Mission: Iowa – Day 4

This was our last full day of work as we’ll head out after lunch on Monday. There’s more than a twinge of regret as we leave several work projects left unfinished. Yet that’s the nature of a mission trip; it’s rare to be the first ones on a job and even rarer to be the last. What we do is about those middle steps, the long sludge toward the finish line when the end goal seems far away and the workload overwhelming. Sure, we finished our entire task at Mack’s, and so long as we keep our perspective, we may feel more at peace with leaving things unfinished at Josh’s, Carol’s, and the Piano Store.

I started out with the crew at Josh’s house this morning (Brett, Kelsey, Jacob S., Nathan, Nick, Loretta, Eric, Jack, Alex, and Sam) and finally had a chance to meet Josh. He granted me an on-camera interview to hear his perspective on the flood and how it’s affected his family. On the day of the flood, they heard of the potential danger and he sent his wife, Sara, and their two boys, Noah and Juilius (now ages three and two, respectively), to his parents in Cedar Falls and he went to work that morning. While there, he learned of just how high the water rose in his neighborhood; one of his co-workers lives in his neighborhood and waded to work with a video on his phone. Life changed that day. His family wasn’t allowed back in the home for weeks. Refurbishing the home started right away but resources and funding was limited. Throw in a layoff due to several stores closing and his managerial skills being needed less and less, and the year has been one of slow progress and setbacks. Still, Josh tries to keep his hopes up as much as possible on behalf of his family, seeking work, rebuilding the home, and providing for his family. I asked him if his sons understood what was going on and while Julius is too young, the older boy, Noah, refers to the home as “the wreck” with that wry humor only a child could get away with. Noah lost most of his Thomas the Tank Engine toys in the flood, so I ran out to Toys R Us and picked out two new engines – one for him and one for when his brother was old enough to join him in play (they received Percy and James, for those discerning Thomas fans). Noah gave me a big smile and said ‘thank you.’ This last interaction was at the end of our work day and I bid Josh farewell.

My interview with Josh was outside and my interaction with Noah was downstairs. Meanwhile, the crew was busy at work on the main floor. More and more drywall went up while other sheets were mudded, sanded, mudded, sanded, and so on in that cycle. They really had an efficient team, understanding how to work with each other and how to help. For example, I helped with mudding and dusting in the morning and while it was something I found I had a knack for during the Excelsior UMC mission trip to Texas last December, Jacob S. had some new pointers for me in terms of technique and efficiency. Connie made a run out to Home Depot and picked up an electric sander which Nick wielded with ease. The dust storms we kicked up were something fierce and while the masks we wore to protect our precious lungs were helpful but hot, Josh had the central air conditioning running for us. Now that’s a rare gem in the mission work world. Another group who arrives tonight and begins work tomorrow will be here for a full week and are getting an early start at Josh’s house. I hope they do amazing work; Josh told me he really hopes to have the house finished in time for Thanksgiving. It’s an ambitious goal and I hope he meets it with the help of his family and more volunteers.

At Carol’s house, even more sheetrock was going up, not only on the walls but also the ceiling. The crew of Victoria, Trevor, Alex, Bob, Kent, Marcus, Matt, Holly, Olivia, Jenna, Jordan, Pat, Jacob B., Connie, Katie, and Louann divided their duties amongst them. Some were constantly sanding while others were mudding. A crew cut new lengths of sheetrock to put on the ceiling with a hand-crank lift that held the board up while Jenna and Jacob B. screwed it in tight. One of the last things Alex O. and Trevor did before they had to leave early was take down a fresh piece of sheetrock because the crew forgot to install insulation underneath it. Luckily, they caught the error and everything’s back in place the right way.

Carol reportedly stopped by the home to grab a few things and she chatted with Kent. She’s staying in a FEMA trailer in the meantime and is quite grateful to everyone for their help. This was also the home where Josh’s house crew came in the late afternoon when their work was finished (they reached that point where there was nothing left to do for the day except wait for the mud to dry). It was also my first stop with ice cream sandwiches and bars in tow. I was able to hand off some ice cream sandwiches to Bob and Louann before they had to depart back for home and while they were only with us half the trip, they did a lot of great work to help the crew. Working so close to home like this is a grand convenience, though it’s also given people in our group fresh feelings on watching people in our area become instantly distressed in poverty. As Eric pointed out during worship last night, this could happen to any of us, any time, through some sort of natural disaster. I think people in our group are really weighing that in as they do their work.

There’s not much to say about the work at the Piano Store that hasn’t already been said because while a lot of work gets done, it’s as if it never ends. It’s hot, it’s moldy, and a little dangerous. Yes, our fourth person stepped on a nail today, and it was my brother, Jordan. He joined the ranks of Kaitlyn, Jack, and Matt with a trip to the ER and a fresh prescription of antibiotics. Still, the workers persevere and did their best to get as much done as possible. Jerry, Bobbi, Maddie, Kaitlyn, Jake, Jordan, Alex, Sam, and Ron shattered walls, splintered floor boards, stripped off metal siding, and threw yet another heaping helping of rotting building into the truck trailer-sized dumpster. While Jerry served as the final bucket brigade person sitting inside the dumpster the other day, today it was Alex and the youth made a silly game of stacking / throwing debris into a pattern that resembled a living room complete with couch and end table. I handed my video camera to Alex and had him tape it a little bit but I haven’t seen it yet. His enthusiasm told me, however, that it must have looked pretty funny.

We all packed up and headed back to the church in the 4:00pm hour so we could grab our swimsuits and head down to the Marion Municipal Pool. Connie stayed back to prepare dinner and Victoria stayed out of the water due to a stomach ache though she watched and smiled as everyone else jumped in the water. Most of the girls and guys swam and chatted, many of the adults swam for a little while and then found themselves simply relaxing with conversation on the far side of the pool, while a group of the guys alternately did crazy dips and dives off the diving boards when they weren’t busy watching a local foursome of two guys and two girls do some of their own diving board spectacular, too. To tell the truth, it was hard to tell if their attention was on the guys who were doing overtly stylish, impressive flips or, well, the girls. You’ll have to ask them. 😉

We came back from the pool to find a taco dinner waiting for us. After some free time we held an evening worship with music (The Shoo-Bop and Lean On Me), scripture (Philip approaching his brother, Nathan, to say he’s found the messiah in Jesus and to, “Come and see.”), and small group discussion. We raised up the good things that have happened on the trip and the things that could be improved for next time, as well as explaining who we’ve gotten to know and how from the opposite church (Excelsior UMC / Minnetonka UMC) and from the opposite age group (adults / youth). We also discussed our new jobs for Monday morning. One contingent consisting of Jack, Jake, Jerry, Jordan, Alex, Nick, Sam, and Ron will head over to the Piano Store to take one last literal whack at the walls and floors while the rest of us will divide into two teams. One team (Connie, Victoria, Pat, Jenna, Kelsey, Holly, Katie, Olivia, and Jacob S.) will prepare meals for those like Carol who are forced to live in a FEMA trailer for the time being, while the other team (Eric, Kent, Kaitlyn, Maddie, Matt, Marcus, Nathan, and Jacob B.) do some gift-card fueled school supply shopping to help community outreach groups gear up for back-to-school needs. Many of us were bummed out to learn we wouldn’t be returning to Josh and Carol’s house but as I mentioned earlier, fresh crews start there tomorrow and we wish them the best of luck and success.

The plan for tomorrow is to pack and stow our gear in the trailers, clean up after ourselves at New Life Community Church, work our jobs in the morning, eat lunch at a park, and head home in the early afternoon. Parents, we’re encouraging youth to give you a call once we’re on the road with an ETA. Keep your comments coming, and the next time you hear from me, we’ll already be home!


Here’s a few photos from the day’s work and play. Click the pick once for a larger version, and then again for a really big version.

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