On Sunday, February 18, a team of seventeen folks representing The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights left Pittsburgh to travel to Houston, where we’re spending the week seeking to share something of ourselves with our neighbors who were struck by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. We are working in partnership with The Fuller Center for Housing in assisting residents south of Houston.
Those of you who use Facebook are familiar with the “on this day” feature in which the social media platform reminds you of what you posted on that particular date in previous calendar years. It’s a lot of fun, and recently, I have adopted the practice of looking at those postings as a way of connecting my current self with the experiences that seemed so important to me in the moment. This week, in particular, there has been great joy in those posts as so many of our previous mission trips to Texas have fallen in this window of time. It is a deep blessing to look at friends (from CHUP and from the Rio Grande Valley) who have been a part of shaping my experiences of partnership, service, and mission!
Today is the day on which the 2018 version of this trip shifts from “what we’re doing” to “what we did”. This will be the closing post from this experience, and it always brings measures of both joy and disappointment.
We started yesterday in a bumpy fashion. I’ve been leading mission trips for 36 years, and for what I believe to be the first time, I began the day by locking the keys inside the building in which we were staying. Not only did I lock the keys to the church inside the church, but I locked the key to my van in there as well. “Frustrated”, “irritated”, even “pissed” are too mild to express the feelings that I was directing toward myself at that moment. We put everyone else into Gabe’s van and I sat and waited for someone from the church to show up and bail me out. Unfortunately, it was the pastor – and Friday is his day off – and I rousted him from that to stop by the church for a while. That was not good.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew was working their butts off on Carrie’s home and on Melvin and Mary’s place. Each group felt as though they got to a good stopping point. Our group finished our time at Carrie’s place by completing the lion’s share of the electrical work and hanging nearly all of the drywall. Not only that, most of the seams had received two coats of mud. Meanwhile, the group at Melvin and Mary’s home completed the messy job of replacing a number of rotting soffit and fascia boards, power washing the outside of the home, installing trim, and painting most of the outside as well.
Buoyed by this, we took a half day and split into two groups for a little local flavor. As we prepared to depart the church, we were met with two surprises. Unfortunately, one of the toilets had overflowed in our absence and we were met with a couple of inches of water in the bathroom. Mike and I got that sorted out, while the rest of the group embraced the welcome arrival of our friend Roland from south Texas. We first met Roland on the trip in 2009 or 2010, where he was our work site coordinator. Since then, we’ve developed a friendship that has been transformative and life-giving. We’ve worked with him every year since then (save 2018) and he’s brought several groups to Pittsburgh as well. He joined us for lunch and then accompanied the portion of our team that spent the afternoon taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Galveston Island.
The remainder of our team chose to visit the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, a 45,000 acre parcel of protected wetland that is home to hundreds of species of birds and many other animals as well. This group braved a very short (3/4 mile) hike through the mosquito infested swamps and then chose to take advantage of the CD-guided audio driving tour through the rest of the facility.
Everyone had a great time, and then we convened back at the church for our final evening of rest and relaxation prior to our Saturday morning flight. Before we left the church, we spent a few last moments in the company of the Apostle Paul, reading the familiar words from I Corinthians 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poorand give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Our challenge for the day – and all the days ahead – is to ‘liberate’ this passage from its confinement to weddings and seek to apply it to the whole of our lives. We hope and pray that time spent here in Texas will enable us to become more a people of love in every area of our lives. We appreciate your prayers and your presence on our journey!