Mission Trip Tuscaloosa
By members of Reformed Church of Cortlandtown, Montrose, New York
Twelve members from Reformed Church of Cortlandtown and their pastor, Amy Nyland, gave their time, energy, and gifts to serve with Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during Holy Week this year. Three of the volunteers were high school students for whom this was also spring break. The team of people was formed when Pastor Amy brought to the congregation this opportunity to serve folks who had lost their homes in the tornado of 2011 that devastated parts of Tuscaloosa. These 12 people jumped at the chance to serve in a new way and experience things they had never experienced before.
Several months went into planning and fundraising for the trip. The team put together a spaghetti dinner to raise money and awareness in the community. We did online fundraising and asked for donations from our congregation, friends, family, and community. We began to panic as we came within a few weeks of the trip and had only about half the money, but, as usual, God came through and we raised every dime that was needed! Early on Palm Sunday three cars left New York bound for Alabama.
Seventeen hours and lots of Mountain Dew and coffee later, we arrived in Tuscaloosa.
For the next four days we worked with some of the most amazing people we had ever met, finishing and renovating homes for people whose stories of loss, faith, and redemption were incredible. We shared in celebrating the dedications of two Habitat homes and worked on two more that we know other volunteers got the chance to celebrate after we had left. The Habitat folks were great to work with and offered teaching and patience as we found our gifts and strengths, as well as God’s grace, in our work together. We heard stories of the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa and ruined everything in its path. We heard more stories of community support, love, grace, and mercy than we could have dreamed of. We met people who touched our lives in ways we could not have imagined. We were blessed beyond the blessing we could have offered. As usual, God had more in mind than we could have imagined.
At one of the homes we worked with the new homeowner, DeQuesha, who was eight months pregnant. She and her fiancé had just moved into a rental home a few weeks before the tornado destroyed it. Afterward, they spent months staying with family and eventually found a small apartment on the other side of town. Friends encouraged them to apply for a Habitat home but they never thought owning a home was within their grasp. Ultimately, they did apply and when we met them, we were building the house that DeQuesha and her fiancé, Delano, were now going to own.
DeQuesha told us the story of how she and Delano had tried several times to go to the courthouse to get married but were unsuccessful each time for some or another reason. Pastor Amy was painting trim on the porch and overheard the conversation. She jokingly remarked, “Hey, you know I am a minister; I can marry you.” To which DeQuesha replied, “Yes, you can!” From that point on, arrangements were made, licenses obtained, flowers purchased and planted, and we had a wedding the following day right on the front porch of the couple’s new Habitat home! We were told it was the first Habitat wedding. What we know is that it was an unbelievable blessing to be part of God’s work in Tuscaloosa and in the lives of DeQuesha and Delano Whitelaw. Praise God!
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