Sermon: Mission Sunday

22 April 2007

Mission Reflections
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Mission Sunday

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-40
Reflection on Refugee Resettlement Ministry -- Laurie Matson

It was April 21, 2004 when Annie Sharty and Lloyd B. Johnson, refugees from Liberia , arrived in Connecticut . Walt Fisher, Peter Wiley and I went to New Haven to pick them up at the airport.  

After introductions were made and we picked up their one small piece of luggage, which I couldn’t believe how much they were able to pack in there, we proceeded to the van. As we were all getting in, I’ll never forget it, Lloyd smiled and said, “We’re home.”

Lloyd wanted to be as American as soon as he possibly could. Within days, he was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers and a baseball hat. A hat in his culture symbolized you were a big man. Lloyd wanted to be a big man.

I had the joy to watch their amazement when they learned how an electric can opener worked...         when I introduced them to Tupperware…when I explained to them that the squirrels were not owned by anyone and that NO, you cannot catch and eat them…or the deer…or the turkeys …or the raccoons!

I learned how important family was to them and how deep their faith was. I watched them work hard with their studies. They were eager learners to improve their English.

Annie is the quiet one, but always laughing. Lloyd bubbles with energy and friendliness. Annie loves her African meals with the hottest peppers around. Lloyd likes to keep busy. She’s a religious singer. He had always prayed that he would live near a church.

I learned some new sayings. One day I asked Annie what Lloyd’s middle initial B. stood for. She replied, “Monkey toes his own tail,” which meant that I should ask Lloyd that question, not her.   Another one is, the liar would always say, “My witness is behind the river,” which meant you could never find out the truth.

Annie and Lloyd had a garden at the cottage. I learned that the first food from the garden, be it fruit or vegetable, is given to the Lord for His blessing, then the food can be consumed. You should have seen the look on the usher’s face that day when the zucchini, collard greens and a cucumber were put in the offering plate.

Over 50 members were trained for this ministry. There was a committee for clothing, transportation, education, assimilation, employment, finance, health, social work, housing and furnishings. I saw each volunteer give their gift of knowledge and an open heart to Annie and Lloyd.

It was hard at times. It was hard to say no. What harm was it to just give them a dollar or two when they didn’t have enough,  or buy them phone cards because they wanted to talk to their families in Liberia so badly, or to make a phone call for them and take care of some business at hand.

A helping hand was better than a hand out. The goal was to help them become self sufficient within 4-6 months, not for them to be dependent on us. I can proudly say we did it; they were self-sufficient within 6 months.  Annie & Lloyd are living in St. Louis , now, both working full time. Annie is going to school part time to become a nurse. Lloyd hopes to attend business school this summer. Their first car was kindly donated to them. Since then, they have purchased two cars.  They now help refugees in St. Louis by driving them to the African Food Market and to work.

It’s special to be a part of a good thing. This was a good thing. Friendships were made with Annie & Lloyd. He, in particular, today, calls various members to wish them a Merry Christmas, Happy Easter or just checks in and to say “Hello”.  For me, this ministry was truly a blessing. I look back fondly on the memories. They left their imprint on my family and me. It was enriching, fulfilling and they are still part of our lives.

Today, about 23 million people in the world have been displaced. Of those, 14.5 million are refugees.

As we are prepare for our next refugee family, I think at night before I go to bed, as I did five years ago- somewhere out there is a family, a couple or an individual who we will meet and help to rebuild their life here in Connecticut at the Congregational Church of Brookfield.

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:7-10
Reflection on Youth Fellowship Trip Port Charlotte, FL -- Andrew Slater

Good morning, my name is Andy Slater, and I’m here to talk about last year’s Senior Youth Group, Mission Trip to Port Charlotte , Florida .  

A group of approximately 30 people, including youth members of the Danbury Congregational Church, went to help Hurricane Charley victims.  Our mission was to repair inside and outside of homes affected by the hurricane in 2004.  While we were down there we were split into several groups and our goal was to work together in teams to accomplish specific tasks.  On my team we had a mix of Brookfield and Danbury kids and we were assigned to a house where a mother and her 2 daughters lived.  The house was nearing completion but still needed some work in bedrooms, the bathroom and finishing work.

What stands out most in my mind would be putting the flooring down in Sara’s bedroom.  When we first got there it was a cement slab.  We had to fit the wooden flooring together and put it into the room. This was a first step in Sara getting her room back.  Since the Hurricane Sara and her family were staying in a trailer in her driveway.  It took members of our team the entire week to finish the wood floor.  Sara spent her days in camp while we were working on her house.  She told her friends at camp that she would be getting her room back soon, so as a camp project they created a sign for her that said “Sara’s Room,” and they all signed it and wrote how excited they were for her.  Sara couldn’t wait until the end of the week when the floor was finished and she was ready to start moving her furniture back in and put her sign on her very own bedroom door.

The reason this story stands out in my mind is the humbling idea of getting your room back. It made the team work that much harder and put into perspective the aspects in our life that we take for granted. I personally can’t imagine not having a room of my own to relax in and this young girl hasn’t had her room for 2 years.  

It felt good to help out some great people who didn’t have the means to do the work on their own.  The entire experience of being in Florida was a great way to meet new people including the Danbury Youth Group and the people of the Port Charlotte area.  One individual who moved down there after the hurricane to help, is Ziggy.  His job was to organize all the volunteers and assign their jobs and he did the whole thing with a smile on his face and a caring heart. He put in numerous hours, in fact one night several hours after the groups had finished their job for the day, and we still saw Ziggy hard at work driving with supplies in the back of his van.  

I also appreciate the time I spent with my fellow Brookfield youth group members as we became better friends because of the fun we had, team building experiences such as making our own meals together, cleaning up after ourselves, traveling for hours together and learning more about each other. 

I look forward to our upcoming mission trip to Pipestem , West Virginia in July where we’ll be helping more needy families in bettering their lives.  

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13
Reflection on Dominican Republic Mission Trip -- Danielle Gallop

There are so many things to cover in just 4 minutes… We were there for over 200 hours.  Each minute of each hour was truly and experience…. From sharing 3 showers between 30 women to mystery meat at dinner to night after night of this dog who barked without stopping to take a breath until about 2 am when the rooster began crowing every 5 minutes or so.

First let me explain what our group did in La Romana.  We were there as part of the hospital team.  The Good Samaritan Hospital brings free clinics to these very poor communities within the Sugar Cane Fields.  So imagine a bus full of Americans arriving in this little village, many of us for the first time, to find homes about 1/3 the size of the balcony, with no indoor plumbing and no running water in the village  The living  conditions there are so far below what I even imagined.  That really was one of the hardest things to see.

When I first got there, I could think of a million things that needed to be done to get them out of these villages.  Jen appreciated my enthusiasm and urged me to wait until we’d been there a few days and have had a chance to process all of the things we experience.  I thought, how can we wait – we are only here for a week?  There is so much that needs to be done – how can people live like this? 

The Medical Teams were amazing.  They sort of took over the school or a church for the day or even just a morning and saw as many patients as possible.   This is really the only time the people there have medical care available to them.  Over the week the medical team treated over 1000 people, with OB/GYN exams in the back of a bus to tooth extraction over a bucket.  I spent 2 days with the Med Team… one day of these days I worked with the children in 2 Batey villages… we spoke to them about the story of Jacob’s ladder where Jacob uses a stone for a pillow. Then we made pillows with each of them.  One of the interpreters even sung a song about Jacob’s ladder that they all knew.  The other 3 days I worked construction… 2 with Marianne putting a cement roof on a church, which I later learned was where the entire village went during a severe storm.  It was the only sturdy structure there.  1 day I helped move cement at the hospital – the hospital itself is in construction.  Cement was needed on the third floor.  So we used wheel barrows and a pick up truck to get the cement from one end of the hospital to the other.  Then, 1 bag at a time we used a make shift “pulley” system to hoist it up to the 3rd floor.  All of this cement was mixed and poured to create an elevator shaft.  

Marianne, Carolyn, Robin, Jen and Amy all had different jobs too.  And each night we would return along with 47 other people to the dorms all sweaty and dirty.  We would share stories of our days and talk and laugh, play cards and unwind.   Some of us wondered how much of an impact we were actually making…

We were told during our orientation, that people in the DR care more about relationships than anything else.  We were asked to put away our watches and become flexible.  Schedules would change and people would be late.  “It just is not a priority.”  I know several of us thought that was one of the biggest problems.  If people were just more goal oriented and focused, like us, we could do so much more. 

But after a few days, my thinking began to change.

The people in the villages were so interested in being a part of what it was we were doing, even if it was just to watch us.  They gathered, they shouted out words they knew in English and glowed when we understood.  The children crowded around us… usually holding one of my fingers – but that’s because there were 7 others holding on too… they wanted to tell us about themselves, show us their homes, ask us a million questions.  They just wanted to be with us.  I guess there may not be a lot to do there during the day… but whatever they had planned that day was put aside and the only thing they did was spend time with us.

I tried to remember 1 day, 1 afternoon even, that I put aside everything to just be with someone… no TV, no phone, no list, no appointments, no errands, nothing – just walking, talking and enjoying someone. 

Like many of you, my life, is busy, scheduled… running here, stopping there.  I barely have time to say hello to you in the grocery store.

There –They create relationships and community.  They spend time together, they pray together.  I asked on the older gentlemen if the people all knew each other.  He said of course.  Everyone knows everyone.  And I saw it, all of them all taking care of each other and living in such community.  They may not have the luxuries we have with all of the conveniences, but they have never had it, so they don’t miss it.  

On the 4th day I met a boy, while we walked around his village with about 20 other kids, we were able to communicate, he didn’t speak English and I only know a little Spanish.  He was 14.  He had 2 brothers and a sister. We talked about his village, his school, the beach… which he had never seen.  After a few hours he said something I couldn’t understand.  He said it over and over.…. Finally I found someone to translate.  What he said was – Even after you leave, I will never forget you.

I can honestly say, I’ve never said that to anyone… especially after only a few hours.

I think it was then that I felt what Jen had meant.  Yes, there are a number of things we can do there to make them more like us, but do we really want them more like us?  I don’t know…

What I do know I am so proud to have been a part of providing health care and educating them on healthy practices and good hygiene which will improve their quality of life.  I am proud to have helped make a safe place for them to go in a storm. And I am proud to have sung and laughed and created relationships there.  And now I know that every little bit counts. 

Bigger changes are being made, Jen and many of the other people who’d been there before have seen remarkable changes that have been made by people like us.  Continued support and faith is all it takes.


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