Reflections on the youth mission trip

From the Rev. Jane Bearden

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Rom 12:4-5

The week following Easter, three young folks from St Stephen’s and I traveled to Mississippi with a contingent of youth and adults from all over the diocese. For a week, we worked side by side with parishioners of Redeemer Church in Biloxi resetting wrought iron fences, cleaning up broken glass and the debris left in Katrina’s wake, repairing roofs and siding, and cleaning yards. It was a week of hot sun, biting insects, and hard work – but it was great fun! We were able to go on this mission of compassion and solidarity in large part because of the generosity of Trinity Episcopal Church in Topsfield and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Lynn. These two churches have engaged in shared ministries before and truly support each other's efforts in evangelism and outreach.

While we were in Mississippi we prayed, studied, and worshipped using the above text from Romans. We talked a lot about what it really means to be one body in Christ AND individual members together. The small group of which St. Stephen's was a part was a diverse lot. We were Asian, Anglo, African, and Latino, but we were bound together by our willingness to serve, our desire to stand in solidarity with those who were suffering, and our faith in God. As we gathered around the make-shift altar in a room with only half a ceiling and the lingering smell of mold we were no longer Yankees and Southerners, no longer those who serve and those who are served. We gathered together as one Body in Christ because at our center and driving our mission was and is our love of God and love of neighbor.

One of the more laborious tasks on the coast was assisting Ron the welder with resetting a fence that had been literally picked up and thrown by the force of Katrina’s tide. It was incredibly heavy. The sand, glass, and concrete that lay on top had to be cleared, the post holes had to be dug, and the iron pieces picked up and held steady as Ron used hydraulic jacks to straighten the posts and prepare them for the concrete to be mixed by hand and poured in – one post at a time. It was a slow process and one that required that we move together and be patient while others moved around preparing the mortar. Ron was not particularly articulate, but his words - shared with each young person - were full of wisdom. He spoke quietly and with a heavy drawl. He and others we met told the kids the stories of Redeemer and of the people of Mississippi. He talked to them about their love for each other and his appreciation for our having come to Mississippi and letting him know that people in Massachusetts care enough to step outside their comfort zone to help.

The young people learned a lot about what it means to be in another culture with different traditions. They learned to be respectful of difference. They learned the blessing that comes when one patiently listens to the wisdom of the aged – the wisdom of those who have a perspective on the pain of disasters like Katrina that is tempered with the memory of world wars, atom bombs, the Holocaust, and natural disasters that claim hundreds of thousands of lives. They learned a lot about what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world.