By Stan Schwartz
VANDALIA—The outside of Willie Davis’ house was in need of repairs, but the funds he would have used to fix it up went to pay for his daughter’s funeral. For the people at Trinity Klein Lutheran Church, this was the opportunity for them to step in and lend a hand—actually, several hands.
High School students who attend the church were in town from Klein, Texas, with their chaperones to assist in the project to replace Willie’s front porch and add a wheelchair ramp.
Right after lunch last Thursday, the students were finishing their devotionals and joined in prayer before getting back to work. Piled out in front of the house were the remains of the old porch. The students were well on their way to completing the project under the guidance of their chaperones.
With them were youth Pastor Lee Hopf and Rector Morris Fee. Hopf has been a pastor at Trinity for five years.
This is Fee’s 44th camp, helping out with the various build sites.
For years, Fee was a design engineer for Caterpillar, but his degree was in agriculture.
“I built my own house,” he said, “so I’ve got some skills I’ve acquired over time.”
Hopf said they would be lost without Fee’s expertise on construction.
Fee came over from central Illinois to assist the youth camp in their summer project.
“Typically,” Hopf said, “all the crews are mixed around, but because of COVID we kept our churches together at the different work sites.” Hopf’s group was just one of four crews working in the area.
The crews have worked on 22 homes in Vandalia during this Camp, Lee said. Hopf said Davis’ house was the biggest they tackled, so far.
“We have a total of about 220 students” participating in the camp this year from Lutheran churches out of Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas, Hopf added. The Texas group traveled the farthest. They were being housed at Mexico High School. In fact, he explained, they were supposed to work in Mexico last year, but the pandemic shut that down.
“This organization is Group Mission Trips,” Hopf said, which is based out of Colorado. Lee noted that the camps have been run for more than 40 years. Hopf added that they hold multiple camps during the summer.
Rush Hill Community Church in Mexico, is the local sponsor for the groups who came to participate in the camp.
“They have gone on group mission trips themselves,” Hopf said. “They said we needed to do this in this area, as well.” Pastor Bob Stanford and the entire church congregation have been supportive, he noted.
“They are the ones who coordinate the houses (that are to be worked on), the work, the materials needed, and things like that,” Hopf said. “They are pretty cool,” added. “This is my third camp, and they have been outstanding. They’ve been coming to see us and bringing treats.”
He added that Rush Hill had been trying to get homes in the area worked on for three years. Not enough people signed up in 2019 and the pandemic shutdown 2020. So, by 2021, they were ready to get started and so some good work repairing and fixing up homes in the area.
“They picked the projects that certainly had the most need at the moment,” Hopf said.
When Hopf spoke with Davis at the site, he learned that Willie’s grandparents had raised him in the house.
“And that’s why it’s so important to him,” Hopf added. After his daughter’s funeral expenses, Hopf said, Willie didn’t have the funds to make the repairs on his own.
“That’s why we’re happy to be here to help,” Hopf said. “We want to make that a reality for him.”
Out of the more than 200 church members working in the area, Hopf said, his church had 26 students and seven adults who made the trip from Texas. Other churches, he noted, have bigger groups. Most of the crew are high school student, but Hopf said they do have some college-age participants. At age 21, they become chaperones.
“It’s just really cool to come together—all because God has given us the talent, the hands and the feet, to do His work.”
During the first day, he said, they removed the old porch. Day two, they replaced the posts. Day three they were adding the wheelchair ramp.
“I’m learning so much from Morris,” Hopf said. “He’s a blessing. The students are learning pieces, too. And my favorite part is you learn that you are far more capable of things than you think. ”