Reflections on Being a Volunteer at Back Bay Mission

IMG_4854If you can swing a hammer, push a mop, or dish up a meal (already prepared) there is an opportunity waiting for you at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS. From Jan.31-Feb 6, 35 people from the Minnesota Conference and a few friends worked together with long-term volunteers and staff at what is known as a “work camp”. It can also be called a fun, fellowship, and learning camp. For 94 years Back Bay Mission has served the poor in Biloxi. Founded in 1922 by an Evangelical church in Back Bay to provide shoes, clothing, medicine and education to the children of Back Bay fisher folk, it continues today as a ministry of the United Church of Christ. Our Conference Minister, Rev. Shari Prestemon, was the director of Back Bay for 13 years, including 2005 when the area was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

We had the opportunity to help two homeowners who do not have the resources to do some needed home repairs; serve meals at Loaves and Fishes, and support and meet with homeless persons who rely on the Mission for showers, laundry, and fellowship. One of the most rewarding experiences is to sit with people who struggle every day in a world we cannot imagine and experience their optimism as well as their acceptance of the situation.

Back Bay, and many long term recovery projects also supported by the United Church of Christ, relies on volunteers.     And, everyone can be a volunteer. After the second day at Back Bay I called home and told my partner that excuses for not volunteering were no longer valid. Here are a few excuses, and reasons why they no longer work.
  • I’m too old.   Two of the volunteers from Minnesota were over 80 (one is 87) and they worked every day, including at the construction sites.
  • I’m not strong enough. One of the volunteers has MS. She worked every day.
  • I don’t have the skills. It doesn’t take much skill to hold up one end of the siding board, but it is as important as hammering it in place.
  • I wouldn’t know what to do. You don’t have to. The trips from here are led by an experienced couple.  You will learn what to do when you get there.
  • I don’t have the time. If you don’t have time now, put it on your ‘future actions’ list. The need will not go away.
  • I don’t do well if I am not in my own bed. Consider yourself lucky and get over it. Some of the people we served do not have beds.
There will be another trip to Back Bay from Jan. 29 – Feb. 4, 2017 & Feb. 5 – 11, 2017 and other opportunities to work with groups from other UCC Conferences at work camps for long term recovery in disaster areas. Think about what you can do.

Other volunteer opportunities include work camps coordinated by the United Church of Christ to support long term recovery in areas impacted by disasters. The organization and coordination is arranged by the national Disaster Ministries Office or various state Conference Disaster Coordinators and volunteers from any conference are welcome. Information will be posted in COMMAntary when volunteers are needed. (See http://uccmn.org/resources/disasterpreparedness/ for more information on the UCC Disaster Ministries)

-Submitted by Renee Pfenning