Reflections on serving in St. Thomas

The mission trip to St. Thomas serving Memorial Moravian, the school and community was such a blessing in so many ways. I have been on several mission trips in the past, each of them different and special in their own way. Our trip began with a flight cancellation and additional delays which were frustrating and resulted in our trip being cut a day short. While these things happened, I did my best to remain positive knowing that it was God’s plan and he would get us there in HIS time. Upon arrival in St. Thomas, we met the other volunteers who had already been there a day, as well as Pastor Alicia and Pastor Connor who provided details on where we would be staying, the area we were in and the work to be done. I settled in after a long day of travel excited for what the next several days would bring.

The days started out earlier than I expected with wakeup calls from the local roosters well before 6 a.m. Our group was the first group in, which meant we were the demolition crew removing wood paneling from the interior walls of the school rooms, laminate tile squares from the floors, ceilings that had water damage and classroom desks and chairs as well as all sorts of debris as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Every morning, Pastor Jeff Carter led us in devotion and prayer, and in the evenings after work, we typically ate outside while talking, laughing, sharing stories, planning the next day’s work and learning more about each other. Some days we ventured out and explored St. Thomas and St. John, seeing firsthand the devastation that the two storms caused but also seeing the beauty in God’s creation.

Sunday we attended Church at Memorial Moravian. The service was awesome and everyone in the congregation was so nice, inviting and appreciative of the work that we were there to do. The sermon that morning was great and the Holy Spirit was definitely present and moving.

It was amazing to hear from so many of the local people about their life before, during and after the hurricanes and how blessed they are. Seeing their faith in Christ has impacted me and I’m using that to strengthen my faith journey as well. It will take years for things to return to ‘normal’ and I believe volunteers will be needed for quite some time. While everyone was so appreciative that we were there, I feel that I was equally as blessed to serve in this capacity for such great people. I pray that I am able to return to this area in the future when additional opportunities are available.

—John McCorkle served July 24-Aug. 1, 2018

 

Settled in my seat for a smooth four-hour hop from Atlanta to St. Thomas, where I have visited several times as a tourist, I found myself thinking about Johann Leonhard Dober and David Nitschman boarding a sailing ship in Copenhagen, Denmark, on October 8, 1732, for a nine-week passage on the open seas to a tropical island they could not have imagined. How insignificant my token week of manual labor in a long established church facility seems, compared to the two years our first Moravian missionaries served with slaves with a foreign language in an unfamiliar environment.

Responding to a call for volunteers, our six-member mission work team came together, ranging in age from 20-something to 70-something, from five locations and a wide range of experience and expectations. Our island hosts provided a warm welcome, more than ample food, local transportation and adequate housing in the Fellowship Hall of Memorial Moravian Church.  Pastor Connor provided daily interpretation of the evolving intentions of the general contractor and local building, health and historical authorities and assigned our tasks. Dober and Nitschman likely had a different reception and direction.

After clearing away water damaged furnishings and school supplies, our team efforts were focused on picking, prying and peeling away interior surface finishes of the building and exposing the solid century old stone and brick structure that has withstood many storms. 

Is there a metaphor here that transcends our group’s frustrations with lack of a consistent project objective and conflicting daily instructions that limited our perceived effectiveness? Did Dober and Nitschman have challenges and frustrations? Surely beyond my comprehension.  Did they have a vision of what their efforts would lead to?  Probably not.

By participating in the restoration of this historic building, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to pay a small tribute to the true missionaries that have come before. Also I am blessed to meet and work with a diverse group of Moravian brothers and sisters willing to give up time and the comforts of home or hotel for a week of sweat, dust, cots and cold showers. And I am blessed to meet many of our Moravian brothers and sisters from St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix that more than persevere through storms and the other challenges of life in the islands; I pray that they will recover and continue to thrive.

—Chip Richardson served August 1-8, 2018