As the summer is winding down, a group of high school students from Rockford and Cedar Springs chose a selfless way to spend one week of it. The group of nine students and five adults from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church went on a mission trip to a once booming steel town called Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Beaver Falls was once a very prosperous community, thanks to two very large steel mills that the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built over 150 years ago. The steel mills closed in the 1980s and the town has not yet recovered. At the invitation of a local congregation to help this struggling community, the senior youth of St. Peter’s chose to go to Beaver Falls and “Serve the Lord in Steeler Country” (the theme for this mission trip).
Their trip started on Sunday, July 12 with their commission and blessing at the early worship service. After a long drive, they were welcomed by the very friendly people of Mount Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church. The St. Peter’s group teamed up with other youth groups from Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. The church’s classrooms, kitchen, fellowship hall and showers served as their home for the next six nights.
There were several different projects lined up by Mt. Olive with the local community. One team worked at removing overgrown shrubs and brush that completely covered steps that connected two different level streets. Doing this eliminated an extra mile of walking required to get to the other street. Many locals commented that they never knew those steps were there. Another group worked on cleaning up a vacant lot that had become dangerous with broken glass, metal shards and overgrown vegetation that made it prime for drug activities.
The group from St. Peter’s was split up to handle four different jobs throughout the week. One team helped at the local fire station with whatever they needed done in preparation for the annual carnival they put on as their major fundraiser. The kids had to wash the fire trucks so they would look nice for the parade on Wednesday, then they had fun trying on the firemen’s safety gear and equipment. Angela Barnes was a little freaked out when Gabe Westveld found the ax. They helped prepare the carnival grounds and kept it clean by picking up and emptying trash. They also kept the chili fries coming from the fire station down to the carnival. Deb Petersen, one of the adult chaperones, was busy all week in the fire station kitchen, cutting up onions and potatoes for all those chili fries. The chili fries were so popular that they kept running out! For all their hard work, the firemen asked Eric Chisholm, Andee Petersen, Anna Ruark, Elyse Sholtis and Gabe Westveld to ride in the fire truck during the parade. They had a great time, especially seeing all those smiling faces on both the children and adults!
A second team spent the entire week at the Carnegie Free Library. The library is over 100 years old and was the first free library funded by Carnegie. With direction and help from Pastor Love and Sue Elenbaas, this team worked on repairing and painting the damaged walls in the computer room and hallways. This was a tall order (working on 12-foot walls), but Kyle Chaney climbed the high ladders and handled the washing and painting with ease and laughter. Andrew Elenbaas worked with Pastor Love on the wall repairs and trimming the areas with paint. Sue Elenbass was the paint chief and spotter—if a spot was missed, she saw it, then the team saw it, and it was resolved.
A third team painted a storage barn at a local park and cleaned up two local parks. The parks were well-maintained, but just needed broken glass picked up, shrubs trimmed and weeds pulled. This left plenty of time to paint the storage barn, which Aaron Elenbaas, with an eye for detail, made look great.
On Tuesday, the third team from St. Peter’s was given a project of helping an organization named Tiger Pause Youth Ministry. This organization helps disadvantaged youth in the area with a six-week summer camp and many other activities. Tiger Pause has a type of “thrift store” where donations can be dropped off and customers can come in and get what they need for a donation to the store or Tiger Pause. This has been a blessing to the community, since their inventory is given to them free and they receive money from the customers. The challenge the store faced, in trying to help the public, is that it was very disorganized with items stacked on top of each other, many things still in boxes and was very hard to walk through. All this made it difficult for people to see what was available to purchase. So, for the rest of the week, the team from St. Peter’s and other teams worked at cleaning up and organizing the contents of the store. Their work went so well, with the leadership of Patti Chaney, Eric Simonton and Carrie Kiaunis (who set up a “holiday” room within the store), that they were also able to organize the back storage area and some of the basement, all by Thursday. On Friday this team went to the mini-golf (that the Tiger Pause organization had built for the community) and painted the rails and the backs of billboards that displayed drawings and bible verses.
Mount Olive Lutheran Church did a great job offering great meals, devotions and nightly entertainment. All the volunteers went to a local park for outdoor activities, took a boat tour of downtown Pittsburgh, had a pool party, went to Kennywood Amusement Park and enjoyed a concert by the Christian group “Third from First.”
The mission trip was a great success. The nine youth and five adults lived selflessly by giving their time and abilities to help others directly and indirectly. The teams’ spiritual growth through daily devotionals and just lending an ear to listen to one of God’s children cannot be measured, only rejoiced in.
The youth at St. Peter’s would like to thank the congregation and the community for all their support for this mission trip. They are already looking forward to next year’s mission trip and are in full swing with activities and fundraisers to help them get there (car washes, community sale, Halo tournament, and more). Please visit www.stpetersrockford.org to get more information on their latest activities.