Reflections on the 2016 OG Mission Trip to Mobile, Alabama

Adult Mission Trip


by Jim Cole

Not too many years ago some of we adults noticed that when our youth group members returned from mission trips they seemed to glow with what appeared to be a very special quality.  As they described their feelings it became clear that they had experienced a special sense of Godliness, Grace and congregation. Some of us were surprised because It wasn’t what we had come to expect from our children.  Skip Masback described this quality as the result of  “mountain top experiences”.  Some of the YG members actually described their feeling from the pulpit during worship. We listened. And we adults had our own reactions to the experiences of our youth group members. My reaction was that I wanted my own experiences.  Like many of us, if you have had children visit colleges you may have experienced a little envy like I did.  I even expressed it as being a shame to waste such fantastic college campuses and programs on our children.  I was jealous.  I wanted my children to send me to college. In the same way, I wanted to experience the YG Godliness and Grace for myself.  I wanted to feel the special glow from the YG experience.

We wanted our own “Mountain Top Experiences” and we got our chances.  Over the last fourteen years we’ve had adult mission trips to several locations including Exuma, New Orleans, Florida, Belize and Baltimore among others.  Our most recent trip was to Mobile, Alabama to help people who could not help themselves and needed a helping hand from us.  Nancy and I have been on six of these mission trips and this was the most meaningful for us.

We worked hard.  Every day.  All day.  And those of us of a certain age felt it every day.  But it was the feeling of genuine satisfaction, of working together as a team and seeing the results of our efforts every day.  This satisfaction and the care we all took of one another developed into a Christian love that sustained us through the trip.  Although we are now home, we find that the love is still there.

We also enjoyed the love and hospitality of our host churches and the “Raise the Roof” group that sponsored us.  We were shown a community of Christians committed to assisting those in Mobile who needed help.  We became part of this larger community as we felt we became part of the families whose homes we improved.

This trip was a “mountain top experience” all right and I gained a spiritual uplifting from working alongside my New Canaan church members in doing God’s work for those less able than we.  And finally, yes, I did bring home the same special glow of love and satisfaction that our YG’ers did and it’ll be a long time before it wears off.

by William Picard

When I first took chemistry in High School, the subject seemed like a fascinating mystery. Three years later, much to my consternation, it remained just that – a mystery – I failed the class, of course.

This last OG trip was my ninth, and like all the previous trips it reminded me of chemistry.

Certainly, each trip is different on the surface. You might head out to the Ngong hills of Kenya, to Belize, Biloxi or this year to Mobile Alabama. You might work on a playground, a shelter, a dormitory, roofing or renovating kitchens and bathrooms. In some cases you might work on just being there.

But beyond these superficial differences, all of the trips follow the immutable and wondrous laws of some divine chemistry experiment.

You would never expect the elements of ingredients to amount to much:

  • a generous dose of your time and money
  • a degree of discomfort as you share a less than glamorous room and bathroom with a relative stranger
  • a regular ladle-full of starchy and/or fried food
  • an appropriate number of relatively inexperienced fish tackling ambitious projects
  • sparing amounts of personal time squeezed into work-filled days followed by vespers and early bed
  • and a good dose of annoyance at contemplating paradoxically avoidable and yet inescapable need These are hardly the elements for any kind of positive concoction. And yet, out of this unlikely list of ingredients, there emerges a wonderful, gradual, inexorable transformation for each fish, for the group as a whole, and for those people with whom we come into contact.

When we arrived to our mission destination, our partners ( and by partners I mean both those members of the local organizations who were assisting us in performing our work, and those whom we were there to serve), our partners then, appeared somewhat underwhelmed. We did not come off as the sprightliest, most highly skilled bunch.

The first day was difficult, our work overwhelming, the homeowner’s family reserved – all of us, fish and partners, looking at just the ingredients and not seeing much beyond a list of difficulties and frustrations.

And this is where the mystery comes in. Because four days later, not only had all the work been completed, but amazing things had happened.

Most, if not all of the fish on this trip will tell you that they experienced the following emotions:

  • a feeling of purpose and worth stronger and more fulfilling than anything experienced in the course of our habitual lives
  • a feeling of wholesomeness, both physical and spiritual
  • a sense of joy that arises from closer and more generous communion with God and with others
  • a personal and shared sense of belonging
  • the satisfaction that derives from witnessing the infectiousness and growth of all these emotions It’s almost palpable

And not only could we sense these emotions in ourselves, but clearly our partners were affected too. All of us fish, homeowners and support groups were awed by what happened. We all experienced surprise and wonderment on realizing that something powerful had been wrought out of our uninspiring ingredients.

Work had been accomplished, hearts had been warmed, souls revived, hope instilled and bonds of love and friendship created.

Just like chemistry, I can’t explain it. I just know that it happens. Every trip.

by Marianne Toldalagi

Good morning—I am Marianne Toldalagi and I had the incredible privilege to participate in this year’s OG Mission Trip to Mobile AL.

When Marianna first asked me to write my reflections, My first thought was Oh shoot…can I just not show up at church for a few weeks, so I can get out of doing this….But then I realized that this trip has completely taken over my heart and spirit and actually writing down my impressions would be a good way to move on!!

Why did I go on this OG trip?  I had this vague Idea that it will be fun to get away, spend time with some folks that are friends all packaged under the feel good umbrella that we are doing something nice for someone in need….

What was real the experience? Truly a transformation…a huge step on my spiritual journey…How was that accomplished?  I learned ….I learned about myself, about the awesome members of this church and came away with profound respect for the community in which we served….and most importantly got a glimpse of God’s grace as he moved in the hearts of others…..

So let me share a few of my meaningful moments—and I stress a few since  I could probably go on for way beyond my 2 minutes—

At the end of our first full work day , I sent a text to my 16 year old daughter—maybe not the best idea I ever had, but I must have wanted a little sympathy—I told her “ this has to be the saddest place I have ever been in my whole life”

Why? Because the poverty was overwhelming and what appeared to my very judgmental eyes was the degradation of the human spirit—as in—this poverty is horrible but why is there garbage everywhere except in the garbage can…after all let’s look across the street…that lady lovingly cleans her garden and actually goes out and sweeps the street around her house.

What did I learn?

That sweet, frail Ms Frazier exudes love, self-respect and dignity.

When she was taken to her doctor’s appointments, my head started spinning because she was beautifully dressed, hair done nicely and smiling…despite the depth of her physical challenges, she was Someone of great value.

So, when she called us her angels it felt so good.

But it also highlighted the contrast with her grandsons, several of whom seemed to be living with her…and I was quite taken aback by what appeared to me their total lack of interest in doing something for their grandmother…the house was filthy…I will admit, it was the source of my sadness, my instinctive judgmental reactions and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness….as in who are we kidding here….we are these New Canaan do-gooders…but it will not make any difference…I kept hearing the theme song of that old movie , the Bridge Over the River Kwai…..If you are too young to have seen it…watch it and you will understand…

What did I learn?
Sharing with my teammates at our evening vespers helped a great deal.   Frank suggested that we just need to put our heads down and do the work…and Marianna said that maybe our example will spark a change…( I kind of thought she was being a bit of a spin master at that point…)

But I learned that working really hard felt good…but maybe that was not a hard lesson to learn because that is how we all live. But it was also a way to keep the judgmental beast in my heart at bay….

So, I also observed a smile or two from the boys when they saw our progress , despite their scruffy exteriors they were very loving and kind with their grandmother, and I observed Marianna actually enlisting one of them to clean some cabinets…he had a lot of fun doing it—live streaming from his phone to his friends the whole experience..

When we finished that week we had transformed Ms Frazier’s kitchen, bath and hallway….it was like one of those HGTV makeovers…but the rest of the house was still a huge mess.  And, while we were all proud of what we did, I still felt twinges of sadness at what still needed to be done… But then here comes the big humbling moment….a few days after we left, Marianna got an email from our Mobile contact…apparently the grandsons, cleaned and painted the living room which was a MONUMENTAL task and chipped in to replace the filthy, honestly roach infested refrigerator…

So my heart melted…and I learned that hard work, coupled with good intentions does make a difference—it does create a spark and now God and his grace can take over… Maybe like doubting Thomas, I saw that we made a difference. And, I hope  and pray that these young men will remember these crazy New Canaanites and take a few more steps toward the dignity and self -respect modeled by their grandmother and open themselves up to the Grace of our Lord.

And speaking of the crazy New Canaanites, I thought hanging out with these nice folks would be fun…but we all learned about each other and I think we forged friendships that will tie us to this community in powerful ways…the other big lesson of this trip–

So I learned that William has the patience of a saint and a lot of goodwill…he taught me how to use a bunch of power tools…which allowed me to feel useful, which he knows is very important to me, and Marie Ange, who I have known for years but I didn’t know that her eyes light up like a Christmas tree when she speaks about her grandchildren and that she really likes it when we stop in to see her in her church office—which I have already done, and Nancy —we learned to collaborate and tame our Type A personalities so we can quickly lay down what seemed like an ocean of laminate flooring.  And at our one big night out at a fantastic waterfront restaurant while a few of us were out on the dock trying to see if we can spot alligators…the guys didn’t talk about sports or politics….David shared with us how much he LOVES his three daughters, and Jeff recollected his time in Vietnam because the river we were on reminded him of Saigon.  Joellen and I seem to burst into tears for the same reasons…mostly when our children are involved.

And, Andy, who I learned was my ‘guardian angel’ and I am sure kept me safe as I experimented with all those power tools and Diana, who is a wonderful friend, and now I know is the best roommate EVER…she is super clean and really listened as I processed all these daily experiences…until she fell asleep, that is!!

And, every day was filled with similar moments of grace as all 20 of our team shared and  supported each other…

So in the final analysis, this experience fed my soul and I hope it allows me to open up to God’s grace and his plan for me.

Thank you.

Reflections on the 2015 OG Mission Trip to San Antonio, Texas

OG Mission Trip 2015 to San Antonio, Texas, March 21-28, 2015

by Cindy Ziegler

Some of you may remember that Skip Masback used to sign his letters “with you on the journey”.  I always thought that was so reassuring – a sort of catch phrase that you don’t have to go it alone.  I had to put those words to the test 10 years ago when I was grieving the sudden passing of my dad and the unfortunate and sad unraveling of my marriage.  What did Skip mean by “with you on the journey”?  I knocked on the door of his office and he invited me in.  Such a busy man but he had time to sit down with me and listen.  He made me a cup of tea and comforted me with the words of Jeremiah 29:11 “For surely I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

He then told me I had two choices, I could let this period of my life define me or I could see it as a new beginning filled with wondrous lessons and possibilities along the way.  I would have to be brave but I didn’t have to do it by myself.

What does this have to do with an OG mission trip to San Antonio you might ask? For me – everything, because it was a beautiful piece of my healing on this journey.  Both of my children had gone on every YG mission trip they could.  They came home with amazing stories and friendships that will last a lifetime.  I thought – someday  – I want to do that.

The timing had never been right for me until this year – so I said yes and I’m so glad I did.  At first I was nervous – most of the people on the trip had done this before.  The most I had ever done was maybe hammer a nail or paint a bedroom but everyone was so encouraging and by the end of the week, I was hanging sheetrock and up on scaffolding.  I learned to use a nail gun and an electric drill but never got over my fear of the circular saw – maybe next year.  I met the most amazing group of people from this church and was privileged to live and work with them for a week.  Chris Delmar had told me that I would feel transformed and she was 100% right.

Our team was assigned to help Frankie, a paraplegic in his mid-40’s that needed help converting his home to make it more handicapped accessible.  We built him a closet and widened his doors, put on a new French door to his back yard and Fred – our contractor – moved his entire heating unit to give him more room.

What we didn’t know on our first day there was that Frankie’s father had just passed away the week before.  He was very quiet and stayed outside and kind of to himself.  On the second day, he opened up to all of us.  He came in the house and talked to us and we ate our lunches together and prayed with him.  He told us that at first he wasn’t sure he had wanted us to come this week because he had just lost his dad and the funeral was in a couple of days.  He told us how it had turned out to be such a comfort to him to have us there that week.  He didn’t have to be alone.  Frankie was transforming us and showing us that through some simple acts of kindness and work we were helping him through a tough time.  We were also watching him transform.  At the final worship service on the last night, Frankie pushed his wheelchair to the front of the church.  He thanked us, but most of all, he thanked God and talked about how his life had changed that week.

I don’t think any of us on that team will forget the experience of working with Frankie and how much he taught us about resiliency and faith.

What I didn’t tell you at the beginning of this reflection is that after my father passed away, a bright red cardinal used to appear in my yard.  In my own way, I kind of thought it was my dad checking in with me.  I still see him in my yard from time to time.  Driving up to the work site on that first day of work in San Antonio, when Kelly Morrissey and I drove up to the job sight, I saw a bright red cardinal perched in the tree.  What a sweet surprise and gentle reminder that we’re all on this journey together.

by Neil Swanson

When Marianna asked me if I would say a few words in OG Reflections I willingly said “yes”. Not because I relish standing in front of a packed church on such a special day—I can assure you I do not.  But I did agree to speak because of my wonderful personal experience on this OG trip to San Antonio and this lets me share it with you.

I have been on several OG trips, and each time I feel the same way at the end.  I am happy and thankful               that I participated. I am spiritually enriched, I feel the Lord was with us the entire time—using  us—using me, and I am closer to my fellow OGers than I was at the beginning of the week. For some it is a reconnection, for others a newer and closer relationship. And you get so much more back when helping others.

We are a community of faith. We may be in different places in our faith journeys, but as a community we lift each other up, we support each other. The feeling of community was very evident on previous OG Mission Trips, and San Antonio was no different for me.

Jesus wants us to love others, to serve others, to help those less fortunate, and to be his disciples. For me personally OG trips bring it all together.

In San Antonio I loved the fellowship, the deepening friendships, the laughter, the community feeling and being part of a mission outreach project to help people in need.  Our group of 25, including contractors Jimmy, Fred, and Sarah, connected with Blueprint Ministries—a non-profit  organization in urban San Antonio.  Blueprint’s mission is to provide servant leadership training for youth and adults, restoring homes for the elderly, the disabled, and the low income residents who cannot afford to make the repairs on their own. Groups come in from all over the country and Blueprint puts them to work.

San Antonio, with a population of 1.4 million, has the largest percentage of substandard housing for a major city in the U.S.  Our group was split into 3 teams with 3 projects:  (1) a home with a grandmother on dialysis; (2) a home of a paraplegic; and (3) a home occupied by a City Life Director of Youth For Christ who works with high school and middle school kids in the neighborhood. He is helping them stay on “the right path” and helping them to find Jesus. It is this house that I worked on with team Alamo.

Pepe Fuentes lives in an 85 year old home purchased by Youth For Christ that needs a lot of work. Nearby Lanier High School has a dropout rate of 60%. There is a daycare center at the high school because of so many teen pregnancies. Pepe wants the house to be a safe haven for the kids and a place to have bible study. His enthusiasm and his joy is contagious. He worked with us each day in putting up sheetrock, blowing insulation into the walls, and replacing a rotten wrap around front porch.  Pepe’s  father Candy also worked with us.

We got a lot done but there is much more to do, and other groups coming in to serve with Blueprint will pick up where we left off.  Pepe and Candy were very pleased—there were tears in their eyes of joy. Heartfelt appreciation and love filled the room.

Anyone who can hold a ladder, hold a measuring tape, hold a paint brush or a broom, or can put things in a pile is qualified to go on an OG trip. You don’t have to have special talents or construction skills. We are so blessed to have Jimmy Chavalier as a contractor for so many of the YG and OG trips. He was with us in San Antonio. He is patient with us, he “goes with the flow” and does not fret if something needs to be redone.

In closing, I wanted to mention we have a guardian angel tradition on the OG trips.  Everyone from their respective team draws a name out of a hat early in the week, selecting the person they will secretly keep an eye on as their guardian angel. The intent is to discreetly get to know their angel better, be supportive and attentive, and then say something to their angel at the end of the week revealing their guardian angel identity.

I was guardian angel for someone I didn’t know very well at all—someone on their first OG Mission Trip. It was Stephanie—a wonderful and caring person and a hard worker too. And Jimmy was my guardian angel. As we worked and talked I learned to appreciate him even more as a person. He also kept me from injuring myself with a nail gun or saw.

As our  YGers frequently say at the end of their mission reflections “long live YG”.  I say here “long live OG”.

Thank you.

Reflections on the 2014 OG Mission Trip to Kenya

2014 OG MAASAI MISSION TRIP TO KENYA, June 21 – July 1, 2014

by Katrina H. Conde

Since this was my first mission trip, I was a bit nervous, but being a middle school teacher I was used to adventure.  I was especially conscientious about our reading assignment: Henri Nouwen’s book, Discernment. I  started to frantically take notes on each chapter when I stumbled upon one phrase that answered all my prayers:  Pay attention to the people God puts in your path if you want to discern what God is up to in your life.

The first group of people on my spiritual path were my 21 New Canaan partners who accompanied me on this trip.  I knew some of them well enough to say hello, but others I never had met before in my 15 years at this church.  The trip was a community experience with daily meals, long van rides through the bumpy, red-dusted roads, work site duties, more driving on dusty roads, and evening vespers.  Throughout the trip, I felt loved and accepted as everyone shared their spiritual gifts such as their sense of humor, intelligence, love for birding, generosity, creativity, leadership, dedication or just pleasant conversation.  As a result of this love and acceptance, I have become more committed to our church by becoming active in outreach activities.

The next group of people on my enlightened path were the jubilant girls at the Rescue Center who welcomed us into their community by sharing meals with us, visiting with us, and singing for us.  I was amazed at how caring they were towards each other.  They had so little but were so grateful for all they had.  The Maasai community’s simple way of living made them more joyful and open to God. The grateful girls helped me to appreciate all I had in my life and to count my blessings.

Finally, the safari in the Maasai Mara allowed me to further appreciate the wonder of God’s glory. There we all ate breakfast while sitting next to Nile crocodiles basking on the riverbanks, ate lunch while gazing at the giraffes feasting on acacia trees, and went to sleep while listening to the hippos frolic in the river outside our tent. I have always felt closest to God while in nature but the Maasai Mara Safari was a divine experience.

I realize that God’s intentions were for me to serve others thanks to my OG Mission Fish experience. I am looking forward to our next mission trip so God can further illuminate His intentions for me.

by Stephanie Joyce

From the moment Marianna announced the mission trip to Kenya, I knew in my soul it was something I needed to do.  I felt drawn to learn more about Maasai culture and to connect with its people by serving them.  Many Maasai families cannot afford to keep their daughters.  These girls, as young as 9, are married off, often to much older men and many have to endure female circumcision. The rescue center provides a choice and home for these young girls. It warmed my heart to help build a dormitory with other church members.

Every day the Maasai women nurtured us by insisting on cooking a warm meal and serving tea. Our mornings were spent working on building the dorms and in the afternoons, we were joined by the girls. They entertained us by sharing their circle games, chants and dances.  We connected with them through the arts which I believe is a universal language.  The energy of God is one of creation and together we created 2 large murals one of which is in Smith Hall and the other we left at the Rescue center as a memory of our time together.

At the end of our stay the whole village of over 200 from babies to elders came out and showered us with gifts and thanks. They sang, danced and gave us hugs and colorful kanga wraps. Our donations from the church community of books, shoes, bags and pencil cases delighted them.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the vespers in the evening especially the last one by the campfire along the Mara River.  It was meaningful to reflect on the day’s events in a spiritual light and we were amazed at the vast range of Gods creativity by the variety of  species that we saw.

It rained when we arrived and rained when we departed which for the Maasai is one of God’s greatest blessings.  I felt truly blessed to have the chance to spend time with these beautiful people and to experience the meaningful partnership between the Church and Maasai.  In deep gratitude to the church for this opportunity to serve I would like to end with a prayer of the Maasai.

Oh God, grant that we may live in peace.

Give us health and protect our wives and children.

Bless us with rain on our heads and prosper us by giving water to man and beast.

God remember us

by William Picard

Around day three of our work at the Beloved Daughters of the Maasai refuge center, we were speeding down a dirt road on our way to see the water pipeline which was funded by this church some ten years ago. On the side of the road ahead of us were two young boys about 10 years old. As we passed they threw their hands up in salute, smiled brightly and yelled “Wazungu!!”

Of course I asked our driver what this meant…   so he told me…“White People” .

It made me, actually it made all of us in the car, laugh at the time.

In thinking back on our trip however this is a most fitting vignette. Fitting because unlike the stale “what I did this summer” this trip was not really about what we did. When all is said and done, the marrow of life sucked out of this adventure lies not in what we did as much as in what we were.

Certainly we did things and saw things, we visited primitive Maasai settlements, glamped on the banks of the Mara river and witnessed the great Wildebeest migration in full swing.  Any of these would make a trip to Kenya worthwhile.

We even did a little work and managed to build a dormitory for the girls of the refuge. But quite frankly, this was by far the lightest workload I can recall of any of the OG trips I have been on, and I’m fairly sure of any of the OG trips this church has ever had.

But, there is no doubt in my mind that it was by far one of the most impactful ever, both for us mission fish and for our brothers and sisters on site.

So let me tell you what we 26 mission souls, were in Kenya:

We were Blessed. Blessed with love and laughter, friendship and joy, peace and serenity. It happens every time and yet I never fail to be surprised by the way in which mission work brings us all into deeper and more meaningful relationships with one another and with God.

We were fulfilled and excited by our roles as conduits of God’s love and as very real agents of change for the 30 girls at the refuge and the other 30 girls whom we never met but who are now living in their new dormitory.

We were humbled and inspired by the people we came to serve, especially by the girls and their teachers.  Humbled and inspired by the grace with which they face daily challenges which by anyone in this Meeting House could only be considered as acute.

We were drowned in smiles and showered with gifts from people with precious little to give. People who at this very moment are suffering from a severe drought and are not sure whence or even whether next week’s food will come.

We were mindful and grateful of belonging to a worthy body as we were driven around the area to see the fruits of the various projects sponsored by this church. We saw the famous drought-resistant goats (all the more important today), the pipeline, the cisterns, the greenhouses, the solar panels, the desks and not least met some of the grown-up pupils who were sponsored over the years by members of our congregation.

We were filled with a sense of worth and purpose as we worked on the dormitory and with a great feeling accomplishment when it was commissioned.

And of course we felt privileged and fortunate to have been commissioned by this congregation. It is easy to take for granted, but our mission fish, young and old, do set out on a great commission in the name of each and every one of us, members of this congregation. I believe that we were worthy ambassadors but I would urge you all to come and make sure for yourself on our next OG trip.

Reflections on the 2013 OG Mission Trip to East Biloxi, Mississippi

OG Mission Trip to East Biloxi, Mississippi, March 10-16, 2013

Given by Carolyn Mulry at the April 14, 2013, 9:30am service

Good Morning. I was lucky to be one of the 24 OG’ers who went to East Biloxi, Mississippi this past March. We were a mission team ranging in age from late 20’s to late 80’s. Did you know that 20-something now qualifies you for the “Old Group”?

“We are all just pilgrims on a journey, all travelers on the road”.1   That’s from the Servant Hymn we all sang last Sunday and it rings so true to me, everyday, whether I’m in East Biloxi or New Canaan. I’m seeking, especially these days, which is why I consider myself lucky to have been with this particular group because they did so much to shape my emotional and spiritual journey. We were not just travelers or tourists, “We (were there) to help each other go the mile and share the load”.2

The so-called OG “Old Group” made me feel at home at this church more than a year ago. Originally, I joined Congregational after hearing Skip speak. I joined alone, because my husband George is a devout Catholic who drove straight to St. A’s and became a member there as soon as we moved into town in 2006. There was no question for him. His faith and its practice was and is unquestionable. I, on the other hand, had to “church shop” to find roots that reminded me of the church in which I grew up. You don’t move to most towns and drive straight to the local First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church.

Next, I had to explain to my very young children why I attended a different church than their dad on Sunday. I told them it was because Congregational looked and felt like how I grew up, and its music and messages really spoke a language I understood and felt was special. All the churches in town were really ALL God’s houses, and everyone walks into the one they feel most comfortable praying in and thanking God in. We emphasized the “ALL God’s houses” part. I didn’t have an explanation for their next question that came up, weeks later as I drove thru God’s Acre on a very quiet afternoon. There was only one perfectly cleaned SUV parked out front in the circle, decorated with all the New Canaan stickers. Someone in the back seat asked, “So, is that God’s car”?Walking into God’s house was a start to my journey; the beginning of a search for a way to make Him more accessible and more present in my daily life. It was I that had to move closer, as He was always right there, but it was the people around me who helped make that happen. They lived what I was looking for.

I knew two women who were members here, coincidentally two women whom I love and admire greatly. One is my next-door neighbor and the other is a friend who hosted my wedding reception in her backyard. Both are amazing. But, one sings in the choir every Sunday and the other runs even later than I do, so I was usually sitting alone in a pew. Thankfully, they were both in OG and went to East Biloxi last year when I did my first trip. I went again this year, because I was hooked. I spent last year’s week on a rooftop with shingles and a nail gun in hand, getting to know so much more about my neighbors here in New Canaan and the people of Biloxi. On top of tar paper in the blazing sun in a town I didn’t once know how to pronounce, I found I was truly myself.

I don’t know what other’s expectations or motivations were, but, I was looking for being more than just kind or helpful. I was seeking connection with God and with others who look beyond the surface of things and looking for more meaning in my daily responsibilities. I wanted to feel the feeling I have when I walk in this church – the choked-up feeling of emotional well-spring – but I wished for it more than for just one hour each Sunday. It was a spiritual sweet spot — like the feeling of returning a forehand hit on the middle strings of my tennis racquet — but in the context of God’s kingdom, it meant opening up to a community of souls like myself, other pilgrims on a journey, people who serve as “living reminders”. My peers in Mississippi all became leaders to me because they all led by example.

Somehow, someone, wove us together – all with different, hidden strengths:

an eye for organization, time & people management (Joe),
an ear for when to offer a spontaneous prayer, praise or memorized poem (Joan)
a heart of patience and true compassion (Marianna)
a mind for understanding how to run a wet saw, a table saw, and how to mix quick-drying grout (William and Bob)
hands of trained caregivers for injuries or sunscreen (Amy, Maria, Jean, Phyllis)
the backbone of a faithful advocate for grace (Skip)
a nose for finding the best hot coffee & Vietnamese bakery in town (also Skip)
I thought I was empty-handed, but somehow our group was fully equipped for an unknown task just by showing up. Together. Holly from San Francisco, PJ from Kentucky — we all had a job at one of two different work sites. “Each Person is given something to do that shows who God is.” (1 Corinth. 12: 7)3   The fact that I had no idea of how to “cope a piece of trim” or that Marianne never pictured herself digging a hole 6′ deep for a ramp piling, didn’t matter. That Larry would be painting door after door without the aid of his missing glasses, was okay. That Marge had to flag every crossbeam under the house so we didn’t whack our heads, was necessary. We were working together, all sharing the load, for a family we didn’t know.

This fellowship was also evident in the church we spent our first morning in: the New Bethel Missionary Church; a two-hour Baptist service with more joy and love than you can imagine. Eight years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged their Gulf Shores flooding Biloxi with water 30 feet high, many residents are still waiting for their home to be rebuilt, their school to open, and their church to grow its congregation to replace members who didn’t return. But the congregation we shared a Sunday morning with, showed us how to live fully and deeply, in the midst of destruction and ongoing daily vulnerabilities. How? They magnified their faith in God, their love for each other, and their fellowship in sharing the best fried chicken lunch with us – with not a hint of looking back at the darkness from which they came. They shared their hymnals in song, held our hands in a giant prayer circle, and freely interjected Hallelujahs and “don’t you see?” into Pastor Hollins’ sermon. They were fully engaged; living in the moment with the deep intention I could only focus with on Sundays here. They lived with the deep intention of someone who had come to their last hour, lost everything and everyone, and reflected upon the value of their life and said: it’s what I sense through my Eyes, Ears, Heart – that make one feel alive – the things revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.4

Somehow, I know that it wasn’t the destruction of Hurricane Katrina that compelled Pastor Hollins and his members to become aware of the treasure of a normal day. They know. Just like my husband is sure. In the words of one of my favorite songwriters: “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget the perfect offering, There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in”.5   The people I met in East Biloxi are people who put a face on God’s acceptance and forgiveness. They make God’s love not a platitude, but a presence. And they infuse that vibrancy into every minute and shared it with us all.

I hope to continue this passionate participation in my everyday life whether I am driving, parenting, cooking, cleaning, painting, rushing, shopping, commuting, exhausting myself … I want to try to be mindful of my blessings and the purpose of my soul – the one embedded by God with the power and passion to be fulfilled – through unity with others who share the same beliefs / the same uncommon fellowship of awe- inspiring neighbors in New Canaan whose paths I might not have crossed while I was busy driving, cooking, parenting, rushing, shopping, etc.

It doesn’t matter if I’m deep in poverty in Mississippi; in a recently destroyed Staten Island seaside town; in the depths of Africa; or in the beautiful county of Fairfield. There will always be cracks, but I am learning to reach out and let go and trust in fellowship and community. From the silence of meditation, contemplation and prayer in vespers in Biloxi, to the mayhem of power saws, tile laying, grouting, painting, and measuring wrong — I can approach all these things with love and compassion – the same way Joe, Marianna, William, and Skip showed us. Spirit is not in great rushes or ecstatic visions; it’s in life’s deepest experiences: the joy and love we give to others, that we share — be it in a halting hug or a very articulate word of grace.

I can always ask myself: “How can I live fully”? “How can I love dearly”? “How can I love in word and in deed”? I Pray to God to grant me the presence of Christ, so that as we serve one another, we might be a community of blessing.



1, 2 “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?” (Hymn #374) Servant Song.  Words and music, Richard Gillard (c) 1977.

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? / Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road; / We are here to help each other go the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the shadow of your fear; / I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you. / I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony, / born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? / Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

3 1 Corinthians 12:7 (MSG) “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people.”

4 Paraphrased 1 Corinthians 2: 9-13:  “…9 What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared f or those who love him – 10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13  And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”

5 Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”, The Future, Columbia Records, (c) 1992.