Last week, Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church hosted the First State Work Camp, in which approximately 500 volunteers from seven different states and 12 churches traveled to Delaware to help do home repairs for locals in need.
One of the teams out of 500 youth that participated in Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church’s First State Work Camp.
“The scope of the work was everything from mold and mildew removal to construction of handicapped ramps, subflooring, kitchen cabinets and roofing, as well,” said the Rev. Woody Wilson.
“It was awesome,” added Youth Pastor Christina Wilson.
“And any other adjective you want to use,” said Rev. Wilson. “It was just absolutely incredible. Something that you can do all the planning that you want to do and you can be as prepared as you can be, but you know that God absolutely had to show up in order for it to go like it did.”
The youth arrived June 24, stayed at John M. Clayton Elementary School and left on June 30. Wilson noted that the Indian River School District had been a “huge blessing.”
“And the staff at John M. Clayton Elementary School — they were just absolutely incredibly gracious and kind, beautiful people,” said Woody Wilson.
“I can’t imagine being a teacher and having 500 teenagers come and stay at your school for a week,” added Christina Wilson.
Youth from as far away as Kansas traveled more than 30 hours to participate in the camp, and they even had to pay to attend.
“That was a huge blessing and a sacrifice on their part and a testament to their faith in their ability to want to help out,” said Woody Wilson, adding that participants ranged in age from 15 to more than 80 years old.
“They also learned a lot by sharing life stories with each other,” he noted. “A lot of the adults are going to be able to grow. There have been some stereotypes broken down about the youth of today not going to amount to very much… A lot of the adults were saying, ‘Hey, there are good youth out there.’
“The adults also learned that the wise youth are wise. They’re not just a bunch of people that want to sit and not help out. There is a great interaction to be had there.”
“There was something for everyone,” added Christina Wilson. “No matter how old they were, or what condition they were in, there was something that everyone could do to be a part of this.”
Altogether, 72 crews of workers went to 67 different homes in the Millsboro, Ocean View, Dagsboro, Frankford, Millville Selbyville and Bethany Beach areas.
“We went to the Community Services office out of Georgetown,” Woody Wilson explained. “They receive requests for help all the time, and they’re really only able to handle necessity things, like heating, air conditioner or water issues. They were able to give us names of those in need… There were probably over 400 names that they gave us.”
According to Wilson, much more happened than just house repairs.
“They took on all of the residents just like family,” he said. “They bonded with them, had lunch together — the residents were cooking lunches for them and having devotions with them. They were playing with their kids. They built, in one week, a very wonderful relationship with them that, in a lot of cases was very bittersweet when they had to leave.”
Some of Mariner’s own youth were on a team dispatched to install smoke detectors, provided for free by local fire companies, in all of the homes that were being repaired.
“Out of all the homes, there were two that had working smoke detectors,” emphasized Christina Wilson.
“Who knows, in a physical way, how many lives were saved because of that. That was huge,” added Woody Wilson.
The work camp was co-sponsored by the Mariner’s youth group, CRASH Ministries, and supported by the church’s congregation.
“CRASH means ‘Creating Revolution And Saving Hearts,’ and I think we really felt like with this week we were really living up to our name, with God’s blessing,” said Christina Wilson.
She noted that she believed the experience of holding a work camp in the church’s own community helped the youth recognize that people in Sussex County are in need, too.
“I think that our youth — their eyes were really opened wide, because I think they live in their bubble or group of friends or family. A lot of times, we can go away on mission trips, but I think their eyes were opened wide to see folks right here on your back doorstep that are in need. So I think it was really good for our local youth to see that not everyone lives the same lifestyle that they do and that they are very blessed.”
Wilson added that the CRASH youth were so behind holding the work camp that one member even gave up a family vacation to participate.
“One of our local youth — his family had a vacation planned that week to go to Disney, and he told his parents that he was not able to go, that he needed to be at work camp. I think that has been such an inspiration and an example. He said he felt that God had spoken to him and said that he was to be at the work camp,” she said.
“During that week, there’s a ‘care card’ wall up, where you can write care cards to different people, and he wrote to me and said, “Because of this week, my perspective of God has changed and I understand Him a lot better now.’ That was really neat.”
Mariner’s congregation participated in various ways, as well, including the church’s prayer shawl team.
“We had our prayer shawl team here make shawls for all of the residents. They made over 100,” said Christina Wilson. “With each prayer shawl, every stitch that they make, they say a prayer for the person that’s going to receive that prayer shawl. Like I said, prayer was a huge thing that brought this all together — a huge thread.”
The week wasn’t all work for those who participated, though. On Wednesday the workers received a half-day break, and many traveled down to Bethany Beach to see the ocean.
“Some of the Midwestern kids had never been to the beach. So they kind of enjoyed themselves,” said Woody Wilson.
On Friday night, before the camp dispersed, an ice cream social was held at the school, for all the participants and local residents.
“The residents and the youth were hugging and laughing and crying and promising to write and visit. It was very, very heartwarming and touching how those received them and how they received the residents,” said Woody Wilson. “There were no reservations. It crossed all lines.”
Wilson said the vision and dream of the work camp was realized five years ago and took two years to plan. As of right now, the church does not have a date set for another work camp, but they do plan to host one again.
“We had to raise $40,000 to make this project happen,” said Christina Wilson. “The local businesses, social groups, community groups, other churches have all helped. It’s taken the whole community to make that week a success, so we’re very thankful for the community support. We’re very appreciative of the community and our church and the support that they were in helping make this happen. It took the whole community.”
Woody Wilson added that the entire camp ran on unconditional love and could not have been possible without God.
“Everything that was done was done out of the unconditional love that is shown to us, first by God, and then we did our best to reciprocate that,” he said. “We kind of followed that we were hammers and paintbrushes — the tools that were in God’s hands, completing what we were asked to do. That’s where the kudos and the glory should go to, is to God.”