The History of the Mission Trip
St. Mark's took its first mission trip in 1999. When we arrived at our accommodations in Neon, KY, Pastor Cindy Garis and Kathy Follett said, "You've got to be kidding." That first mission trip was before cell phones. Our water for showers depended upon the weather as the water came from a cistern. We could each take 3-minute showers.
Over the years, we have traveled up and down the East Coast to whomever we felt was calling us to serve. The trips took us to places in five states: New York, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. We needed to learn things, like traveling south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the tempo is much slower. It's OK to take an afternoon nap. We Northerners needed to figure out how to adjust. Our second trip was to the town of Princeville, NC. The town had been devastated by the flood waters from Hurricane Floyd.
While we were working for the UCC at large, they were working through the federal government. We grew up very much in this trip because before this time, we had very little in tools or knowledge. We learned if we wanted to work, we need to bring our own tools and that disaster relief is not our skill set.
While we continued to travel south, we also realized coming home in one day is a long drive after working the entire week. We reached out to UCC churches in Virginia, asking if they could house us for an overnight stop. The Rev. Barbara Rhodes, pastor of St Paul's UCC and Mt Calvary UCC in Woodstock, VA, responded, saying they would welcome us with open arms. And they did for 11 years of our trips.
We also learned that we would rather make our own food versus having it made for us. Are we picky eaters? No, not exactly. Although Kathy noted the one year we had chicken for every single meal; that was a little much. No, it's about fellowship. The year that we were sitting around telling stories after we were done eating and were told we needed to leave so they could wash the floors was the last year we had food made for us. We've had a long day and we want to relax and share our experience with others. That means coming home and all being in the kitchen helping to make supper, helping to set the table and helping to clean up. Fellowship and family mean much to us; the food is just the avenue to get us there.
We not only learned how people struggle to make ends meet, but we learned about the culture of the region. Over the years, we took many side trips to state parks in the region, went to a bluegrass band gathering and had other experiences. The most special side trip was when we took a tour with a professor from West Virginia University. He took us to learn about the Hatfields/McCoys. Why was this trip so special? When we went back to work on Thursday, we realized that we were working for a Hatfield. Buck and his mother were the sweetest people to work for. When you went into her house to go the bathroom, you didn't take your shoes off, even if they were muddy. That's why God created vacuum cleaners. And when someone came to harass our group on Friday about the work we were doing, Buck came to our rescue and very sternly told them to get off his property.
There are many precious moments over our many years of serving God in mission. We could go on and on about the snakes we've seen, the things that have gone wrong on trips, but there is no reward better than the hugs and smiles on the faces that we've been called to serve.
As we changed our destination from the Appalachian mountains to the beaches of North Carolina, one could question what was the motive for the change. If we go back to October 2016, Hurricane Matthew was a devastating Category 5 that brought its devastation to North and South Carolina. It felt that we were being called to the Carolinas. In searching for a group to work with, Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) was found. While it is great to start your morning walking the beach and seeing God's beauty come through in the sunrise, it is no picnic to work in the summer heat of North Carolina. But it is all worth it when you see the smiles and appreciation shared by the home owners.
The mission trips are open to all adults and youth who are at least 14 years old. They are scheduled toward the end of the summer and are a great chance to help out those in need. The trips can last from a few days up to as many as nine days. Some of the work that has been accomplished includes laying a foundation, roofing, plumbing, drywalling, landscaping, painting, framing and assisting with community projects like food banks and thrift stores. The mission trips are a great opportunity to grow in faith while learning what it means to give of yourself for the benefit of others.
Here is a list of places that we have travelled since our first mission trip in 1999:
1999 – Neon, Kentucky
2000 – Princeville, North Carolina
2001 – Harlan, Kentucky
2002 - Asheville, North Carolina
2003 – Camden, New York
2005 – Neon, Kentucky
2006 – Neon, Kentucky
2007 – Prestonsburg, Kentucky
2008 – Kopperston, West Virginia
2009 – Kopperston, West Virginia
2010 – Hampden, West Virginia
2011 – Hampden, West Virginia
2012 – Deer Lodge, Tennessee
2013 – Mt Hope, West Virginia
2014 – Montgomery, West Virginia
2015 – Woodstock, Virginia
2017 – Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
2018 – Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
2019 – Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
2020 - Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina (travel cancelled due to COVID) - stayed home at Pine Acres and worked in Lebanon, PA
Those who would like additional information pertaining to mission trips or local mission projects should contact Kathy Follett at firstname.lastname@example.org.