Friday, June 10, 2011

The beginning: Road trip with strangers

Day 1. 8am. Strangers meet to embark on a journey that will certainly change us. To my surprise Channel 7 News is there. Interviewing and taking video to create a story about our team. We load up our caravan with tools, luggage, much needed water & sunscreen and our hope for the experience. We huddle around and share our hopes for this trip. I shared my hope that we would all truly be able to "be" with the people of Joplin. That we will be able to truly walk beside them and comfort them in their time of struggle. Mike, a member of our team who has had many experiences with service trips and disaster relief shared a story with us. The story of the starfish:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?"
The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don't throw them back, they'll die."
"Son," the man said, "don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  "You can't make a difference!"
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said
"I made a difference for that one."

At the time I believed that I truly understood why Mike was telling us this story and just loaded up into one of the two vans. It is clear to me now (sitting here back in Colorado) that I had a very small understanding of the message behind this story.
We loaded up and left our normal lives behind us. Filled with excitement, anticipation and fear we headed East. In 11 hours we will be in Pittsburg, KS, ready to face the day ahead. Boy were we wrong. I need to mention this because it is very relevant to the unexpected adversity that we faced. As we loaded up, one of our leaders, jokingly mentioned something that he mentions to all of his trips and that was "No Whining!" I think we all half - way took him seriously. Come on we are all adults here. We don't need to be reminded not to say "Are we there yet?" a million times. It turns out this simple statement proved to be a great deal of advice. Our trip certainly did not go as planned including an extra long stint to find gas right outside of Denver, our stake-bed truck loaded with tools and equipment ran out of gas and proved to add an extra hour to our trip. Actually that truck added quite a bit of time to our trip. Our mechanic on the trip found that the problem was unfixable, but it could have been worse. It could have been undriveable. But it wasn't. And we were off. Having to stop every 160 miles to fill the truck up. Extra stops added time (including losing an hour with the time change) but after what seemed like forever with very little whining we made it to Pittsburg, 2:00am.  It was amazing that throughout this lengthy trip, no one whined. I think this was so because we all knew what were were here for. We knew the importance of this trip and the impact that we were hoping to make. There was no room for whining with a mission so strong and giving.
We were supposed to meet at Missouri Southern State University at 8:00am the next day. With the 30 minute drive we were looking at less than 5 hours of sleep. We decided it would be in our best interest to start a little later which proved to be a wise choice. We all woke up energized and ready (or at least we pretended we were) for what we would see and hear in Joplin.  I think that was the shortest stay I have ever had at a hotel. We were in and out just like that. Ready to face the day ahead of us!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pre-Joplin Trip Reflection

At 8:30am tomorrow morning a group of 20 Regis faculty, staff and students will leave our regular routine lives and head to Joplin, MO where the lives of many have been completely turned upside down. I am humbled by the opportunity to give my time to the rebuild of Joplin. I have no idea what to expect. I have never done anything like this before. I am unsure of what to expect and how to prepare myself for the experience that is before me.

In our pre-trip meeting we talked about how this experience will change all of us in some way or another. I sit here, on the the eve of our departure, and wonder "How will this experience change ME?"

Ever since the news of the deadly tornado, my heart has been heavy, wanting to help in any way that I could. I did a lot of research in the days following and kept coming up at a dead end. There have been so many generous organizations and individuals who have donated items and their skills that monetary gifts were the suggested means of help. To me, this wasn't enough. I knew in my heart that I was to do more.

This trip came as a surprise to me. I hadn't heard of an organized trip from Regis until Wednesday afternoon when I saw a posting on our community website calling for donations to send along with the group. On a whim, I emailed back and just asked if there was an open spot on the trip. Sure enough there was. Everything happened so fast and I basically had less than 24 hours to decide if I would attend or not. I kept going back and forth of whether or not I should go. Was I prepared for this or was this something that "I" thought I was supposed to do? I started to doubt my motives. But I realized that I really was supposed to go on this trip. For one thing, unlike many people who would love to go, I have no attachments (kids, etc.) that are holding me back from attending. When discerning whether or not I would attend I remembered a passage from the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris. He states that: "God gives us singleness- a season of our lives unmatched in it's boundless opportunities for growth, learning, and service..." I realized that God truly was calling me to go on this trip; to use this time in my life to grow personally, serve others (especially those in need), and to learn what He has in store for me.

Once the decision was made I finalized the paperwork, got a tetanus shot, rearranged my work schedule and tried to start emotionally preparing myself for the experience. I am not sure how much I can prepare myself for what we will see and the stories we will hear. One of our group leaders grew up in the area and actually worked at the hospital that was hit for 15 years. She has contacted many people in the community and hearing about the devastation just makes you cringe. We were informed that the pictures and coverage we see on tv and the internet does not do the damage justice. That is what I am scared about! What will my reaction be when I see the devastation first hand. Will I cry? Be numb? Be strong? Not sure yet. I will get back to you on that. One thing is for sure. This experience will change me. How? We'll see.

I hope to keep a blog while I am in Joplin. I will not be taking my computer to save room so I might not have internet access. I will keep a journal and once I get back I will add each day's reflection to the blog. I know that so many people want to help those who have been affected in Joplin by making a trip such as the one we are. I know that is it not possible for all so I hope that you can experience a little bit of what is going on there by my trip. I will post pictures as well. Here is some information about our itinerary:

8:00am - Meet at Regis
8:30am - University Ministry will be at Regis for a Blessing and Sending
8:30am - Leave Regis for Joplin, MO
11 hour drive full of anticipation, adrenaline, and probably some boredom
Late evening - Arrive at hotel (about 35min from Joplin)

7:00am - Leave hotel for MSSU (Missouri Southern State University) which seems to be a hub for volunteers and the relief effort. This is my connection with Joplin. During college our Regional XC meet was held on the MSSU campus. I believe we ran there 3 times so I am familiar with the area and have some great memories there.

Monday - Wednesday
8:00am -Arrive at MSSU and learn what our assignments will be. We have been told that they are currently just going day by day with volunteers. They are unsure of what they will need but we will be there and do whatever they need us to do. A few possible assignments will be debris removal, cooking for the many families who have been left homeless, or sorting donations and doing inventory.

Like I mentioned earlier, our trip leader grew up and worked in the area. Her father lives 12 miles from Joplin. She grew up in a very small farm town and when she informed her dad that a group from Regis was coming to aid in the relief efforts, amazing things happened. She started calling different family members to find housing and before she knew it she was getting calls from people who were offering there own beds for us to stay in. So the plan will be that we will have a host family to stay with each night. Our group leaders' father will also be hosting our group 2 nights for dinner on his farm. The second night our host families are invited as well. On our last night we have reservations  at a local restaurant that is know for it's fried chicken (Yum!).

Thursday - Drive the 11 hours back to Denver

It is amazing how all of this has come together in such a short time. It would not be possible without the support of the Regis community, those who have given up their time to make the trip and the many families who have offered us their homes to stay in.

I leave you with this closing reflection. We reflected on this at our pre-trip meaning. Really take the time to let this sink in:

(Father Kolvenbach) urges students to "let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively." He notes that "solidarity with our less fortunate brothers and learned through 'contact' rather than through 'concepts.' When the heart is touch by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the degradation and injustice that others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry, reflection, and action (Kolvenbach, "The Service of Faith").