Here is Rory’s thank you “note” he wrote. The funny part about all this, is that I told them they had to write a “note” thanking everyone. So many of you were excited and praying for the kids. They wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and then were excited to read them to me. I finally asked “How long ARE these notes?” because I had addressed 26 envelopes to people who had helped them out with prayers, etc. Rory said, “Mine is 7 pages” and Ian said, “Mine is 5.” The envelopes were very small and they ended up having to hand deliver many of them. The rest took 3 stamps to mail! Anyhow, I’m so proud of them. And their faith grows leaps and bounds DAILY. Thanks for your prayers.
Rory’s thank you letter:
Dear friends and family,
As you know, I went on a mission trip to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and I wanted to take the time to share with you what my experience was like on that trip.
The day that we were scheduled to leave, I showed up at the Troy campus of Kensington Church not knowing what to expect, who I was going with, or who I would meet, and if I was going to regret going on this trip. I thought I was just going down to Mississippi to help people and I honestly did not see where God was going to affect this trip. Well, let me tell you, He was watching over me from the very first day.
On the way down we stopped in Tennessee, and we stayed the night at a hotel with the other group who had gone the week before. We asked them questions about the place where we would be staying with our new family for the next week. All I heard were good things like how nice and warm it is, how much fun it was, and how jealous they were that they had to go home and we got to go down there for the next week. All of these things were hard to believe, considering it was still April and we are so used to Michigan weather. How could we be having fun and not want to go home when we are very far from our family and working the whole time? Well, the next day I figured out that I had been very mistaken.
When we finally passed the sign that said “Welcome to Mississippi!” our whole bus cheered like we did when we passed through any other state, only this time it was a little longer and it sent a shiver down my spine. We were driving with green trees on both sides of us. It was beautiful, and I had never seen so much green. When the bus driver said on the microphone that we were about to go into Katrina territory, naturally, everyone on the bus looked out the windows and both sides of the bus. All of a sudden, the green came to a stop. The beautiful green trees that I had been looking at for the past hour were bare, the grass turned to dirt, except for the occasional patch of grass. We had just entered an unknown land.
When we got to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, we began looking at some of the scenery. On one side of us was the beach and on the other were the homes of some of the citizens of Bay St. Louis. This is when the power of this storm hit me. There would be a big tall house that had been built after the storm and next to it was a slab of cement where their neighbors had lived. We then pulled into our camp site where we would be staying the next week, and jumped off the bus, grabbed our bags, and went to pick out our beds. Most of us stayed up late to spend time on the beach, which was a mistake because we didn’t know what we were in for the following day, our first day of work.
I woke up around 5:30 a.m. and rolled out of my bed, got into my gear, and walked into the mess hall where everyone else on the trip was. I began to eat breakfast, and then learned about the place where we were staying. It had been under 30 feet of water after the storm. Nothing was showing except the cross of the church. That is when I realized that God was with me in this city, and on this trip. When we got our jobs of the site that we would be working at, I found that I would be working on building a fence at a lady’s house named Valia. We showed up at her home and had not even gotten off the bus when a lady came running down her front stairs to greet us. When she began to tell the story of what happened to her house during the storm, it shocked me so much that there are not even words to describe it. She was in Alaska serving our country in the military during the storm, and when she came home, a month after the storm, her home was 300 feet away from where it had started, and was in the middle of a major road. All that was left of her home were some bricks and the steps that lead to her front porch.
After telling us this sad story, there was not a sad look on her face, and she said, “I cannot be any more thankful for the new house that was built for me.” When we had finished working on Valia’s home for the day, we exchanged hugs and photographs, and we got on the bus to go back to the camp site. When all of us got on the bus, Valia began to cry out of happiness, smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen, and waved as we drove away. When I got back to camp, I got off the bus and immediately went to sleep, but was soon awakened by Josh Korn when he said it was time for dinner. It tasted so good. I then hung out with the other people at camp and exchanged stories with them. Then, it was time for worship. We gathered at the pavilion and began to sing. It was amazing that all of these teenagers gathered together to help people who needed it.
The second day was very similar. We worked in a park to build bathrooms. They would be the first bathrooms in a park in the city of Bay St. Louis, and my group could not be any happier to be a part of that. When we were almost finished working for the day, one man named Willy who lived down the street where another group had been working, came and invited us over for lunch. It was the best chicken I have ever eaten and he just kept it coming. Willy had a granddaughter named Zariah. She was 2 and was very outspoken (if you will). She gave everyone a hand print on their backs who wanted one. It amazed me how grateful Willy and the rest of his family were to have people helping him to clean up his home. Then, the bus arrived and went back to camp, and we played on the beach. We again had worship that night and it seemed like every time we did, we got closer not only to each other, but to God as well. It was really cool.
After taking Wednesday off, we went to a church that needed some clean-up done. During the storm, it was under 30 to 35 feet of water and everything that was in it was destroyed. After a couple of hours of moving around palates into a huge pile on a huge field to be burned, we were very tired. Then, Mr. Lewis told us that our next task was to remove a tent that had been knocked over. When we started removing the tent, we realized how hard it was going to be. The tent had to have weighed somewhere between 700 and 800 pounds, and that is not including the rain water that had fallen onto it. Everyone who was in our group was completely exhausted, but then began to sing a song that we had learned from Gabe Gibbs. It was a verse out of the Bible, Philippians 4:12-13. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” All of a sudden we had the strength to throw the tent off the metal poles it had been sitting on. When the day was over, we again exchanged hugs with Mr. Lewis, got on the bus, and headed back home.
Later that night during worship, one of the people who I had become great friends with during the trip began to cry during one of the songs. Paul had never been a religious person, so he told me, and neither had I. When the song stopped and it was time to share stories from our day, Paul’s hand shot up like a bullet out of a gun. When he began to speak, he said that he had just decided to give his life to Jesus Christ. It was probably the coolest thing I have ever heard. I put my arm around him and began to cry also because I had realized how much this trip had changed me and we still had 2 days left. As I began to think more and more about this trip, I realized that I was not just down here to help people, I was doing here to do God’s will, and to receive him for the first time, really. Two of our leaders, Drew and Andy, told some of their stories and said that if we wanted to join the Kingdom of God, to come and stand with them. Paul was the first to get up, and I followed right behind him.
We hugged our leaders with tears running down our faces and then grabbed each other and began to hug. As more and more people walked over to us, the more we cried and the happier we became. Then, I saw my brother and held him with all my strength and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then, all of us gathered in a circle and began to pray. Tears flowing down our faces, we said how thankful we were for these days. Still holding each other, the leader of the whole trip said the best part about all of this was that we can be baptized. As soon as he finished the sentence, all of us ran to our huts to get our bathing suits on as quickly as we possibly could, and sprinted to the beach screaming the verse from the Bible, “God so loved the world, he gave his only son so that whoever believed in him would never die, but have eternal life.”
We had been to the beach many times before and it was known for being very calm at night, as it was while we ran across the beach and into the water. When everyone was in the water, all of a sudden the wind became very strong. As the first person knelt down to be baptized, one single wave crashed into all of us. This continued all through the baptisms. My brother and I were second and we were baptized together in the Gulf of Mexico. I could not ask for anything better than this!
After we finished baptizing, everyone began walking back to camp. The waves suddenly died down and the wind became very calm again. It just knew God was there with us through the whole celebration. When we got back to camp, everyone stayed up for most of the night with huge smiles. We all could not have been happier.
The next and final day of work, my group went to a home that only had a couple of feet of water in the home, but it had destroyed it. Our job was to demolish it. We finished 2 rooms and then began to eat lunch. The bus then showed up and told us that we would be going to a museum for the rest of the day instead of working. When we began driving, the leader got a call that someone needed help on their house. We got the job. We picked up another group on our way to the site that was also originally going to the museum. When we stopped to get off, they said that they were going to help. It showed me how committed all of the teams were to helping the people of this city. All of us busted our butts to try to get as much done as we could, but there was far too much. All that was still standing of this house was the first step to the stairs leading to the front door of the home. I almost started to cry, but instead picked up a weed wacker and began trimming weeds in the lot where the house used to be.
Cars had always driven by really slow or honked the horn when we were on the side of the road, or on the beach, but never stopped. As my friend Ciara and I looked up, there was a man in a tan SUV parked directly in front of us. Not knowing what he wanted and learning not to talk to strangers when I was little, I ignored him and continued, thinking he would go away. Ten minutes later when I looked up, he was still there. At that moment, both mine and Ciara’s weed wackers died. The man rolled down his window and said, “Thank you. You don’t have any clue how much this means to this city, that you would come out here and do this for everyone.” I said, “You are welcome. There is nowhere else I would rather be.” He drove away.
When we were picked up later to go back to camp, I saw a sign on the side of the road that read, “Katrina was big, but God is bigger.” A huge smile came across my face and a tear rolled down my cheek. I knew God had been here on the whole trip and that there was nowhere else I would rather have been than helping these people by doing God’s will. My trip was the most amazing experience I have ever had, and I suggest that if you or any other family members ever have the chance to do something like this, that they do it, because it will change their lives and bring them closer to God than they could ever dream of being. Thank you so much for making this possible.