By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
A recent mission trip to Harrisburg, Ill., taught a group of young men some valuable lessons in life. The High School Youth Group at St. Matthew Lutheran Church here in Monticello spent almost a week in Harrisburg, helping to rebuild homes touched by a tornado that hit the area in February. Those who went on the trip included: Jakob Olin, Norm Zimmerman, Connor Rigby, Charlie Tonn, Ben Dirks, Greg Jones, Colton Craig, Michael Boysen and Reece Norton.
The group knew ahead of time to expect some damage, but when they pulled into the town, some homes were destroyed, while others only received minor damage.
Building a home isn’t a trade everyone takes for granted. Some of the boys knew a bit about roofing and siding, others learned as they went.
When the group arrived, they surveyed the damage to the home they were going to work on.
“You could see the path the tornado took through the town,” observed Ben Dirks.
“At first when we got to the house the owner didn’t look happy but he was glad we were there and after everyday he got happier and happier with the progress we were making and I could tell he really appreciated what we had done for him,” said Conner Rigby.
Dirks said some structures were being rebuilt, while others hadn’t been touched yet.
“The town didn’t look like a tornado went through it until we got to the house (we were going to be working on),” said Reece Norton. “His neighbor’s house was still standing.”
The group arranged ahead of time to stay at the Dorrisville Baptist Church in Harrisburg, a few blocks away from their work site. They were fed daily meals and had a place to shower and sleep during the trip.
The house they spent their days working on needed a new roof, new siding and cosmetic work and a new porch. The owner’s garage was completely blown away, so they started the basic structure of the garage before they had to leave. All that was left of the original garage was a cement slab.
“The owner was more than appreciative,” remarked Dirks. “We did what we could handle.”
The St. Matthew group was not the only group in town to help the tornado victims. There was a youth group from Kentucky and another group of senior citizens in town as well as from out of state.
“We all worked really hard to get the work done on time,” said Dirks. “It feels good to know we accomplished something while we were there, something bigger than ourselves.”
Norton said, “It felt good when I got home because I knew that I helped someone out that needed to be helped. I felt good the whole time we were there because we had shelter, food and water.”
One interesting thing Dirks recalled while building was seeing the word “Joplin” stamped on the roofing shingles they used on the house. He said they chuckled at that irony.
“It was all a team effort,” Dirks said. “We were more than happy to help.”
Norton commented that getting to know new people who were also working for the same cause was an added bonus to the experience.
Rigby said, “I got so much out of the experience and it was nothing what I expected it to be, but what I got out of it the most would definitely have to be knowing what it’s like changing someone’s life completely. (The home owner) had nothing when we got there and when we left, he had a house that looked new. Another thing I got was going to a different kind of church and seeing how they worship God, which was really cool. The people there were really friendly and I met a lot of new people, even people from other youth groups and from different places around the United States.”
Dirks said the people in Harrisburg were all welcoming and very kind to the visitors from out of town. He said they were given gift cards from some of the people for all the work they did. The mayor of Harrisburg even stopped by their working site to thank them for their time and traveling there to help.
PHOTOS: Top: The St. Matthew Lutheran Church High School Youth Group, along with their adult chaperones head out on their mission trip to Harrisburg, Ill. Front row, Jakob Olin. Second row from left, Norm Zimmerman, Connor Rigby, Charlie Tonn, Ben Dirks and Greg Jones. Back row, Colton Craig, Michael Boysen and Reece Norton. Bottom: Colton Craig and Charlie Tonn work on cutting siding at the house in Harrisburg. The group completed the siding and roofing for the home, along with the structure for a new garage. (Photos submitted)