HOPE youth group helps Mexico Beach repairs

Religious Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Spring break for the 16 members of the Miami Lakes United Methodist Church Youth group this year was a life changing and heartwarming experience as they traveled almost 600 miles to lend a helping hand to the still broken and battered Mexico Beach community in northwest Florida.
Five months after Hurricane Michael struck this quiet beach community located in the Florida panhandle, they are still cleaning up and rebuilding from the devastating storm. Fire Chief Sandy Walker said, “95 percent of the 1,000 or so houses, hotels and condos were either completely destroyed or uninhabitable.” The devastation to property was overwhelming but the impact on the lives of those who came home to a shattered community was much worse.  
For many, there will be no rebuilding as the requirements for new construction will exceed whatever help the government will provide. For others the thought of starting over is just too much and they will construct another life in another place. Those who stayed have braced for the daunting task of cleaning up not only their homes, but their community as well. With so much to do and so little help the arrival of the "J-Walkers" youth group was a badly needed dose of HOPE for Mexico Beach. 
For many of these youth it was their first mission trip and before they set out they were told there would be one toilet, one sink, no showers, and one room for the group and their adult chaperons to sleep in. Add to the mix a long ride and grueling work, it tested them in ways they had not previously experienced.
Most teenagers would shy away from spending their spring break working so hard under such difficult circumstances, but this group of young men and women proved to be very special. Pastor Stuart Bodin who led the mission trip said of the young people who participated, “I was amazed how much of their hearts they poured into the project and the incredible amount of joy they demonstrated over the four days we worked despite the rough conditions.” 
The group provided many hands to help with hurricane debris removal for two homes, but for the Mexico Beach United Methodist Church, not only did they help with the cleanup, they went one step further and also worked to rebuild the church which had been decimated both by the high winds and the hurricane storm surge that had flooded the church.
The church was an important project for the group because it has in the pre-hurricane past provided help to the homeless in the area and had themselves led a mission trip each year to rebuild homes. Putting the church back together would re-empower them to help many others in the community.   
Along with the massive amount of cleanup on the outside of the church the group also replaced furing strips, insulation and sheet rock. To accomplish this they had to learn new skills and work with power tools. For many having the opportunity to actually build something was a highlight for the trip and they didn't want to quit until everything was completed. Julie, a junior at American High said, “When God wants to make you his tool, there is no limit on what you can fix.”
Each young person experienced the mission project differently and Kade, a junior at Miami Lakes Educational Center, shared it was the worship on Sunday morning that was special for him because it was so hope filled and moving. He said, “Hearing the stories of the people who had been able to return to their church after five months and seeing their tears of joys really got to me.”
Everyone agreed the mission was an incredible opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of many people and they felt a deeper connection with each other and with God. Erica, who is a senior at UCF and one of the adult chaperones said, “Being able to earnestly and thoroughly help someone is always a gift unto itself. Being able to share that gift with my home church and the youth group is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

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