Vice President of Operations Dave Emond recently attended a Mission Trip to Maine, where he used his talents to give back to families in need. Through the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Housing Rehabilitation program, he and a group of his peers dedicated themselves to a labor-intensive week of fixing and rebuilding homes in the community. Dave recounts his experience and lessons learned in the essay below.
I recently had the opportunity to embark on a week-long mission trip in Washington County Maine. Washington County is located in Downeast Maine approximately 38 miles north and east of Bangor. Washington County is approximately 3,300 square miles, has a population of just over 31,000 residents and has the highest poverty rate in the state at 19.4%. The average income is just over $20,000.00 and an unemployment rate that hovers between 10 and 15%.
During the week of August 21st we ventured to various towns throughout the county with several members of the Congregational Church of Laconia and Sanbornton. These mission trips are week long service projects set up by an organization called Maine Seacoast Mission. The Maine Seacoast Mission hosts hundreds of volunteers each summer to work with local families on renovating their homes to make them more energy efficient. The projects I (we) worked on ranged from installing exterior doors and storm doors, replacing and/or building exterior decks and egress stairs, insulating interior walls, scraping & painting exterior walls and repairing leaking roofs.
I have had the privilege to attend several trips over the past 10 years. Each one I’ve attended provided many opportunities to help and teach not only the families but also new volunteers.
The number one life lesson learned was the broadening of our worldview. One person wrote, “It’s critical to have a prolonged experience where you are the minority. A place where you have to rely on the mercy and generosity of other people, otherwise you couldn’t get along.”
By leaving the familiarity of our comfort zones, and oftentimes stepping out from our comfort zones, and interacting with people from different cultures, we all learned a great lesson in humility. Despite socioeconomic, cultural, and occasionally language differences, at the core, we were all fundamentally the same, having the same basic needs: the need to be known, loved, cared for, and knowing our lives have meaning and purpose.
Another life lesson learned through the mission trips was compassion. Pain, suffering, and the reality of poverty were no longer things just read about in text books or seen on the evening news. Pain had a face. Suffering had a name. Poverty had a heartbeat and the enormous need was humanized. These were real people with real names, with real families, living in real communities, that we had seen with our own eyes, talked with, listened to, dined with, fed, and hugged.
It’s easy to start believing mission trips are about us, but this can also be challenging for people who live life by the clock. Things rarely go as planned on a mission trip, and for some, like me, this can sometimes become frustrating. The truth is, life is unpredictable, and we have to be able to adapt. Learning to deal with surprises gracefully and creatively is a life skill. It was also important for many to develop an understanding that people in different cultures deal with challenges differently, and that is not necessarily bad. It’s just different, and different is OK.
A common theme between volunteers on this trip was leadership. As we ventured beyond our comfort zones, engaged with teammates, and worked on projects, we noted the importance not only being a great leader, but being a good teammate. But beyond lessons and themes, though this short-term mission trip, we found our purpose.