This summer, two teams from Concord Presbyterian Church in Waterloo traveled on mission trips, one to Joplin, Mo., and one to the small Central American country of Belize.
Joplin was devastated two years ago, on May 22, 2011, when an EF-5 tornado tore through town, leaving 158 dead and thousands injured and homeless.
Belize, nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, has nearly 20 percent unemployment currently, including nearly 30 percent of women.
The team who went to Joplin — Konrad Kloos, Ron Jones, John Stitzel, Pastor Bill Thomas, and Noah Thomas — spent a week working on completing a new addition of a women’s shelter for Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission.
But for both trips, their real mission was to find ways to connect with members of the communities.
“As much as the mission needed the work done in their facility, they encouraged us just to sit and talk with someone more than to do work,” Bill Thomas explained.
At the end of the project, the Concord team had unused funds left from donations from the congregation, which they gave to the mission to combat one of their greatest problems — bedbugs.
“The Joplin trip was a humbling experience,” Kloos said. “It showed me the brokenness of people and also the riches of God’s goodness and mercy. It taught me to treat people with respect and dignity, to build up, encourage, and love one another, and not to think too highly of myself.”
The needs in Belize were not too different from Joplin. The team helped built an addition to a church’s Sunday School, and hosted a Vacation Bible School for children.
“They really are a wonderful people,” said Belize team leader Adam Sweatt. “We really learn as much from them as they learn from us.”
Traveling to Belize were Sweatt with his wife, Dawn, and their youngest son, Reid; Pastor Will Hesterberg; Melissa King; Shelbi Westmoreland; Bob Byrd; Jane Grove; Darby Nugent; Jennifer McManus; Josh Nurnberger; and Laura, Josie and Luke Berkery.In Belize on a mission trip to build an addition to a church Sunday School, the group from Concord Presbyterian Church in Waterloo is, from left, standing, Adam Sweatt, Pastor Will Hesterberg, Melissa King, Shelbi Westmoreland and Bob Byrd; seated on bench: Jane Grove, Dawn Sweatt and Darby Nugent, with Jennifer McManus to the side; and on the ground: Josh Nurnberger, Reid Sweatt and Laura, Josie and Luke Berkerey. (submitted photo)
Concord has had a relationship with Ebeneezer Presbyterian Church in San Jose, Belize, for 10 years.
“They’ve kind of become our sister church,” Sweatt said.
The people of Belize live in a country with one major source of jobs — grueling work harvesting sugar cane — and virtually no social services to help those cope with the common problems of modern society.
One focus of Concord’s work there is to help them find ways to be independent, often through microbusinesses.
“We want to help in a tangible way,” Sweatt said.
The main fundraiser for Concord’s mission trips is a large trivia night held every spring. This year’s was the most successful yet, according to Sweatt, and the people of Joplin and San Jose, Belize, will reap the rewards for a long time to come.