Monday, July 1, 2013

"Our Eyes Were Opened" Sermon by Emily Petti

My name is Emily Petti and I’m going to be a sophomore at Cornell University. 

I want to start out by saying that this was my sixth mission trip with PPC, and I have absolutely loved every single one of them.  The moment I realized how much this one stuck out to me was when Sean asked us who would like to give a sermon this Sunday, and my hand shot right up.  For the previous five trips, as passionately as I felt about them, I had never volunteered to give a sermon before.  It took me a little while to work out why I wanted to today, but I realized that it was because this week finally brought to light something that someone said to me on my very first mission trip. 

I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that God has a plan for his people.  But this is a very difficult thing to understand.  It seems like if God has a plan, things shouldn’t be going wrong all the time.  What’s more, we deserve to be enlightened about this mysterious plan of his, but we’re not.  We have no idea what it is, and how are we supposed to figure it out?

The first time I was prompted to think about God’s plan for me was on my first mission trip five years ago.  I was the youngest of my crew of six, going into freshman year of high school.  I looked up to this one boy in particular, Taylor, who was going into his freshman year of college.  After leaving the mission trip, I read all of my care cards, and found that Taylor had written me an awesome note.  What he said always stuck with me.  I brought it with me so I could share it with you all.  He said:

“Emily, having you in the group was a godsend.  You are funny and have an eerily sarcastic voice.  You will most likely have great groups in the years to come, but don’t forget about crew #15.  Staying in touch is what we will do.  Stay classy, don’t change.  God has a plan for you. Taylor” 

In the past five years, I have not once forgotten the last line of that card.

“God has a plan for you.”

I thought it was pretty cool that he said that to me!  I had absolutely no idea what he meant by it, but it felt pretty special that someone I looked up to would tell me that God has a plan for me.  I wondered what holy secrets he knew that he could say that so confidently.

My eyes were opened this week.  I started to see glimpses of what it really means for God to have a plan for us. 

So if you were following our blog, you may have seen a couple mentions of sledgehammers…?  If not, I’ll recap briefly.  My group got to our site on the first day all excited because we knew our assignment was to take out a porch and build a new one.  We came in with a plan: demolish, and then build. 

It turned out that the existing porch was concrete, and we spent all of Monday smashing it with sledgehammers.  We only knocked down about a foot of concrete on either side of the porch by the end of the day.  At this point, we knew there was no way we were going to get to the building part. 

This was God’s first test for us.  We would just have to patiently spend the rest of the week dealing with the concrete. God surprised us with a different plan, that we weren’t so sure we liked.  But the week proved differently.  His plan wasn’t to make us miserable, or challenge us physically, or see how many pieces of concrete we could carry before falling over.  It was to teach us to be calm, patient, diligent, and open-minded. 

I would say his plan worked.  We were encouraging each other that week with enthusiasm that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced, even in my most intense soccer games.  It also put a ton of things in perspective for me, and all that concrete actually helped me leave behind a lot of annoyances that I no longer found important. 

I was also struck that week by a few comments that our carpenters made about their jobs.  So if you don’t know, this year’s mission trip was different than previous years because we were working with experienced carpenters on the job site, rather than doing it pretty much all by ourselves. 

One of the days, Carolyn and I were expressing to the carpenters how incredible it was to be working with professionals who were so talented at their job.  The two men looked at each other, and sort of laughing, one of them said, “Well we’ve never been called professionals before.”  We didn’t really know what to make of it.

Later on, we were all talking about school, and one of them said “Well if I knew I would end up here in my life I would have worked a lot harder in school.”  They told us to keep focused and work hard in school so that we wouldn’t have to do this type of work for a living.  They said all of this with a laugh, but in talking with them further it was clear they didn’t really take pride in the way their careers were turning out.  This life of working as low-paid carpenters was not what they had planned for themselves or their families.

I think it’s so easy to see their situation and think that it’s very sad.  They’re not making much money, while their jobs are more physically and mentally taxing than most of us can probably imagine.  But if we open our eyes, we can see the beauty in this situation.  God is at work here, and he has a plan for them. Every day that they work to repair the homes of underprivileged families, they are spreading love and hope to everyone they interact with.  This reached through to us as volunteers.  They were honestly our personal miracle workers that week.  And then on top of that they were so amazingly grateful for our help.   

After the week I feel like I have a new understanding of God’s plan for us.  I don’t think we’re necessarily supposed to know what it is.  It’s not always about figuring out our careers, or making our relationships with our friends and families perfect.  It’s not even about having a clear layout of a project and following it step by step. 

As much as we’d like it to be perfect, God’s plan is messy and unclear.  It’s about living with love and compassion, and just seeing where that takes us.  It’s about opening our eyes and seeing God in strange and unexpected places, like underneath a house in Hazard, Kentucky.  After six mission trips, I now see how Taylor said those words to me so many years ago with such confidence.  Because it’s not about figuring out exactly what God’s plan is, but simply knowing that he has one.  

Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Our Eyes Were Opened" Sermon by Maddie McGill

My name is Maddie McGill and in the fall, I will be a ninth grader at Walt Whitman high school.

Saturday June 15, I had one friend, in the PPC mission group, just one, my sister, Carolyn.

I am an introvert. I do not walk up to a random people on the street and start a conversation. I would never start a conversation with stranger at school, let alone expose all my vulnerabilities to a group of young adults that to me were foreigners. It is hard for me to meet new people. It is hard for me to let go of my insecurities and become unreserved in a new environment. My mom knew me all too well when she reminded me I needed to work hard, step out of my comfort zone, and really talk to these kids in the upcoming week. Yes, she was right, but in the back of my mind knew it would not be easy.

Going into the trip, I did not know why I signed up. Maybe it would be fun, maybe I could really make a difference, maybe it would be an opportunity to make new friends, or maybe somehow it would change me. Even that morning of June 15th  I was hesitant to go. Perhaps I should stay home with my phone and other electronics. A whole week with no communication between my parents and I seemed unimaginable. Not to mention I was nervous in the sense that not only were these kids strangers to me but I was a stranger to them. Nevertheless, I packed and drove to PPC that morning with my one friend.  I’m not going to lie, when we stood in the parking lot that morning waiting to embark on our journey to Kentucky, I felt like an outsider, excluded and awkward.

Throughout the week when the youth group goes on mission, there is never a time one can be alone. Whether it is when we went to the Wal-Mart, worked on the worksite, when we showered, brushed teeth or changed, you name it we were together. If I was to survive, I had to interact. Just put myself out there and have faith these people would accept me.

When I sat down to write this sermon, I told myself: it would be simple; just write about how much fun you had and how you bonded with everyone. But, when I met 23 new people and spent a week living with them, and then was asked to look back and write about how I became friends with these people: I couldn’t.

Bonding: the present participle of the word bond (verb); to establish a relationship with someone based on shared feelings, interests, or experiences.

Although everyone that went to Kentucky seemed to be different from one another, in the end we all shared basic similarities: we were away from home, out of our comfort zones, needed some privacy, were tired, sore, frustrated with others, upset with our worksites, happy with our worksites, and most of all we were all a mission aiming to help others. Perhaps that was something that brought us all together.

When Kendra informed us that we would not be allowed to use our phones because we all needed to “bond”, I think maybe she should have used a different word. I mean, yes, we all bonded, but bonding is just establishing a relationship, or an association. The connections I made last week were much deeper than an association; they are companionships.  The youth group became a family.

When I first came to PPC and saw Kendra do children’s worship, then Sean do his sermon, I immediately felt comforted, spiritually touched and knew that this was my new church. There was I a way I idolized them both; I looked up to them as if they were of much higher power; like a child to their parent. And yes I still do idolize pastor Sean and Kendra, but they are more like the older sibling now. The relationships they have with each and every youth group member is truly indescribable, something one must experience for them self. One I feel for me has only started to begin. I never thought I would connect to them like I would with the kids on the trip but I did, and it was life- changing.

I may not be able to establish or recognize the exact events or moments at which the youth became friends, but I do know why. The PPC youth group is made up of the most fun loving, caring, welcoming, optimistic and sometimes crazy people. The moment I would start to feel excluded I would be asked to ride in someone’s car, help them cut down a tree, offered a pack of gummies from their food stash or saved a seat a dinner; these small, seemingly insignificant gestures made all the difference. 

A lot of people who go on mission trips will tell you that the residents, and carpenters changed their lives. For me, getting to know my pastors and this youth changed my perspective on life and required me to open my eyes.

In the book John chapter 9, Jesus heals the blind man. Not only does Jesus literally undo the man’s blindness but also opens the eyes of the towns’ people to see whom the blind man really is. When reading the scripture one can easily envision Jesus physically healing his eyes and changing the town people’s outlook. But did the town’s people really know what he was doing? Healing the blind man is a metaphor for how sometimes you have to change one to change the perspectives of others. The towns’ people were quick to judge the man for why he was blind. Most believed it was from sin. Jesus clarified that the man had not sinned nor had his parents and ancestors. One should not be quick to judge for the stories of others may be untold. We must open our eyes to see the world as Jesus would. I too, was once quick to judge the PPC youth group. But once my eyes opened I learned wonders about how accepting they are. I learned about the Youth, and they helped me learn about myself; I just had to open my eyes to see it. 

God opens the eyes of people every day, we just have to stop and allow them to open.

I walk away from my experience understanding that God truly does everything for a reason. God will test you but only for your own good. You may not know why or how he is testing you but you should always trust what he has in store for you. Sometimes one has to take a leap of faith and know that trust will fall later. I know I was meant to go to Kentucky. I know I was meant to meet all these new people. And I know that, on June 15, God tested me.

Sunday June 30, I have 24 new friends, the PPC mission group. 

I love you all. 

Mission Trip Celebration Sunday

If you missed worship this morning at Potomac Presbyterian, you missed an amazing service. All the mission trip participants did a fabulous job leading worship. The preachers in particular shared their experiences with courageous honesty while offering thought-provoking and inspiring reflections on how God opened their eyes during our week of service in Hazard, Kentucky. Their reflections clearly demonstrate how the people we met in Hazard impacted and inspired us far more than we could have ever helped them (though we gave our work projects all the love and energy we had). We thank all those with whom we served for their gifts to us!

I encourage you to check out the preachers' sermons as they are posted on this blog. Hopefully, we'll have them all up in the next few days!

In the meantime, know that all youth and adults are invited on the next PPC Mission Trip. Mark your calendars for June 14-21, 2014. Location to be announced soon!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday, June 21st - Last day :(

Today, we had a fun day at the Natural Bridge State Park - we took a beautiful 1 mile hike, went to the swimming pool, and played mini golf! Then, we ate at the Big Blue Smokehouse - it was delicious! See you all at church! Our official mission trip service will be next Sunday, June 30th! :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Go Team 3!

     I have been part of Team 3 (Stefanie Baarman, Carolyn McGill, Noah Pereles, Emily Petti,  Lia Sohl, Lynda Tennent, Jack White, and on Monday Kendra Grams) for three glorious work days (one day rained out).  I have not been following the posts so I don’t know whether or not an accurate picture has been painted. I want to make certain everyone understands that these stalwart souls have been doing the most hot, hard, hideous project in the history of the world of mission trips. If you don’t want to wade through all that’s about to follow, skip down to the last paragraph, which really is the only one that counts.
In searing heat and humidity, we slung sledge hammers at solid 4-6 in. concrete (a foot deep around all the edges), reinforced, as far as I could tell, every half inch, with heavy wire, inch thick rebar, and something akin to steel I-beams. We wailed away with everything we had, cheering on each other and sending up a special cheer for anyone who managed to chip off a tiny piece.  We ended an 8-hr day with about a foot of concrete knocked off each end of an 8 by 32 ft. porch, and most of that had been brought down by our carpenters, who clearly took pity on us and did some sledge hammering – an impressive display of strength and skill.
      It rained on Tuesday so we didn’t go back until Wednesday. When we drove up to the house, expecting to settle into another day of more of the wretched same, we were overwhelmed with joy when we saw that the entire concrete porch was gone -- well, almost gone. Our most wonderful carpenters, Matt and Daniel, had been out pretty much all day Tuesday with sledge hammers, jack hammers and a concrete saw, reducing the porch to rubble. We were so overjoyed we could have cried. Well, I could have cried. We were so grateful to them we hardly knew what to say. On closer inspection, we realized there was about an 8x32 ft area, a foot deep, and deeper in places, of concrete chunks and concrete blockes that had to be moved away. And thus it began: The great concrete mountain.
     We started a pile and threw onto it what we could. We carried the big pieces we couldn’t throw. We carried buckets full of small pieces. We filled wheel barrows, steered them across a steep incline to our concrete mountain, and when the wheel barrow didn’t turn over, we dumped its contents onto the mountain. We sledge hammered some concrete blocks, carried others whole, and added them to the concrete mountain.  We built a second, smaller concrete mountain, a medium mountain of lumber that had been under the porch floor and 2x2s that had been on the ground under the porch. This was our Wednesday. At the end of the day, the entire area was completely cleared, having been distributed among the four mountains. (Oh, one additional pile – of the I-beam pieces and the rebar.) Our carpenters had very kind words for how much we had accomplished – much more than they had expected -- which we did appreciate, and we limped, exhausted (but well hydrated) to the car and headed back to church.
On Thursday, we arrived at Cassie’s house full of hope that we might be able to begin to build the new porch. Hmmmmmm. Not to be.
      I will be happy to speak individually with anyone who can stand to hear any more, we, but will just say that there was still more to sledge hammer. We had to take out two walls of concrete blocks down to a concrete base plate. We had to break up and take away a whole lot more concrete (reinforced) and enormous pieces of huge I-beam that was supporting the house. Before that, we had crawled into the dark, dank, spider-infested, gravel floored, maybe 3 ft high crawl space under the house and hauled in and hung four 16 ft 2x8s, doubly heavy from having been drenched in whatever they use to treat lumber these days. We screwed them to the floor joists above, the best we could, maneuvering around the many pipes that hung all over the place. And still, after another full day of back-breaking, hard labor, in 300% humidity, we limped home, exhausted (but well hydrated), and headed back to church. But the job was still nowhere near finished. The next mission group will complete the job of building the new porch.
Now, if you are still reading this, is the main point: This was the most amazing, dedicated, hard-working, never complaining, no task too daunting, good humored group of young people you could possibly imagine. They worked so, so hard, taking only short water breaks throughout the day.  You would have been so proud to call them your own. They have been wonderful ambassadors for Potomac Presbyterian Church and God’s most faithful servants.
It should be said that we had a wonderful time. We learned so many new things. We made fast new friends – of each other and of people in Hazard. And it was an amazing week.

Lynda Tennent

(this is Sean)

I am sorry for Lynda’s longwindedness.  We have Bible study now.  G’night y’all.

Thursday, June 20th

Team 1  
Team one is the best! (Victoria Kuhn, Mark Dager, Nathan VanBrunt, Fiona Asbury, Haley White, Jane Drumheller, Sarah Miller, Ed Tennent). Unbelievably hard workers, it was difficult to get them to even stop for a water break. Everybody wanted to get as much done as possible since we were rained out on Tuesday. Starting Monday with just a cinder block foundation, we ended today with six exterior walls and a long interior wall.  Some lucky family is well on their way to having a beautiful 3 bedroom, 2 bath home thanks to PPC’s team 1!!! 
We all loved our two carpenters, Steve and Nick. They truly became our friends during the course of this week. We all gave them a hug when we parted. We all learned a lot from them….. yes, carpenter skill but also not to judge someone by first impressions. They didn’t dress like us, may not have finished high school or have all their teeth, and they talked funny (to everybody but me). But they were patient with us, joked with us, and shared their love of family and their faith. We left feeling that we were very close friends. There may have even been a few tears as we left them. Our team would love to come back next year and share more memories and stories and build more Hazard KY relationships.  Attached are several pictures from today and our new family portrait/graduation picture.
If anybody comes back with a little too much sun, it was NOT my fault. I kept telling them to put on sun screen J 

PS Did we mention that the dog that was bitten by the copperhead snake on Monday has fully recovered and was very glad to see us…. as we were to see her.
-          Ed Tennent

Team 2
                Team two finished the week of work with a new project of tearing down some old porch steps and completely rebuilding the steps and rails.  Our group did a terrific job! The work was all accomplished with smiles and grace, and I could not have been more proud of our group.  I had a fantastic time working with them this week, and our crew was very grateful for the help of our carpenter, Josh.  We learned how to do a lot together, and we hope that all we did was for the glory of God and to uplift our community.
                Today, we pray for the today’s resident, Mrs. Napier.  She has lived in her house for over 40 years, and raised 13 children and many grandchildren there.   Mrs. Napier goes to the Church of God congregation near her home, and she said, “A church is a church.  As long as we are serving the Lord together!” I promised her that we would remember her in our prayers and she promised she would do the same for us.
                -Sean Miller

Team 3
                Today our team did the last touch ups on our work site.  After a long day yesterday of cleaning all the cement out, we were exhausted today.  We got some free time to talk to our carpenters and got to know them.  Both of our carpenters are very nice and we will miss them greatly.  We did much work, but did not get to build the porch.  However, the carpenters were surprised at our progress in such a short amount of time.  They weren’t even sure if we would be able to finish clearing out all the broken pieces of the old porch, but we did!  We also went underneath the house in a tiny crawl space to put in posts that hold the weight of the house.  This will also provide something for the new porch to be attached to, when the next volunteer group comes in and builds it. 
Stefanie Baarman and Emily Petti

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday, June 19th

      Today, Team 1 finished up the floor and built 2 walls.  We talked to the carpenters and discovered many interesting stories about them.  After working hard for 4 hours, we broke for lunch and had our group devotional.  We had a wonderful group discussion and ended refreshed and ready to work. lunch we worked hard for 4 more hours, even going past 4 by 3 minutes!!!!!  Afterwards Ed thought that we deserved a treat, so we went to McDonalds and got some ice cream/McFlurries.  Ed reminded us that he only has two rules: one, you must always wear a seatbelt, and two, you must never start a sentence with the word “me.” We had a wonderful day and will have many more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     After a frustrating first day of work on Monday for team two Wednesday was an exuberating second day of work. When we first got to our worksite everyone was excited to see that the brush we had cleared had been removed by some workers. Within three hours our group dug up enough dirt to even out the ground so we could build our wall (again). McCartney battled a huge tree root, and eventually won, even after our chain saw lost; he was victorious.  After evening out the ground our carpenter, Josh, taught us a new technique of laying the bricks and getting around large roots. Our wall was built! It was liberating to know we had finally completed a task.  We then laid gravel behind the newly built retaining wall and it was beautiful. After the gravel was laid McCartney and John took a nice nap on the gravel. After our fulfilling day at the worksite, Sean decided to be nice and we drove to the McDonald’s and ate cold desserts to cool us off.

     Today, in Team 3 we moved all the tiny cement blocks from the porch into a giant cement pile. The cement pile ended up in 2 different places. The dog (Hammer) got into our lunch cooler and ate Jack and Lynda’s sandwich. We also got to know our carpenters for the 1st time they are really nice and interesting. They told some very nice stories and it was great to connect with them. It was very hot out today so we had to take frequent water breaks.

Here are some photos of our work!