Kailey Robinson, who is now finishing up her junior year at Washington High School, is excited about a mission trip she will be taking with two of her sisters and their mom, Shannan Robinson, to Caldwell, Ohio, in a few weeks.
It will be a chance, she said, to put the lessons she’s heard and learned at her church, Immanuel Lutheran, Washington, into action.
“We talk at church and youth group a lot about being able to preach the Word, but this is walking that talk . . . and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Kailey remarked.
She’s heard all about the hard, physical work they’ll be doing from her twin sister, Olivia, who made a similar mission trip to Appalachia with Immanuel’s youth ministry three years ago.
Alan Wunderlich, Immanuel’s director of student ministry and assistant principal at the school, said this year’s trip is more than just a return to Appalachia. It’s part of a plan to lead a youth mission trip two out of every three years.
The third year they will attend a national youth ministry conference.
The Immanuel Lutheran team is working with HARP (Helping Appalachian Rural People) Mission, a nonprofit group that assists with disaster relief efforts, poverty, abuse, unemployment and other traumas.
“We’ve taken to the Appalachian area because it’s one of the poorest in our country,” said Wunderlich.
Some people have questioned the group about why they don’t help people closer to home, and Wunderlich said while Immanuel does have a plan to begin doing that as well, mission trips with more distance are eye-opening in that they give people a chance to see another part of the country and also to serve with more of a commitment than can be done when you remain close to home.
“When you are there (Appalachia), there is really nothing else to do. You are truly dedicated to that work. You are working morning to night to help people,” said Wunderlich.
If they went to locations closer to home, like around Franklin County or even Missouri, where the volunteers went back to their own homes at night, they wouldn’t truly commit to the work because they would naturally be distracted by needs of their everyday lives.
Wunderlich recalled how on the trip in 2014, the volunteer who was serving as a foreman on the porch rebuilding job went to the store to get more supplies. While he was gone, the team thought they were finished for the day because it was around normal quitting time, and so began packing up the cars to return to their dorm-like accommodations.
When the foreman returned, he pointed out to the group that they really needed to stay and keep working because there was concrete that needed to set overnight or else it would put the entire project too far behind.
“Nobody complained. Everybody just enjoyed themselves. It was a remarkable experience,” said Wunderlich.
Had that been a project close to home, would everyone have been as pleasant about having to stay longer than expected?
Who Can Participate In the Mission Trip?
About 25 people are registered to make the mission trip to Ohio next month. About half are youth and half are adults. Three years ago the split was two-thirds youth and one-third adults.
The adults who come along do more than just chaperone, Wunderlich noted. They are more like role models and mentors to the youth, teaching them hands-on skills while they are doing physical work on projects and setting an example for how to interact with others.
“One thing we found out from our last trip was that the kids and adults who were working shoulder to shoulder, they really enjoy getting to know one another,” said Wunderlich.
To sign up for the mission trip, students need to be 13 years or older (or entering eighth grade or above). Part of the reason why is because the physical work they will be doing requires a certain amount of strength and maturity.
Young people can go with or without their parents.
Physical and Spiritual Work
Three years ago, the Immanuel Lutheran team was able to help two homeowners.
For one, they tore down an old front porch and replaced it with a new one that included a ramp that could accommodate a motorized wheelchair.
For another, a single mother, they replaced walls and floors that had been damaged after her water heater exploded, repaired the roof and also made improvements to her front porch.
This year, projects include installing a laminate floor and possibly a subfloor for one homeowner, building a handicap ramp and possibly fixing a plumbing issue for another, and painting a shed and offering spiritual comfort to a third. Plans also include cleaning and organizing a home for a lady with some special needs.
Some of those projects may end up being larger than planned once the team arrives and sees the need firsthand.
Three years ago, Wunderlich said the plan had been only to install a ramp for the first homeowner, but once the team saw the rickety porch they needed to attach the ramp to, they decided it was necessary to rebuild the porch first.
The mission group is able to spend a little time with the homeowners they are helping and get to know them.
“That is the really neat part,” said Wunderlich. “We can share the Gospel in what we are doing.”
The group also spends time each evening evangelizing. They will take with them 50 “bags of hope” filled by members of Immanuel’s congregation with toiletry items, small toys and blankets, books and Bibles to hand out at places where people want to hear about the Gospel and talk about Jesus.
That is a challenge and a learning experience for the youth in the group, said Wunderlich.
“They have some opportunities to do that back home in Washington, but they don’t do it intentionally. Here they have the opportunity to do it intentionally,” he said.
Part of their evening activities will include keeping a journal of their experience. They will begin writing in their journals about a week before they leave and for two weeks after they come back, said Wunderlich.
The materials needed to do the work are provided, although the team does take along some of its own tools and equipment. They also bring along some extra cash to put toward a job if they feel it’s necessary or just the right thing to do.
“If the family needs something extra, we are able to get things for them,” said Wunderlich.
That extra cash comes from funds donated by Immanuel Lutheran member Cindy Frick, who makes pottery and sells pottery strictly to support the church’s youth ministry program.
“She really pays it forward,” said Wunderlich, noting in the years that Frick has been selling her pottery to benefit the youth, she has probably donated close to $10,000.
“It always goes to supporting different things — kids going on trips or youth gatherings. Something to benefit the youth ministry,” said Wunderlich.
Each person who goes on the trip pays $175, which seems like a contradiction.
“Yes, we are volunteering, and we have to pay to do it. That’s part of the challenge,” said Wunderlich. “We are giving of ourselves, more than just our time.”
‘Just Do It!’
The group will drive to Ohio and stay in a dorm-like facility nearby, or relatively nearby.
The community where they worked three years ago was small, just a few hundred people, although there were larger towns nearby. They stayed about an hour away from the work sites in a dorm-style facility that had a thrift shop attached.
They will take enough food to provide meals for the first day or so. They will divide up the work and chores based on the needs and everyone’s strengths.
“Each day we get up early, fix breakfast, and everyone in the group has to pack their lunches. We have everything there, but they have to make their sandwiches, so for kids who may have always had Mom or Dad doing that for them, this is an experience,” said Wunderlich.
Olivia Robinson remembers the 2014 location having some beautiful scenery.
“There were lots of lakes and it was really pretty,” she said.
The facility where they stayed was air-conditioned, clean and nice enough that at the end of the day they were happy to have a place to lay down their heads for some rest, she noted.
Shannan Robinson is looking forward to making this second mission trip, this time with two more of her daughters. She went in 2014 because taking a mission trip had long been one of her goals, but it never seemed possible to fit into her schedule between work and family.
“I don’t have enough time to go out of the country, so I knew this was something that time-wise I could fit into my schedule over the summer,” said Shannan Robinson, who teaches second grade at Immanuel Lutheran School in Washington.
This year she’s eager to do it again because the experience was so fulfilling, especially to see how it affected the young people, including two of her daughters who went.
“What I loved, as a mom, was having them get to see how other people live, and that helped them understand how blessed they are here,” said Shannan Robinson. “It helps you keep your own life in perspective, realize you really don’t have much to complain about, even though we all do every day make these silly complaints.”
Olivia Robinson said before leaving on the trip, people who had gone on other mission trips told her how much the experience would change her, “all that cliché stuff . . .
“And really, when we got back, after such an exhausting week, I was like, ‘Wow, it really did.’ It put a new perspective on everything,” said Olivia.
It also brought her closer to the adults from her church who went on the trip. Working alongside them and learning things from them in Ohio has provided a comfort to her back home in Washington.
“You know if you ever need anything, they will be there for you,” she remarked.
Her advice to anyone thinking about possibly doing a mission trip is “just to do it!
“It can sound really intimidating and scary . . . but you’ll find something in yourself that you didn’t know was there,” she said.
The group plans to leave for Ohio on June 18. The Sunday before, they will receive a commission from the Immanuel Lutheran congregation. Plans are to return Friday or Saturday, June 23 or 24.
Anyone who would like to donate to the mission trip or the bags of hope project are welcome to do so.
Items needed for the bags include toiletries, hygiene products, small blankets or throws, small toys, Bibles or other items that share the love of Jesus, coloring books, small stuffed animals and comfort items.
Checks made out to Immanuel Lutheran Youth can be mailed to the church at 214 W. Fifth St., Washington, MO 63090.
For more information, call 636-239-4705 or visit www.imlutheran.org.