February 3, 2009
It was only our second day on the Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity® site in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and already the single-family house we were constructing was taking shape. What was simply a foundation when we arrived the day before suddenly had a floor and walls—well, at least the framework of walls.
As I walked through the "rooms" formed by studs—the three small bedrooms, bathrooms, living room and kitchen—I began to imagine a family living there. Although I hadn't met the family, I could visualize a mom preparing supper in the kitchen and kids playing in the living room or doing homework around a dining room table.
That's when it hit me: "This isn't just any house that my Thrivent Financial colleagues and I are helping to build. It's a home."
Arriving in Biloxi
I knew when I signed on for this Thrivent Builds Worldwide trip that I was in for a life-changing week in Mississippi. I know now that I didn't have a clue what that really meant!
I'd been in New Orleans twice for business since 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita leveled the Gulf Coast region. Both times, I was overwhelmed by the devastation. I felt that sensation again last September as my colleagues and I drove through Biloxi, where we stayed for the week. Again, I saw empty foundations, driveways to nowhere and boarded-up homes and businesses. But this trip was different—this time, I was clearly called to help.
In 2008, Thrivent Financial committed $2.5 million to Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast to build up to 40 homes in the region. My team of 12 people included colleagues from Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. We were one of nearly 40 Thrivent Financial teams from across the country to build in Mississippi last year. Two member teams—a team of five from Rochester, New York, and a team of nine from various parts of Pennsylvania—shared living accommodations with our team while we were there.
Hammering Hands, Teachable Hearts
I admit I was a little nervous about the trip. After all, I have no construction skills and some flexibility issues thanks to an old sports injury. Plus, I really don't care for heights—not ideal should roof work be required. But I was ready to do what it took to get the job done, even if it meant climbing a ladder!
Our first glimpse of the site where we'd be working took away any lingering anxiety—we were starting at the foundation. And our Habitat for Humanity site supervisor was a great on-the-job teacher. You see, there are no prerequisites to working on a build site. All hands, inexperienced or experienced, are welcome. The only thing that's really needed is a teachable heart.
In four days on the site, our team put in the floor trusses and floor, refurbished and assembled exterior walls, framed all the exterior and interior walls, nailed on the sheathing and put up about two-thirds of the roof trusses.
Great Weather and Gumbo
Few of my teammates had worked side-by-side previously at Thrivent Financial, but on the build site, we proved a great team. We were blessed with sunny skies and few injuries. (The sore and stiff joints, banged thumbs, scrapes and scratches quickly healed.)
Every day began with prayer and inspiration, and ended with devotions. And every evening, after we put our hammers down for the day, we enjoyed dinner and fellowship before getting a good night's sleep in the "dorms" at Biloxi's Yankie Stadium, a Salvation Army-owned facility.
The cuisine was varied. One night, we sampled gumbo, crawfish cheesecake and bread pudding prepared by local Thrivent Financial representative Terry King. Another evening, the three Thrivent Financial teams enjoyed the ambiance and barbecue at a popular nearby eatery called The Shed.
On living and Learning
While we didn't meet the home's future owners, we did have the privilege of working alongside two other future Habitat for Humanity homeowners who were investing hundreds of hours of "sweat equity" into homes in the Gulf Coast region. Their personal stories offered us hope and inspiration. Stories like theirs are the reason my teammates and I decided to leave our families and work responsibilities behind to travel to another region for a week to build a house.
Our final day on site, we inscribed prayers and messages of hope on the wall studs for the home's future owners. They won't see our messages, of course, but I hope they will feel the love that went into building their home.