OG MISSION TRIP 2016 TO MOBILE, ALABAMA, April 3-9, 2016

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.