Volunteers for the revamped Mission Trip Birdsboro, themed "Unbroken," will set out to help homeowners in Birdsboro on July 22 to 26.

“Mission Trip Birdsboro has become recognized within the community as a way for those unable to care for their homes to find needed help with maintenance and repairs without worrying about financial burdens, personal or physical abilities and other limiting factors. But since the world has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, everything is different,” said Stuart Wells of St. Paul’s UCC, Birdsboro.

St. Paul’s UCC Birdsboro first launched Mission Trip Birdsboro in 2014 out of a desire to tangibly express God’s love within the community. Since then, the Mission Trip has grown to include multiple partner congregations, more than 50 sponsoring organizations, and nearly three dozen Birdsboro homeowners helped, according to the St. Paul’s UCC Birdsboro website http://stpaulsbirdsboro.org/.

Challenging meetings in April and May resulted in the unanimous decision that there was still good work to be done during the pandemic. Despite the uncertainties, complications and logistical problems faced by the planning committee, the seventh annual Mission Trip Birdsboro would not be canceled, said Wells.

“The leadership team went back and forth on the issue of canceling or going on with Mission Trip Birdsboro. But finally, we concluded that neither option was satisfactory. It became clear that in difficult times the needs within the community were not diminished but, if anything, had grown more intense due to the stressful times we have been facing,” said Wells. “At a time when many in the community face isolation, stress and no work the need to reach out and love your neighbor is greater than ever. Canceling Mission Trip Birdsboro felt wrong, but it was very clear that what we do this year won’t be like our past years.”

Public health and safety and the safety of the volunteers were of paramount importance, said Wells.

“We watched closely the COVID-19 reports for Pennsylvania and the recommendations from the state health department (we continue to) and we had earnest, and often long, Zoom meetings of what and how we can help in our current situation,” he said. “Planning has been challenging and remaining open-minded and adaptable has been a driving force for what steps we take, while shinning the spirit of Christ’s love and grace has been the inspiration for not giving up on helping others.”

Once they decided to go ahead with MTB in the face of uncertainty about what they could or couldn’t do during uncertain and changing parameters, they came up with tentative concepts to fit different scenarios. As Pennsylvania moved to Yellow Phase and later Green, they adapted to creating a plan for volunteers to safely work on outdoor projects, said Wells.

“But in April and May we didn’t know if we would get many requests for assistance or if anyone would feel confident to volunteer, especially when you consider that outside of the Mission Trip Birdsboro planning committee no one knew how MTB would function this year.”

They figured a core group of several of their repeat volunteers would sign-up, but numbers would be way down.

“When we received 108 volunteer applications and many of them where first timers we were astounded,” he said.

“To me, and I believe for many other MTB participants, the hope of Mission Trip is to provide a positive and uplifting experience of striving to follow Christ’s teachings of love and caring for all people — to shine the love of Christ,” said Wells. “It is not only about giving to those who request assistance, the experience of sharing holy love as opposed to “Hollywood love” is deeply enriching to one’s spiritual self. By holy love I mean a caring, selfless love for others — a love that expects nothing in return and has nothing to do with romance or fulfilling a personal need. It is a giving love of service to others that deeply within resonates as right. The wonder is that from volunteering to give of yourself to others you find a deeply moving, enriching, and uplifting experience.”

Moving to Yellow Phase and to Green Phase opened more possibilities, yet it was clear that Mission Trip Birdsboro will be vastly different this year.

“Trying to envision what Mission Trip Birdsboro might look like this year and how it will function was initially a daunting task. It wasn’t even known if anyone would request assistance or if anyone would volunteer to help or if sponsorships would be offered during these uncertain times,” said Wells.

By the middle of May when applications for assistance came in, there were 40 applications for assistance and 19 sponsorships. Go to stpaulsbirdsboro.org for more about Mission Trip Birdsboro and its sponsors.

In order to responsibly assure the health of the community and the volunteers MTB 2020 will be following the guidelines of the Pennsylvania Health Department. For this reason, the mission will focus on exterior work projects only and will not enter any homes. Despite the limitations, work will still be done at 23 of the applicants’ homes, said Wells.

“The organizational structure for Mission Trip Birdsboro this year had to be radically changed to maintain proper social distancing while still maintaining the ability to communicate information to volunteer teams for multiple work-sites, organize and load tools and materials for jobs and transport volunteers to work-sites in addition to providing proper sanitization of all equipment at the end of the day,” said Wells.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner have always been provided for all volunteers but this year the teams can’t all share breakfast and dinner in the dining hall together. The kitchen and food service crew will prepare all take-out meals for volunteers to pick-up outdoors.

“So much has changed for Mission Trip Birdsboro this year, yet so much has stayed the same. The core values of service to our community, to love our neighbors and share the love and grace of God as taught by Christ,” said Wells. “Christ taught us to serve those in need regardless of who they are, to love and to forgive others and to have faith.”

“While the participating churches and volunteers are from different Christian denominations, common to all is the desire to live Christ’s teaching to love and serve one another,” added Wells. “During these trying times there are plenty to serve, who need love, need kindness and whose spirit may be shaken and seek the comfort of faith. The participants of Mission Trip Birdsboro strive to shine a light of grace into the community.”

For more information about Mission Trip Birdsboro, go to http://stpaulsbirdsboro.org/mission-trip-birdsboro.html.

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