Hello RLC! My name is Annaleah and I went on the spring break trip to Mississippi to work with the George County Habitat for Humanity affiliate. I chose this trip for multiple reasons: I love working on Habitat houses, I like spring in the south, and it just seemed like the best thing to do with my spring break. Our group of 11 had a blast!
We got up early on Saturday morning to drive south to the Memphis area, where we stayed at Getwell Road United Methodist Church. While we were in Memphis, we visited Graceland and signed the wall around the grounds. We also ate at Ted Neely’s Interstate BBQ, which was our first taste of the southern staple. At Getwell we slept in their youth group room and their movie room, and then got up on Sunday morning for their 8:30 service. It was a somewhat contemporary service but quiet and relaxing. The men’s group served us breakfast and told us more about Getwell’s emphasis on service to the community. According to them, the church goes out on every fifth Saturday and serves for about 4 hours in the community and they also have several mission trips to Africa. They said that the focus on service helped make them one of the fastest-growing churches in the state.
After the service, we drove even more, stopping in Jackson, MS to eat lunch and visit the state capitol building. The New Capitol was closed, but the Old Capitol Museum was open, and so we got to learn a little more about Mississippi’s history and culture through the history of the Capitol building. There were interactive exhibits and it was free, so I recommend if you are ever passing through Jackson to stop and see it.
After checking out the Old Capitol, we continued on to Lucedale, MS, which is in George County. We were to stay at Grace United Methodist Church, but we got lost finding it. We turned around and found it eventually, and they had supper ready for us. We met the other group that we were to spend the week with, who were from New Hampshire, and after supper, some of us visited with the youth group from GUMC about evolution and various other controversial topics. It was a fascinating discussion and I think it helped bond us with the others on the trip.
Monday morning we got up from our mattresses on the floor. We were out the door at 7:30 to find our first Habitat site. The house framing was done, but we had to do the insulation and finish putting plywood on the roof. I spent much of the day up on the roof, which I really enjoyed. There were pleasant cool breezes and getting to pound nails is a great stress-reliever. For lunch, one of the Habitat group took us out to Pizza Hut. This generosity was repeated throughout the week; we did not have to pay for any of our meals while we were on the site or having supper at GUMC. It was humbling to be served in such a tangible way. That night we had homemade food from the hostesses at GUMC, and after supper the groups played Mafia together.
Tuesday we were back at the first site, and much of the day was spent finishing the insulation and putting drywall up. Outside, people were working on the siding and soffit work. The rooms in the house began to look more defined, and we finished about half the house’s drywall by the end of the day. We felt like we got a lot done because the house was changing so quickly. That evening some of us kicked back and watched The Social Network while others had good conversations and enjoyed the outdoors.
Wednesday was the pivotal day for us. We started working on the second site, which we worked on for the rest of the week with the future homeowners. At 8 a.m., all that was there were the cement slab and the walls in piles around it. By lunchtime, we had raised all of the walls except for one, and then in the afternoon we finished the walls and began putting on the roof trusses. By the time we were finished for the day, about five trusses were up and secured. It was an amazing feeling to look at the bones of the house and be able to say, “We built this; when we got here this morning, there was just a cement slab, and now there’s this.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, workers from the local Lowe’s came to help us with the house. Lowe’s had donated $30,000 for the house and the local newspapers and radio stations covered the wall-raising. There were about 35 people on the site and we were all working hard in the heat to get the house going. To see the house framing complete by the end of the day Thursday was a testament to the power of teamwork and sharing the load. No one person could have done it, but with the large group we were able to get it done.
Wednesday night I took part in a conversation about happiness and success. The discussion revolved around a quote from “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl which essentially said that happiness and success cannot be pursued but rather must ensue. Some people spoke of their belief that happiness requires an active component, while others said that happiness can be a passive thing. It was an interesting conversation.
Thursday night we got done with working early. The New Hampshire group headed off to visit New Orleans and see the St. Patrick’s Day parades, while we Iowans went to Dauphin Island, AL, to the beach. We got to the beach as the sun was setting and the moon was rising, and it was beautiful. The air was warm and the water was cool, and along the shore there were multitudes of shells to collect. The sea breezes swirled around us, fresh salt air invigorating the senses. The only thing that marred the beauty was the harsh orange light coming from the oil rigs out in the water.
We left the beach to find a place to eat supper and ended up eating at Street’s Island Grill. All 11 of us crowded around a round table, elbow to elbow, enjoying the seafood. I ordered a crab cake burger, and it was delicious. I couldn’t finish the fries that came with and so I shared them with everyone else. Dining together in such close quarters was comfortable and made us feel like a family. After eating, we drove back to GUMC under the bright moonlight and went to bed.
Friday was our last day in Mississippi and we were all feeling sorry that we had to leave. The relationships we had formed with the others we worked with were valuable. One of the contractors on the site, Wendell, told us his life story. When he was a teenager, he became hooked on drugs and also dealt drugs. He overdosed once or twice and saw three people shot. He was living the high life in terms of making money, but as a man, he was about as low as someone could go. Then, he met a woman who helped him get to know God and introduced him to his wife. Wendell’s life was changed, and now he is a pastor and spends his life serving others. The power of God and the power of love shone through Wendell all week, and it was a real honor to get to work with him.
At lunch, the family whose home we were working on thanked us for pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into their home. They were so grateful, and I felt blessed that I could give them my time and energy. It was an emotional lunch, because there were so many people saying thank-yous, and the Habitat group even gave us medals inscribed with “Our Hero 2011 GCHFH”. (GCHFH is George County Habitat for Humanity.) I had tears in my eyes, and I know that other people did too.
After lunch we worked on the house for the final time, and completed putting plywood on half the roof. Wendell invited us over to his youth pastor’s house to shoot guns. He had high-powered rifles, handguns, and shotguns. We shot skeet, too. At last we had to leave for supper at GUMC, and we said goodbye to the people we’d been working with all week. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged and tears flowed. They told us to come back soon and that we were always welcome.
Supper was a catfish fry, and after supper we Iowans packed up to leave. We said our goodbyes to the New Hampshire group, and set off to drive straight through back to Simpson. In the van, we discussed our experiences and talked about coming back next year. Driving back was not particularly memorable, but it was good to come back and have a day to relax before classes began again. I miss Mississippi already, but I know we will be able to go back someday.
If you have never been on a break trip through RLC or have never worked with Habitat, I urge you to try it. As one of the people on the trip said, “Habitat–grab a hammer, change a life–but whose?” Come into it with an open mind and you’ll find out that this world can be changed with your helping hands.