Tommy's Reflections on our previous trips-Part 2

Tommy, team fixture
This is part 2 of Tommy's reflections on previous years. Part 1 can be found here

2009 The Brad Holland story.  The first two years we had a team of ten guys.  This year we expanded to 21 guys.  We also said goodbye to Yankie Stadium, a Biloxi city football field with concrete bleachers on either side.  Days before hurricane Katrina struck in August, 2005 escrow closed on the stadium as the Salvation Army had purchased the property with the intention of converting it into a neighborhood youth center.  Instead they enclosed and sealed each concrete bleacher and built dorm rooms, showers, meeting rooms, a mess hall and brought in their 18 wheeler mobile kitchen.  They contracted for two years with HFHMGC to provide housing for the many volunteers who came to the Gulf Coast.  We spent our first two years at Yankie Stadium and had many fond memories of the place and the other volunteers we met there.  Now we were staying at SUMA –Seashore United Methodist Assembly – great location – let’s leave it at that.  I remember being somewhat excited to see that one of the other volunteer groups that would be staying at SUMA was Mandarin United Methodist Church from Jacksonville, Florida.  However, when we went to the orientation meeting we didn’t spot any other Asians.  At dinner Gary went and asked a group from the Mandarin church if they had many Chinese in their congregation.  After a few puzzled looks it was finally discovered that their church name came from their neighborhood in Jacksonville – Mandarin neighborhood in Duval County, Florida, named after the Mandarin orange.

Because our group was so large we were split up into two.  My group worked with Irving Spikes, a local man who starred as a running back, went to the University of Alabama and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and played for them for 4 years.  He told me that he learned to be fast by chasing and catching rabbits in the open fields around his home.  The other group worked with Brad Holland.  Brad, a yankee from Pennsylvania finished college and came to the Gulf Coast like many young idealistic people to help out with the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after the devastation of hurricane Katrina.  He eventually hooked up with HFHMGC and became one of their site supervisors.  These site supervisors oversee the volunteers who work with Habitat.  He left a very favorable impression on the group under his charge and even though I didn’t meet him that year there would be a growing partnership and friendship in the years to come.

There were a couple of takeaways from this third year Katrina relief team.  First, that even if you have 21 dissimilar guys, if you’re all trying to bring glory to God there is much unity and joy.  Second, if you’re trying to be a servant of God that people notice.  We don’t try and do things for recognition or our own glory.  More than a few times others commented to Craig that they really appreciated our team’s willingness to do anything that was asked and their helpfulness in cleaning up and volunteering for any and everything.  No one really felt they were doing anything unusual, just doing what seemed normal.  It was truly a blessing to witness this servanthoodness, which isn’t a word but conveys the meaning.  “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be a servant of all.”  Matthew 20:26 – (paraphrased)

2010 - First Coed team, Paul & Denise.  After three years of hearing good reports from the Katrina Relief Teams, four women wanted in on the action.  Mo and Carol led that first coed team and it was quickly learned that having females on the team made for a much more engaging group.

All future Gulf Coast relief efforts would have at least one coed team.  This also marked the first time multiple teams were sent to the Gulf Coast.  The 11 person coed team went first followed two weeks later by 15 guys.  We also invited our sister church Lifesong to join us.  Their team of eight added much life to our time, not to mention height. We were also housed at another different location; Camp Victor in Ocean Springs.  Once again we bumped into a group from Mandarin Church who happened to be volunteering the same week as us.  Once again we worked on some new houses in Connor’s Garden, a new housing tract that HFHMGC was building in Gulfport.  Once again we worked under Brad and Spikes.  This year however, I mostly stayed on the ground working on a subfloor as opposed to last year doing roofing.  I like the ground. 

The biggest difference this year to me was meeting two new HFMGC staffers, Paul Waters and Denise Rybak.  Denise, from Ohio, after graduating from college was planning on a teaching career.  Before doing her credential work she decided to do an AmeriCorps stint and eventually ended up in the Gulf Coast.  Paul, originally from the Gulf Coast, went off to Florida to pursue higher education and perhaps a higher life (pilot).  He felt called to come back to the Gulf Coast and eventually found his way to a position with HFHMGC.  I remember sitting down with Paul one day at lunch and having a really heartfelt conversation about life, faith and destiny.  I think he thought I was much younger than I was and I thought he was older than he was.  The fact that he was the same age as my daughter didn’t really matter as we connected quite easily.  Only God knew at the time that five years hence Peter and I and two others would travel to Cleveland in mid-August to witness and celebrate the wedding of Paul and Denise.  One of the theme verses for our relief teams has been Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who builds it.”  We’ve seen many houses being built over the years, but the houses of friendship and fellowship that the Lord has built during these trips have been the most beautiful and worthwhile.

2011 – Two week team
2012 – LEEDS Platinum House
2013 – Renovation
2014 – Oklahoma!

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