by Helen Schmedtje
Each year I go on the youth mission trip to Grace House, I come home with more than I left with. Whether it is knowledge of how to use a screwdriver, a deeper understanding of faith, or an abundance of bug bites, I return a different person each time. Going to a community trapped in poverty never fails to surprise me, even after four years, as we work to better the shocking living conditions of people within the boundary of our own diocese in Wise County, Virginia.
In previous years, with the help of the Grace House staff and experienced adult chaperones, we've ripped out and rebuilt porches, kitchens, bathrooms and flooring in homes where families have been unable to adequately repair years of damage themselves.
This year, the worksite was not nearly as bad as the ones where we've worked in years past. While it was definitely in need of our help, children were not being sent away from the house by social services, the floor didn't give way upon stepping on it and there were no obvious signs of impending danger to any part of the structure.
Nevertheless, we got to work quickly, replacing the rotting siding of the house, painting indoor rooms, repairing the porch and building a ramp so that Lisa, the person we had been sent to help, could more easily exit her home. Throughout the week, she was there in the center of our work, eager to get to know us better. We enjoyed water breaks and lunches sharing stories and getting to know her. Everyone began to realize as the week neared the end that our principle goal of repairing her home was not the only gift we were able to offer. Showing her that we truly care about her and her wellbeing was the most important thing we could give - as well as the physical work that became a reminder that she will be able to see in her home every day.
While I was often focused on the tiring physical labor of the mission we were given, this year I learned that the mission we were sent to do can take many unexpected forms, with the help of God's grace and guidance.