“Wow, this kinda restores my faith in humanity,” said the smiling young father of 3 children under 4 years of age as he looked at the four cords of wood just stacked by members of the Assist-JC Eastport 2016 team. It was Saturday, our last day of work. A chance encounter with the man’s wife as we looked for someone who owned chickens to whom we could take our vegetable scraps led to the “Random Act of Kindness.” (We have found that there are never random acts…only providential moments in time.)
In the scheme of things, four cords of stacked wood does not change the world. It doesn’t address the big issues of our time: terrorism, hunger, inequities of all kinds…and yet…it does. It is an effort to meet a need for a particular person at a particular time in that individual’s life. We cannot presume to know what God will do with our willingness to reach out to another human being and ask, “What can I do to help?”
This year our team managed to put roofs on two homes of people who were elderly and incapable of paying for the much needed home repair. We painted parts of three elders’ homes, repairing the broken clapboards as we went. We added and/or repaired decks and stairs in four locations. Three homes were made safer for the elderly owners to enter and exit while the Historical Society of Dennysville's entry stairs and deck were replaced for safety reasons.
Under the guidance of the landscape designer, we installed phase one of the Legacy Garden on the waterfront: a rain garden now captures street runoff and filters the water before it enters the bay. That anticipated three day project took our team one day to complete. We did a little repair work on one of our 2012 projects as well as one of our 2014 projects. Our ‘thank you’ gift to Christ Church for allowing us to use their
parish hall for our meals for the week was to paint the stairs, deck and railings entering their church.
For the homeowners whose properties were improved during our stay, we made a huge impact. Their gratitude was expressed daily, sometimes with fresh donuts and cookies. But in reality there has been a larger effect over the past 14 years as we’ve returned to Eastport every two years.
The simple fact is: we’ve returned. We haven’t gone elsewhere. We haven’t “given-up” on them. Eastport has been improving its outward appearance since 2004. Have we been a part of the slow turn toward a changed culture? Eastporters say we have made a big difference. They point to the projects we have done. They claim our fixing up certain properties inspired others to fix up their properties. They say we encourage them…and maybe we do. To the extent that we have been active participants in Eastport's change, it's because God has been using us for his purposes in that easternmost city in the USA.
The Team was honored on our first Sunday night there with a recognition from the Greater Eastport Ecumenical Churches Association. Each year they select a “Salt of the Earth” recipient for the person who has contributed to the life of Eastport by being the disciple who demonstrates Jesus’ teaching: “You are the salt of the earth.” (Eugene Peterson says it well in The Message, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”) Their president, the Rev. Colin Windhorst, said that in the spring they had made the unanimous decision to recognize Assist-JC for all that it had done.
On the face of it, what we do in Eastport is very little when it comes to addressing the economic troubles of the region, the lack of opportunities, the continuing inequities experienced by the Native Americans, the addictions, the dysfunctions in family life among so many in the region and so much more.
Still we take seriously something that Edmund Burke (1729-1797), a British philosopher said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
We try not to make that mistake when we are in Eastport.
With such a great opportunity to practice serving our neighbors, we hope that spirit of willingness to “just do it” when it comes to reaching out to a neighbor in need becomes part of the fabric of our lives upon our return home. In fact, a Franciscan benediction seems a wonderful blessing for us all. “May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace to do what others claim cannot be done.” Amen! Amen!
Here is the link to the article in the Quoddy Tides about our work…