PA mission trip brings new awareness to volunteers

BY SUSAN KIM | COLUMBIA, Md. | February 1, 1999

COLUMBIA, Md. (Feb. 1, 1999) -- Volunteers who recently helped rebuild a

tornado-devastated town in rural Pennsylvania learned a lot about the power

of Mother Nature -- and the power of human nature.

"Where we live, our idea of a bad storm is when a tree falls across the road,"

said 16-year-old Adam Walworth, from the Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church

in the quiet suburb of Baltimore. "But when we went to Salisbury (Pa.), we

saw a 30-foot stretch of trees completely knocked down."

Walworth, with 11 other youths and 12 adults from three Maryland churches,

spent two days helping Salisbury residents rebuild their homes and farms. Even

though Walworth had previously taken mission trips to construct new homes,

this work brought "a new awareness," he said.

"We worked side-by-side with the homeowners and farmers," said Walworth. "We

ate lunch with them, and we heard their stories. That was so meaningful."

The 23-person volunteer team, included members of United Methodist,

Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and worked with Wind of Hope, an

interfaith long-term recovery committee based in Salisbury.

Some of the work was completely unfamiliar -- using heavy steel and wood

planks to build stalls in a new heifer shed. Some fell into the home

construction category -- painting, installing insulation, and moving large

sheets of drywall. Some was grueling labor in freezing temperatures --

building a stone retaining wall amid snow flurries. Some may have mirrored

'the usual' for teenagers -- babysitting so homeowners could go out to

purchase materials or work on their own homes.

Fifteen-year-old Marsha Saul of Linden Lithicum United Methodist Church in

Clarksville, said the trip allowed her to learn skills she'd never have

learned otherwise. "It was so rewarding to realize that we were really able

help this community. You don't think you can help someone after a tornado.

I mean -- rebuild a house?! I would never have done that."

As they worked, youth and adults also heard people's personal accounts of the

two days last summer when three tornadoes ripped through the center of town.

The stories are many and painful: a teenager killed, 100-year-old homes

destroyed, maple sugar crops lost, farm buildings collapsed, silos twisted,

residents asking 'why me?'

Bill and Sylvia Mast's farm was hit by both storms. They lost a heifer shed,

half of an 18-by-50-foot silo and another 20-by-60-foot silo, a barn roof, a

machine shed, their pasture fencing, and two-thirds of their maple trees.

Their house lost part of its roof, many windows, and the door.

Tom and Laurie Bender, members of Oakdale Mennonite Church, lost their home

altogether. A tornado bowed the outside walls, separating them from the

foundation by several inches. Insurance engineers found its walls structurally

unsound, and the house had to be torn down. "It was devastating to think of

our farm house being demolished after having spent several weeks of hard work

remodeling, and finally moving in just three months before the tornado," said

Laurie Bender. "The work that lay ahead seemed endless."

The Benders decided to build a new house on the same property. "What is most

remarkable to me about the time after the tornado, is how God showed His

amazing love to us through people," she said.

Giving youth a chance to show God's love is vitally important to their

personal and spiritual growth, said Sherri Kennedy, a member of Christ

Memorial who helped neighboring Linden Linthicum UMC plan the mission trip

to Salisbury. "Our kids should be learning what it is to serve a community.

And the only way to learn it is to do it."

Kennedy, who has worked in various youth ministries and has planned many

mission trips, said that even a short volunteer trip has big impact on young

people. "They see the need firsthand, and they feel a sense of leadership.

They leave as bigger people than when they got there."

When planning a volunteer trip that includes youth, Kennedy said that some

planning will make the experience more meaningful for everyone. "I try to

prepare the adults to work with kids. Adults need to be flexible. When we

can, we put kids in leadership roles -- for example, when it comes to


devotions and in other areas too."

"In Salisbury, those young people carried in 50 pieces of 4-by-12-foot drywall

into the Bender family's home," she said. "That was grueling work but they did

it cheerfully."

Saul said that she initially went on the trip because she wanted to see what

it was like -- and many youth from her church were going. Now she is already

planning to volunteer again during the summer. "I will always remember when we

were helping a family rebuild their home, and they had this huge poster with

everyone's name on it who had helped build their house. There were a lot of

names!" she said.

Walworth added that he learned a lot about disaster response. "If a

tornado ever came through here, I'd never have known what to do before I

volunteered in Salisbury. But now I wouldn't be so surprised at the

destruction a tornado can cause. When you're helping someone repair damage,

you understand firsthand what can happen and some of the precautions you can

take," he said.

Posted Feb. 1, 1999

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