Saturday, July 01, 2017

On the Road Again

Twelve well-rested souls embarked from Bremen, GA this morning en route to Raleigh in a three-van convoy, arriving at 6:15 pm. We reviewed highlights of the week as we rode, discussing what we learned and preparing some of what we will share at a presentation, tentatively set for mid-August. 

Lisa, Tom, Steve,Jay, Julie, Mike, Kristin, Andrew, Gwen, Nate, Bonnie, and Nathan.
Happy to be back in Raleigh

A little friend we saw at a rest stop

Thanks for joining us on our journey!

Fruits of our Labors

We spent the morning finishing projects at UCA. We finished:

  • painting the geometry formulas on the math classroom wall
  • organizing the library
  • painting the cubby shelves
  • staining the new cabinet top we installed yesterday
  • decorating the main bulletin board to welcome students

Mrs. Rust's new geometry wall

Sorting books in the library

A final coat

Staining the new countertop

Welcome to UCA!

We made progress on a few other projects as well. We removed shelving in the future cafeteria on a wall that will become a large chalkboard calendar. The room is currently used for storage, but as the school grows, they won't be able to fit everyone in the small kitchen area like they could this past year. We were able to add shelves in the English classroom too.

Removing old shelves

Cutting shelves for the English classroom

While we couldn't stay and work with the students today, we were still given a grand send-off, each sharing something we enjoyed about this week and praying together.

With our new friends

Our plans originally had been to stay one more night at FPC and drive ALL the way back to Raleigh on Saturday. Thankfully we listened to some good advice and decided to drive partway this afternoon. A delicious lunch was provided at FPC once again, and then we loaded up. We will sleep in Bremen, GA, and hope to be home by suppertime tomorrow.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


We have been reminding ourselves throughout this trip to be flexible. A lot of rain changed today's tasks. It was too wet to do much work rebuilding Mr. Price's home. So we called Mrs. Richardson, the head of United Christian Academy (UCA). She was thrilled to hear we were willing and able to help at UCA for more than just two hours. We arrived a little after 9:30 and helped some of the summer students with some tutoring while other team members worked in the Library and did a few other tasks.

We went back to FPC for lunch and a productive discussion with Pastor Siggers, a very influential African American pastor in Hattiesburg. Pastor Siggers invited frank questions regarding bridging racial and other gaps in the body of Christ.

Pastor Siggers

Next we returned to UCA. We were able to play educational games with the students, freeing up the teachers to do some much needed planning for the Fall semester.

Playing Fishbowl

Pastor Nate Celebrating

Playing Trash

Playing Spot-it

After the children left, we:
  • Painted a bulletin board.
  • Re-planted some flowers and herbs.
  • Outlined some formulas on the wall of the Math classroom. They will get painted tomorrow.
  • Put a top on a floor cabinet in the Math classroom.
  • Continued to organize the Library
  • Began to organize a large storage room that will be converted in to their cafeteria.
  • Put another coat of paint on the cubby-style bookshelf.

After dinner tonight at FPC, Dr. Larsen took the team on a tour of downtown Hattiesburg and William Carey University, which sustained a lot of tornado damage this past January.

If the rain continues tomorrow, we will not be able to work at Mr. Price's house. This will allow us to finish several tasks we did not finish at UCA. God has opened more doors for ministry as He closes others. Semper Gumby!

We're Really Rolling Now

Our morning work was again divided into various teams. Much work continues on Mr. Price's house. All of the siding was removed and the walls were prepped for new siding. In the kitchen, sub-flooring was installed and framing was added for the new windows. The foundation jacks were able to be moved to the opposite corner of the house so that we can repeat the process there. Meanwhile, the team was able to add permanent bracing for the rafters to pave the way for the eventual ceiling. Some of our team even learned how to use a framing nail gun in the process.

Pastor Carlos removing old siding

Bonnie with the framing nail gun adding bracing for the rafters

Buck, Mike, and Carlos testing the new sub-floor

Meanwhile, since Mr. Holloway ran out of screws, we were able to come back and actually help him finish his fence this morning. Isn't it incredibly straight?

Adding the last few pickets

Straight as an arrow

Mrs. Holloway, Lisa, Nate, Andy, Daniel, and Mr. Holloway

We enjoyed more time with the students at United Christian Academy this afternoon. The kids are learning to interview and introduce people. We also taught them a new song: I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N.

Singing with the students

Interviewing each other

After school we spent a couple of hours doing a few odd jobs like painting furniture and walls, and reorganizing the library.

We were invited to a cookout at Molly and Bobby Blass's home for supper. Bobby is the chairman of Hope for Hattiesburg, and Molly heads the education part of it. We enjoyed burgers and chicken, and then gathered to hear from Curt Moore, the Short Term Missions Specialist from Mission to North America.

Curt and Nate

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Working from the Wonky, Part II

We began even brighter and earlier than yesterday heading out to the two work sites. At Mr. Price's house, many tasks were done, including building new joists alongside the old rotten ones, removing more weak interior walls, tearing out another section of weak flooring, and continuing with nail and staple removal from many, many boards (thank you Kristin!!).

Removing bad flooring reveals hidden problems

Kristin and Julie removing nails and staples

The fence team at Mr. Holloway's house grew and became a well-oiled machine. Stringers were added to the posts that were set yesterday, and dog-eared pickets were added in a pleasing alternating pattern. We had to leave before all the pickets were up, but we speculate that Mr. Holloway, Andy, and Trey probably finished the last stretch within the next hour.

Pastor Carlos stopped by and mentioned a third site, so Andrew and Tom went to help remove a falling-down porch with Carlos, Buck, and Titus. After boarding up the living room window, they knocked out the supports, and the roof above the porch collapsed. We then hauled the debris to the street.

Andrew and Carlos after the porch support was removed

This afternoon we headed back to United Christian Academy, where we met ten of the summer school students. We introduced our group to the kids, sang a few songs with them, and then were partnered with them one on one to work out little scenarios like, "What would you do if you ordered a Big Mac at McDonald's but they gave you a McChicken sandwich by accident?" We concluded our school visit with everyone sharing the low and high points of their day. We look forward to spending more time with the kids tomorrow, and then working on some painting, repairing, and organizing projects for UCA.

Later we had a presentation about one aspect of Hope for Hattiesburg over a delicious supper. Molly and Kathleen shared how they have intentionally made strong connections with a public school named Grace Christian Elementary in order to help the children with literacy and support the school. They discovered that this particular school was named after a former member at First Presbyterian Church, and used that correlation and a fundraiser to connect with the school. They have spent the last school year volunteering to read with some of the lower performing fifth graders, and those students' test scores have really gone up. In addition, they have built relationships with these students and the staff.

Now since you've probably been wondering, "Working from the Wonky" is the focus of the team this year. There are many ways that we live in the "Wonky." When we compare ourselves to the behavior of others instead of God's standards, we don't see our sin as it truly is. When we make decisions based on what the world says, instead of God's word, we quickly become "off the mark" or "wonky." And certainly when one does construction on homes that are neither plumb nor square, adaptations need to be made to account for the "wonky"! Pray for the team this week as wonky people work together on wonky property to make a difference in this wonky world . . . all for the glory of God.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Working from the Wonky Part I

We began bright and early with two crews heading to the work sites. One crew is working on Mr. Price's house, which we are rebuilding (as much as we can get to this week), and the other crew is working at Mr. Holloway's house putting up a fence. (Mr. Holloway is on the right in the second picture, and he is the 86 year old neighborhood handyman!)

The floor of Mr. Price's house

Setting up posts for Mr. Holloway's house

This afternoon we visited United Christian Academy, begun last year by Jack Kennedy’s United Christian Ministries, a small private school here in Hattiesburg. According to the principal and science teacher, Callison Richardson, the school had 7 students in 2016-17, its first year and 14-16 students are expected in the fall of 2017. The students are all minority, range from grades 4 to 11, and must be teachable, respectful of authority, willing to work hard to learn, and open to learning about the God of the Bible. The UCA students did work hard last year and Callison says that most of the students improved in this first year by 2-3 grade levels.

Rachael Floyd, the English and Social Studies teacher, says that the students love UCA because it is where they are safe and quite at home. She says that when she asked her students what color they liked best, one asked her what she liked and she said, ”yellow.” The student responded, “That’s the one I like best too.” She asked about other favorites and the responses always parroted hers. “This is because knowing what you like is a luxury my students have never known.”

Today we helped the teachers get ready for tomorrow by moving furniture and finishing up some bulletin boards. We plan to meet the summer-school students tomorrow afternoon.

After supper we heard a presentation from Pastors Dwayne Higgason and Van Jones from Grace Temple. After the presentation we had a stimulating conversation about how Kingdom people are kindred people in Christ, no matter their culture or race.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Safe and Sound with Boots on the Ground

We woke up to a sunny beautiful Sunday morning. The humidity was low and the skies were blue. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to First Presbyterian Church Meridian and worshiped with them in their fellowship hall as their sanctuary is undergoing renovation. A foreshadowing of things to come at Calvary. A quick trip to Wendy's for lunch and we were off to Hattiesburg.

First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Hattiesburg has not disappointed us with their hospitality. We were warmly welcomed by Knox and others at First Pres. Molly and Bobby fed us a delicious home cooked dinner.

We even had a few minutes after dinner to celebrate Gwen's birthday. Jeff had baked Gwen's favorite dark chocolate cake, from scratch, and we successfully transported it all the way from Raleigh.

After birthday cake, we attended the joint Sunday evening worship service at FPC with Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church (EMBC). Nate was asked to share with the folks from Hattiesburg what motivated us to come to Hattiesburg three of the last five years, the most of any visiting church participating in their Hope for Hattiesburg ministry.

Following the worship service, we fellowshipped over ice cream. Several members from both churches thanked us for helping in their community.  They were very encouraging and promised to pray for us. We got the chance to renew acquaintances from our past trips (Andy and Charles from FPC and Pastor Carlos from EMBC). Pastor Carlos will oversee our construction work at Mr. Price's home. Andy will be supervising our work putting up a fence at Mr. Holloway's home. 

We ended the evening with a quick tour of our worksites.

Two equals Three ... OPA!

So, we reserved a 15 passenger and a 7 passenger van to carry us to Hattiesburg. Due to unforeseen circumstances, seemingly beyond any one's control, no 15 passenger vans were available in all of eastern North Carolina. In fact, our rental agency says they are 75 15 passenger vans short this weekend! Instead of two vans we are now in three 7 passenger vans. God is encouraging small group fellowship!

Our three vans have license plates from three different states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Alabama (OPA!). After much discussion, we have named the blue one “Elvis,” the white one “Polar Express,” and the gray one “Gray Goose.”

Benton and JoAnne Hobgood and Jeff Wiggs surprised the team and stopped by the church to send us off with a prayer.

God blessed us with sunny skies except for an hour of on and off light showers. All major traffic snarls were quickly avoided using the Waze GPS app. After dinner at the Ixtapa Mexican restaurant (a nod to our trip to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo last year),  we encountered a series of construction sites along the interstate. Did we see even one worker? No! But just as their work is planned and prepared, God is going before us to prepare hearts and projects for something new to begin.

We arrived safely in Meridian, MS at 9:30 tonight local time, and will sleep at a hotel one night before we worship in the morning with brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church Meridian and then proceed to Hattiesburg.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hattiesburg Here We Come III

The Calvary Summer Missions team is going back to Hattiesburg Mississippi 25Jun2017 to help First Presbyterian Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church minister to hurting people. Team members are:

  • Steve and Julie Bowyer
  • Nathan and Kristin Bowyer
  • Tom and Lisa Gyori
  • Mike Larsen
  • Bonnie Vacher
  • Nate Wilks
  • Jay Diepenbrock
  • Gwen Wiggs
  • Andrew Hill

It looks like we will be continuing work on the home that we put a porch on two years ago when we were there....Mr. Price's home. Not much has happened in the last two years. Knox says he thinks we will be working on the inside framing walls and around windows, putting in windows, running electrical wiring, and maybe putting in floors and floor joists.

In the afternoons we will be teaming up with Jack Kennedy to tutor some of the kids at his school. We will be working one-on-one with 3rd through 7th graders.

In the evenings we will have 3-4 nights where we will be meeting with local pastors to talk about gracefully bridging racial barriers, reaching out to our neighborhoods etc.

Pray that God will do wonderful things beyond our abilities, so that He will get the credit.