Audible silence filled the van as we travelled into the devastated area of Big Pine Key. A wall of belongings and debris separated us from the waterway. After hours of finding our way, we became lost in the silence, internally processing what it was that we were seeing. One of the first thoughts that came to my mind was, “Now, it’s personal.” When all is well in our own lives, or our attention is on private troubles, our focus leaves Christ and the needs of our nation and every nation. What a gut check this weekend was!
Introduced to NCBM
Partnered alongside North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM)—or, as it is newly named, Baptists On Mission—we were welcomed with open arms, supplied bunk trailers for sleep, hot meals to keep us full, and equipment to make more of an impact in the lives of those affected by Hurricane Irma. Going out to separate sites the first day, we were told that the vision of NCBM is, “Every Christian sharing God’s love with hurting people through word and deed.”
This mission reminded us that the emphasis is on broken people, and through our service, we would be able to better impact their lives. We split up Friday afternoon, and at my site, we began building small piles that would be added to the wall that we had passed on the drive in. We worked with a couple who had been clearing out the inside of the house. They seemed drained but optimistic that it would all get done despite their lack of insurance. A few hours later, we had torn down a stubborn tree, hauled debris to the road, cleared much of the backyard, tarped the roof, and engaged in a lot of conversation. Although the woman’s father was currently there to help, they were far away from family and appreciated our help immensely. They verbalized how our efforts differed from others who had come out of obligation, whether by job or service. After working together for an afternoon, our team truly began to bond.
Bonding with the Team
At meals with all of the teams and volunteers, we became affectionately know as the “Young Crew.” Most volunteers coming down to Key West were retired—50’s and up. They were astonished that we would take off work and school to come, but collectively we felt the call to share Christ with those who were in need. Each story of how we became part of the Mercy Hill Disaster Relief Team to Key West truly speaks of how God works in mysterious ways and for our good.
Back to Work
Heading into the second day of work, my group was sent to an older lady’s house that had been flooded three to four feet until the water receded. Most of the belongings trashed, we dug in and removed the dry wall and some of the ceiling that had already grown mold. Then, we moved on to spraying and chainsaw work on a large tree in her backyard. The damage we found inside her house wasn’t what surprised us the most, but rather the bible verses scattered throughout the home and a sweet picture that we discovered when removing dry wall. It was an image of two people in red and blue standing side-by-side and read, “I love you mom, and Jesus loves you too, like I do.”
When talking with Debbie, the owner of the home, we found that she was fairly alone in the tearing down and rebuilding process: Her children were now unbelieving and living far away, her ailing parents were of Jewish faith, and now she had to deal with this tragedy on her own. Annie, on our team, really took time to get to know her story and hear her heart. We came together and prayed over her life, the lives of her family, and the work still to come. By the end of the third day, when we had all come together to take down her tree and clear the yard, the burden on her spirit had been lifted some. She seemed more joyful and hopeful. Only God can be praised for bringing encouragement and restoration to her.
A Few Highlights
Our weekend wasn’t all work, and we explored the city at night which appeared strangely untouched by the storm. The last evening, we shared more of our stories with each other and laughed at the table together. It was a beautiful picture: twelve believers of various ages, testimonies, and plans for the future, united by one faith in Christ. This was my favorite moment, imagining what it would be like for us to be in heaven together: a family remembering and praising God for all that He has done and how he brought us together.
Because it made such an impact on our group as a whole, I also wanted to speak about Sunday School. For those attending Mercy Hill, it may have been a long time since going to a designated Sunday morning class, and many of us were tentative about attending those offered on this trip. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the vulnerability of our team and the church members who were in our class. We talked about Caleb and his unwavering faith. Through his story, we were challenged to increase our own trust in God, fears that we may have, and the promises God has made that should help us trust him more.
Not being able to include every detail of the weekend is hard because there is so much more than what is written here. Unreservedly, I would say that this is the best mission trip that I have been part of because each individual came out of compassion and calling to the need in Key West. We left refreshed by the fact that because of prayer many more had come to replace us, but saddened that our team would soon disband. In about a week we will reunite again before being sent out for the holidays, and I cannot wait to see what God has been doing in the lives of our team!
We Are Called to Go
If God is tugging on your heart to serve or to be sent, listen intently and pray with expectation. It is no mystery that we are called to go: “…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). Likewise, we are told by Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “…And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
–Samantha Rouse (Mercy Hill Member)