Mission trips change lives

Young volunteers from St. Mary of the Assumption church, Glenshaw, get ready to build a handicap ramp.

It takes a lot of planning to gather a church family for an annual mission trip.  From as few as 15 volunteers to more than 100, raising funds, gathering food, supplies and equipment all must be done before embarking.  Some are traveling to Appalachia each year, while others are helping here at home.

Mission trips are back this summer after most were forced to go on hiatus due to the pandemic.

The nonprofit group Rebuilding Hope resumed their work last week in Preston County, West Virginia.  They were initially part of Saint Catherine of Sweden church’s mission group dating back to 1995.

“It felt good to return after COVID held us back last year,” said co-founder John Harrison, “and the need is there.  We have requests from up to 230 families each year.  The work that we do changes lives—the people we help and our own volunteers.” 

This year’s group was about half the normal size, with 15 volunteers. Still, they divided into teams and conquered three projects: replacing windows, siding and fascia on one home; building a handicap ramp, platform and a deck with stairs on a second; and adding skirting around a trailer home along with a small deck with stairs.

“Our group was really diverse this year, Catholics, Presbyterians, members of the Jewish faith and nonaffiliated volunteers, but we all came together,” Harrison said. “Seeing them change and grow throughout the week, touched by the families they were helping, was good to see. And we all attended Mass.”

“Our work helps the families financially but also helps them feel better about life, gives them hope,” he said.  “We had one gentleman whose health limited his ability to get outside to see us work.  So we constructed a spot right by his front door, where he could watch us.  He smiled and said, ‘this makes me feel good because I can see all that is happening and lets me be a part of it.’”

The Rebuilding Hope team with co-founder John Harrison, first row, far right.

While Rebuilding Hope’s crew went to West Virginia, a volunteer group from Saint Mary of the Assumption church from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish helped those nearby.  During planning discussions, St. Mary was advised to stay home because of the uncertainty of COVID and vaccines.

“In late March we decided to have a stay-at-home mission week June 19-25,” said Sue Ferguson, mission trip leader. “We worked each day from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. when everyone went home to sleep.”

The church mission community worked with Habitat for Humanity in New Kensington on several projects.  They put up a privacy fence for a family with a non-verbal autistic son and installed two ramps for a woman who became a paraplegic five years ago after complications from back surgery. 

“It means so much to me that I have gained yet another phase of independence,” she wrote in a thank you note. “I love being outside working with my plants and now I am able to do that.  It was a pleasure to work with such a great group of kids and adults.”

Through other projects, the Sharpsburg Food Panty now has a newly painted floor, and Saint Mary’s church hall has a new floor. “We had 25 teens, 10 young adults, 12 foremen, and ten cooks work each day,” Ferguson said.

Adam Bittner, a participant for six years, said, “Each year this trip allows us to take a step back from our own lives and reevaluate what is important to us.  We get back so much more than we give.”

“Being the light of Christ to those who we serve, we experience the true joy of Christian fellowship,” Ferguson said.

To learn more: http://Rebuildinghope.membershiptoolkit.com