“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Patricia Berry, a member of the Mattapoisett Congregational Church. Berry, along with her 11 year-old daughter and 21 other church members – none of whom had even gone on a mission trip like this one before – spent a week in June doing mission work in Appalachia.
In addition, Camp Craddock in Cherry Log, Georgia, the organization that partnered with the mission group, had never before hosted a mission group. Naturally, there were a few unknowns ahead for all involved in the project.
“There were a bit of ‘knows,’ though,” said Berry. Berry knew the group would be serving children in need, and she knew they would be piloting a community outreach program in the form of a camp on wheels, visiting different impoverished neighborhoods and distributing books and meals, while bringing music and arts along with them.
But how they were going to do it, she was not really sure. She knows now, though, that in the end it worked out better than she had projected.
The group touched down in Atlanta and drove the rest of the way to Cherry Log – everyone inside the vehicle excited, a little nervous and anxious, too. Berry said they drove all the way through a thunderstorm that added an aspect of drama to the journey.
“It was so metaphorical for what we were going into,” said Berry. She said the storm was a breathtaking display of lightning and rain, and in a way, it mirrored their emotions. “Then when we arrived, it was all sunny and blue sky.”
After settling in and a day of training, the group split into five groups, each with a different mission. One group would distribute books aboard the Story Express, a traveling library on wheels. Another would bring meals, and another was in charge of arts and crafts. One group provided music and storytelling, and a fifth group stayed behind at the center to build bookshelves. Books, said Berry, are a vital part of the Craddock Center’s community enrichment program.
Every day, one after the other, the four outward bound groups made stops in three different neighborhoods, providing, cumulatively, about one and a half hours of programming per stop.
“At first, the kids were like, who are these people?” said Berry, remembering the first day the group encountered the children who lined up waiting for the program. “I tried to get them to sing the Hokey-Pokey,” she said with a laugh. “They looked at me like I was crazy.” But the kids warmed up quickly to the group and by Friday, Berry said that hugs were the norm.
Berry remembers one particular moment when she really started to connect with the children. It happened while she was teaching them to sing “This Little Light of Mine.” Berry passed out musical instruments and had the children singing, holding up their fingers like little candles along with the strumming of a mission member’s guitar. It was then that one of the older “cooler” kids who was reluctant to sing asked Berry, “What happens if my light goes out?”
“It will never go out,” Berry told him. “And he just lit up. His face lit up, like, ‘I get it!’” And the day was shining, said Berry. “We helped their light shine and they helped our light shine.”
Berry said she brought along her daughter, Maggie, so that she could come to know and be a part of “something bigger than herself,” as Berry described it. She wanted her to be a part of a personal transformation, to make an impact. But Maggie was not quite sure how she was helping – she wasn’t really feeling it, said Berry. Berry said it was when Maggie had a moment with three sisters on one of the stops that Maggie came to know how she was making a difference.
The three girls looked to Maggie and told her how hungry they were, asked when the lunches would arrive, and told Maggie that they do not usually get to have lunch.
“Their bellies were grumbling as they sat there reading together,” said Berry. “Then it hit her. These kids don’t have food. They don’t have any books.”
Part of the experience for Berry was the bonding that resulted between her and Maggie. She said several other families on the mission experienced that similar family bonding experience.
“It was a great growing experience for me on my own journey, and also as a mother … but then also as a church,” said Berry. “The connection we made with each other was just wonderful.”
Berry said she thinks the group returned with a new energy, and she expects the experience is going to “breathe new life” into the church’s mission group at home.
“But I would say the whole church was on this journey,” said Berry. “And we got incredible things done. We completed our mission.”
By Jean Perry