that in the morning we have less to do and can roll out on time. In the morning we will spend a few hours at the Bronx Zoo before heading back to Lynchburg, brining this mission trip to an end.
Thursday started off a little slow. After getting back from The Lion King late last night, everyone was really tired, which made our devotion/quiet time this morning interesting. Everyone loved the show last night, and got to spend a little bit of time in Times Square for shopping and pictures.
The morning also brought rain. After stopping at Lowes to pick up some flowers and other needed tools, the group drove into Breezy Point. Dashing through the rain, the groups got started on their tasks for the day.
Three of the small groups went to work on finishing the sheet rock in the winter chapel, and taping and compounding the Sheetrock that was already up. These three groups turned out to be all women. The whole week this room and the work done in it was dominated by a male presence. As the group was getting started this morning, one of the Habitat workers (a woman) said she needed some guys to do something. Both Duane and I said, these girls can handle it. And they totally did! By the end of the day, I overheard the Habitat woman say to her supervisor that he needed to find more work for the girls because they were knocking it out!
The other three groups focused on the outside of he church, where the cook-out will be on Friday. There was weed-eating, weed pulling, and flower painting. But the outside work quickly came to a halt when thundered rolled. The outside crew moved inside and we started moving pews from a section of the summer chapel to another part of the room. This part of the floor had not been cleaned yet. The pews were stacked one on top of another. After moving about a dozen of them, a group started sweeping and then cleaning the floor. After various layers of dirt were removed, sections of mold was discovered. This part of the floor was located to the right of the front doors, where apparently there was a surge of water.
Upon of the discovery of mold, two brave individuals – a college student and an adult – set out to tackle the mold. Using a mold kit that Big Tom (with Habitat for Humanity) bought, they began the process. At one point David, one of the high school students, came into the room and it wasn’t long before he put on a hazmat suit, goggles, and gloves, and got down on the floor to scrub. Shortly later, two more joined in to tackle this common enemy.
Meanwhile, the rain left, and he sun came out. And along with the outing of the sun, the youth and adults headed back out into the world, as if they were leaving the ark. They cleared out brush. They weed eated some more. They planted more flowers. They trimmed tree branches. And they hauled more debris and trash to the dumpster.
Despite the rain, it was a very productive day. And we learned tonight in the debriefing/worship from Willy, our mission leader with the Center for Short Term Missions, that our presence has made an impact on the Habitat for Humanity leaders, like Big Tom, who hasn’t worked with other volunteer groups willingly in three months. And on the church members, including Dylan who owns a billards hall in Brooklyn. Dylan opened up a whole area of his business for us tonight for two and a half hours. The group got to play pool and ping-pong, and eat real New York pizza for dinner!
Each morning this week the team members spend some time in quiet for devotions and prayer. Afterwards, they gather in their small groups to discuss their devotion. In the evenings the team gathers again in their small groups to talk about their challenges and inspirations from the day. They also share where they saw God during the day.
Everyday this week I have seen God in each youth on this trip. They have willingly tackled each task presented them, never with complaint, and have done an excellent job. Big Tom went on and on this afternoon about the group and how awesome they did. All you parents, grandparents, and Peaklanders should be very proud.
On Wednesday we got an earlier start to our day. Arriving about an hour earlier than the other days, the group got to work right away. Some continued working in the room with they hung Sheetrock. Today they laid down new flooring.
A small group went back out into the community handing out more flyers inviting people to the cook-out on Friday. Many were very grateful for the invite. They also visited two firehouses, inviting them to the cook-out as well.
One lady invited some into her home, showing them what work has been done. This house is one of the original houses built in the 1930s. I met a couple while we were out who explained to me that all the houses back then looked like this one. Both the husband and the wife grew up at Breezy Point. They, like many yesterday, told us that before Sandy no one knew that Breezy Point even existed. The people we talked with today were anxious to get back in their homes.
They celebrated the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, who has been in Breezy Point since Sandy. They told me how they drove through the destruction with a small trailer handing out Sheetrock. The Habitat folks have been using Christ Community has there base for their work in the area. A lot of work has not been done on the church till we arrived. They decided to join us in our efforts. Which has been a blessing in both directions. They have worked alongside our group as if they were all one group. Members are hoping to start holding services inside once we are done.
A number of the youth and adults also cleared out a huge trash pile that had been collecting since before we came. When we arrived this morning we were greeted with the joyful site of an empty dumpster. Though it was not empty for long. Groups set out in search for another worthy dumpster and when that was full, the search resumed. At the end of the day the group filled at least three dumpsters with trash and debris from the church.
While clearing out trash, the group also worked on the courtyard and other basic landscaping issues to help make the area loom more welcoming, especially since we were handing out 1500 flyers for the cook-out on Friday.
It was another great work day. The team pulled out of Breezy Point around 1:45 in the afternoon. Upon arrival back in Brooklyn, the rat race to the showers began as they all got ready for Broadway in the evening.
I walked into the small grocery store and bought an iced tea. As the sales clerk gave me my change, she said, “Thanks for all that you all are doing.” That has been the norm here in Breezy Point.
Saturday morning we loaded up a charter bus and hit the rainy streets of Lynchburg headed for New York. 23 youth, 4 college students, and 11 adults mixed with tiredness and excitement for the adventure that was before them.
My adventure started the day before. Friday afternoon I got sick. Gross sick. I blame it on bad Mexican food. Or on eating Mexican food in a small town far, far away from Mexico. I spent the afternoon and evening asleep trying to will the pain away. I woke up Saturday morning not feeling 100%, but better than the day before. Megan took me up to church and was a huge help with helping get ready. After a bumping bus ride to New York, I stayed in a hotel in Brooklyn, about five minutes from the group. I took some serious medications and got food in me. . . . .and slept!
Sunday I was back! The meds and the rest helped me get my strength back. I missed not being with the group that one day, but grateful that it was the first night and not the last day. Been there, done that.
The group is staying at the Brooklyn Chinese Baptist Church in the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown. It has given the group lots of opportunities to experience the rich diversity that this Brooklyn. Some experienced chinatown’s bubble tea, and we all got a taste of Chinese and Hispanic foods from the area. Sunday afternoon/evening we split up into two groups and did a prayer walk in the area. We prayed for the people, the city, local businesses, and individuals. We learned from natives of Brooklyn about common addictions and homelessness in the area. We visited a park, where many homeless will sneak into at night to sleep because it is safer than the shelters.
Sunday the group worshipped at Christ Community Church in Breezy Point. Breezy Point is about a 45-minute bus drive from Brooklyn, one way. This island/beach community was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Homes were destroyed, including rows of houses that burned to the ground as a result of Sandy. The group got to tour the area and see some of the destruction. They also started moving out trash from the church. The church has not held worship since Sandy, until Memorial Day weekend, which have been outside. The focus for our group this week will be Christ Community Church.
On Monday the group rolled through the rainy streets of Brooklyn for Breezy Point. Despite the rain, the group of 38 left the bus ready to work. And, boy, did they work! The group was divided into six small groups before we left, and tasks for the day were assigned by these small groups. But, of course, there was inner-group help.
The church is a small church, with a traditional sanctuary (the winter chapel) and a room to the side (the summer chapel). Forgive me if I got those backwards. Two groups worked side by side with Habitat for Humanity workers on installing Sheetrock and taking down the frame of a no longer needed wall. One group started working on cleaning the hard wood floors in the winter chapel, while another group worked on cleaning and moving pews. In addition there was weeding and helping with cleaning out and throwing away.
One group faithfully folded 1500 flyers and stuffed them into a clear bag that would hang on a doorknob. The flyer was inviting people – residents, construction workers, store clerks – to a community cook-out we will be hosting and serving on Friday night at Christ Community Church.
On Tuesday, three groups set out to divide and conquer the Breezy Point community by handing out and leaving flyers. The youth who did so came back with a lot of great stories! They met a lot of interesting people and heard some great stories, some I hope to share here before the end of the week. Some of the kids also got to talk with one of the church’s board members who shared that the water was so high the the hymnal and the prayer book that sat on the altar were floating around. But the Bible remained in its place.
On this day, groups worked on the flooring in the summer chapel and installing insulation. And a group of four middle school girls started removing the floor boards of the chancel area, which we hope to replace this week. The girls were gracious to let the guys help them finish when some of the guys ran out of things to do.
A lot of the group have already learned new work skills. And they have conquered some fears they had prior to the trip. We seek continued prayers as the week continues and we strive to do as St. Francis of Assisi is famous for saying , “preach the gospel always, and use words if you have to.”
And we give thanks for the gift of wi-fi.