One of the things that I love the most about our traveling lifestyle, is that it gives us the opportunity to do so many unique and interesting things. It also often affords us the chance to do activities that we might not otherwise get to do without the freedom all our wheels give us.
One of our favorite things to do is to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse. This past winter, Vaughn and the bigs got to spend 2 weeks doing tornado rebuilds in Tuscaloosa, AL (we did 2 weeks there last year too), 4 days of tornado cleanup in Calhoun, GA, and 3 days of tornado cleanup in Shuqualak, MS. In fact, if you look at my bigs’ wardrobe, they are mostly made up of dozens of identical t-shirts – all either red or orange, and they all say ‘Samaritan’s Purse’ on them! They can even tell you which shirts they got from which location – and the memory always brings a smile.
Shuqualak (pronounce sugah-lock -tho we heard it said half a dozen different ways! LOL!) was not anywhere on our radar for a route home, but when you get the chance to do something you love, what is a 500 mile detour???A tornado hit Shuqualak on Thursday, April 11th, and we were on the road, heading to help with the cleanup, the next day. Because of a tire blowout, we didn’t get to MS until Monday, and began to help with the cleanup on Tuesday morning. It was lots of chainsaw work and muscle flexing to help clear fallen trees, and also some roof tarping. My tribe ran into old friends – people that they had met on other builds/cleanups, and met lots of new friends too.
Disaster relief is hard, dirty work…But the blessings outweigh the difficulties. They have been able to meet the neatest people; not just the rest of the crew, but the homeowners too! And after spending anywhere from a whole day to a few hours cleaning up their property, the crew always presents the homeowner with a bible, and prays with them after the work is done… they become pretty fond of the people that they meet…Volunteering with SP has been such a blessing to our family! The staff is incredible, and the opportunities to go to someone’s home and help them, often doing work for them that they both cannot physically do themselves, nor afford to have someone else come in and complete for them. Most of the volunteers sleep at the church – there are separate rooms for each girls and guys; the volunteers bring any cots or air mattresses and their own bedding. Because my tribe usually stays in our RV, my crew has to get up a bit earlier to make it to group breakfast. In Shuqualak, which is in a very rural area, there was nowhere for us to park our rv. We finally found a church camp that let us camp there for $20/night; it was a 30 minute drive, so my tribe had to get up and be on the road each morning by 6. They would get to the church in time for breakfast at 6:30 along with devotions, followed by making lunches, loading tools into the trucks for the day (on cleanups, volunteers sometimes use their own trucks, so Vaughn would always drive his), and have a time of prayer before heading out.
The teams would head out to their first location at about 8am. They would talk with the homeowners, help in any way that they could, mostly cleaning up downed trees, then have their bag lunches, onsite, at about 12. Then it was back to cleaning up for another few hours. The teams would usually find a good stopping point at about 4pm; the teams stagger when they would stop for the day so there weren’t long lines for the shower trailer. Everyone had extra clothes, and would clean up for dinner. Those that could help with preparing dinner, would, and others would unload tools or help in anyway that they could, but it was mostly free time. Dinner would be about 6, followed by ‘share time’ at 7. Sometimes home owners would come in and share their story, but share time is mostly where the volunteers shared about their day – how they were blessed, what their experiences meant to them, maybe anything that touched their hearts about what a homeowner said… After visiting, everyone had free time again; my tribe usually got home well after 9pm, then were back up at 6 the next morning.
Sometimes the host church is huge and has facilities to host the many volunteers, like in Tuscaloosa where the church has dorm rooms, shower facilities, and even a cafeteria. In more rural locations, like Shuqualak, the churches tend to be smaller, and do not have the facilities to meet all the cleanliness issues of dozens of sweaty and muddy volunteers 😉 Samaritan’s Purse is prepared for any situation – here in Shuqualak (and also in Calhoun, GA), SP brought their own shower trailer. The trailer contains 6 separate shower rooms, and provides it’s own hot water with a large on-demand heater that is fueled by 2 large propane bottles…The trailer parked in front of the shower trailer is for the onsite SP chaplain; for Shuqualak, there were 2 couples, one couple stayed in the church building.
The host church in Shuqualak had a nice building that they opened up for use by the volunteers. Wednesday nights, after a day of volunteering, are one of the most fun times – the volunteers always eat a meal with the host church body…The SP experience has been so great for my tribe! Vaughn said that he seldom sees Beth, after a day of clean-up; as soon as they arrive back at the host church, Beth disappears and can be found in the kitchen with the cooks – helping to prepare, serve, and then clean up after supper. She loves it and has made some wonderful friends with the adult women that she has met – and I’m so thankful how these women take her under their wings and disciple and befriend her!
Even my guys get that from some of the men there – Vaughn would tell me how he would look over, and there would be some man, with a hand on each of Jake’s shoulders, and be right in Jake’s face (or one of the other boys), uplifting them and encouraging them to continue to make wise choices. Then the men would slap the boys on the back, and they would go off and continue to haul branches out of someone’s yard.
This clean-up was Thomas’ first opportunity to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse. The minimum age for volunteering is 14 – Thomas turned 14 last month. Vaughn has been self-employed for 15 years, but currently, working for Samaritan’s Purse is his dream job. The rest of us love SP too, but the idea of settling down for a job is a hard one to swallow for us gypsies. I wonder if they have a job where you just go to a place and get the volunteer efforts going, then get to move on to the next job!?! LOL!Our 3 short days in Shuqualak were wonderful for my 5 volunteers, but it was time for us to head back to MT. And while we are glad to be back ‘home’ seeing our bigs and visiting friends, we are already counting the days until we can be back on those chainsaws and ladders, helping out with disaster relief!