Mission: Iowa – Day 1

For regular readers: this week I’m blogging about the joint mission trip between youth and adults at Excelsior United Methodist Church and Minnetonka United Methodist Church.

For new readers: welcome and poke around the blog for content about writing, improv, and creativity.

Today we set out from the Twin Cities Metro of Minnesota for our neighbor to the south, eastern Iowa. Ravaged by flooding, eighty-five percent of counties in the state received some sort of water damage in 2008. Through the efforts of several government, religious, and community organizations – including the organization we’re working through, UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) – many homes have been repaired but as always in these efforts, there’s a long way left to go. Our specific work area will be in Cedar Rapids, IA, the second-largest city in the state and a major interstate, railroad and river city for the state. Hopefully, we can at least make some impact with home and building repair and get some people’s lives back to something normal.

Twelve members of the Excelsior UMC group converged on our church over the noon hour and loaded up the trailer and vehicles. We’ll be joined by two teenagers tomorrow evening and an adult couple later this weekend, plus we picked up my brother Jordan, who lives in Iowa, halfway through our journey. Our belongings packed and our vehicles loaded, we headed over to Minnetonka UMC to meet with the youth and adults who would join us from their congregation. They have a large group, too, with several members who will join us as the weekend continues, too. Already we’re seeing the convenience of doing a mission trip in an area so close to home; the flexibility it lends to allowing more people to join us is a boon, though it gives one perspective on how outreach doesn’t have to be hundreds of miles away like the Excelsior UMC mission trip to Texas over New Year’s a few months ago. There are people in need in our neck of the woods, too.

The drive was smooth and without incident. EUMC youths Marcus W., Matt S., and Jacob S. joined me in “Mazie,” my Mazda5. Jacob and I talked each other’s ears off about scouting, family, and ridiculous jokes while Marcus, Matt, and I had an odd conversation about whether Transformers 2 was the best movie ever (their opinion) or a racist clunker that makes my generation’s childhood weep (my opinion). When we stopped in Floyd, IA for gas and to pick up Jordan, my mother lent me her Magellan GPS for the weekend which gave Jacob S. and me something more to talk about as we figured out how to work it exactly. Glad to say the thorough directions I typed up matched what the computer said, so I guess maybe I missed out on my calling as a navigator / cartographer.

Upon arrival at New Life Community Church in Marion, IA, a Cedar Rapids northern suburb, Loretta, Kent and I got the tour from an NLCC staff member and we unloaded the vehicles and trailers. We have the space to ourselves for the weekend, save for Sunday morning of course. There’s a large fellowship hall and spacious kitchen for meals and meetings, plus two comfy couch-laden classrooms acting as gender-specific sleeping quarters and a few classrooms in the middle serving as sleeping quarters for the “lighter” sleepers (i.e. adult chaperones). Free time at the church has seen a slew of activities. Kelsey W. bought a game called Bananagrams right before we left town and she broke it out to play with Victoria S., Jacob S., and Jordan M. Meanwhile, MUMC youth Jenna, Olivia, Katie, andHolly played a rousing game of Catchphrase (a youth group favorite at EUMC). Brett, Alex, and Sam have dominated the ping-pong table, and everyone else is running this way and that intermingling between the two youth groups. We also played some improv games like Name/Yes, Call of the Wild, Czechoslovakia, Bippity Bippity Bop, and the Super-Fast Clap Circle (I have no idea what that game is really called; it’s just fun). You’ll have to ask one of the youths who played for the full scoop on how to play, dear reader.

Our UMCOR liaison, Melissa, came while we ate our Pizza Hut-delivered dinner to explain the situation and what jobs we’ll undertake tomorrow. She explained how most folks managed to salvage no more than four boxes of belongings from their homes on-average after the flood and that one community was underwater for three weeks. The river current was strong during the floods, too, pulling debris along at sixty-five miles an hour. These folks went through quite a lot and we’re glad to add thirty-some volunteers to the over two-hundred fifty who are also working in the area this week and weekend. We divided ourselves into three teams: one will do drywall at Josh’s house, one will paint-seal bricks at Mack’s house, and one will gut a damaged piano store to create a new UMCOR storage space. The last group needs to wear N95 face masks to keep from inhaling mold while the paint-sealers will wear white garb to keep from getting the non-water soluble sealing paint on their clothes and skin. The drywall folks? Eh, maybe they’ll get masks, too, who knows? That’s right, with mission work comes brilliant fashion statements. I’ll see what I can do about getting photos up on the blog (no promises but I’ll try).

Kent J. and Connie O. made a grocery run, adults are relaxing (some asleep already), youth are playing games and watching The Prestige, and yours truly is heading to bed.

I’ll update the blog as frequently as possible and I encourage you to please leave us your comments on blog entries. I will pass them along to the group (this was a huge morale builder during our Texas mission trip and I’d love to see it continue). I can check comments on my phone any time so keep them coming!

(Real time update: Despite the timestamp on this blog saying July 9, I’m posting this on Friday, July 10 from a temporary library situated in a downtown building similar to the City Center in downtown Minneapolis. I went to the large, original city library only to find it completely empty. Nearly the entire adult fiction collection was lost in the flood last year! There’s another temporary library which I hope to make posts from for the rest of the trip… in the mall. As a literature nut, this is a bummer on top of an already sad situation.)

Thanks for reading,



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