By Hannah Povroznik
One may walk a thousand miles but never really start the journey. It is only when the heart makes peace with God’s direction that the greatest expedition unfolds and the realization that every twist and turn along the path has a purpose. This past June, thirty-seven members of the Bridgeport United Methodist Church volunteered to share the love of Christ with our brothers and sisters in Charleston, South Carolina. During our week, we fused into a group of God’s warriors who brought light and love to all those we encountered.
A typical day of Sunday worship was beginning; however, it was not an ordinary day. Church members gathered around a bus, loaded luggage and tools, and prepared for an experience of a lifetime. Once the bus was packed, the missioners joined family and friends for the morning service. During a designated hymn, the mission team assembled to be commissioned for the journey. The steps from the church pews to the alter were extremely significant. In our hands, we carried two pairs of shoes. One pair to donate to an organization called Soles 4 Souls. The other pair was our own. Humbled by our many blessings, we left the church barefoot to experience how something as simple as a pair of shoes could transform a life.
Although there were numerous special moments to remember, a few activities highlighted the trip. One began at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources where our team assisted in the building of an oyster habitat. Most of the coastal areas of the state are home to banks of pluff mud, a thick, oozy mud native to the area. When oysters land in the pluff mud, they sink into the muck and are unable to survive. Oysters serve many important functions including filtering water, acting as an erosion barrier, and providing an ecosystem for a multitude of species. To aid oyster survival, the Department of Natural Resources has been creating oyster habitats with mesh bags of recycled shells. Volunteers, like our group, may take part in bagging the shells or constructing the reefs. Our team formed a zigzag line to transfer approximately three hundred 25-pound bags to a boat. Although this may not seem like a daunting job, the sharp shells beat our skin and faces. Once the shells were loaded, the group cruised across the lake to the designated location. We cautiously stepped from the boat and quickly sank to our knees in gooey mud! We struggled against its quicksand-like grip to keep hold of our shoes. Again, we formed a human chain to pass the sacks of shells to the leaders of the group who constructed the reef. For the remainder of the day, our clothes and shoes basked in the mud’s distinct sulfur smell from the marsh life decaying within.
The team’s most inspiring and educational day took place on Bulls Island, an undeveloped barrier island within the Cape Romain Natural Wildlife Refuge. Upon our arrival, we boarded a white ferry named Caretta for a 45-minute ride across the South Carolina saltmarsh estuaries. As the boat navigated through fields of Spartina grass and brackish waters, we learned about the importance of maritime forest and freshwater marshes for a variety of animals. From the boat, our group spotted a stingray and loggerhead turtles surfacing in the waters. When we arrived on the island, we set out with garbage bags in hand for the beach sweep. Because this is a private barrier island, debris gets carried in from the ocean’s current. We removed plastic bags from the sandy beaches and rusted crates from the shorelines. There is an overwhelming beauty on this island with its pristine beaches teaming with sea creatures like whelk, sand dollars, and horseshoe crabs. Our service was a crucial step in keeping water resources healthy and the habitat safe for estuary wildlife.
One of the most sentimental moments of our mission trip was the beachside campfire on our final night. The starry sky and crackling fire enveloped our senses as we savored the moment and reflected on the friendships we formed. Circling the fire, hand in hand, we sang hymns to the Lord. As our mission trip concluded, we walked away feeling thankful and blessed. It was God who called our hearts together to be transformed by the experiences in Charleston. As we continue to walk with God, may we find balance and faith in our steps and remember that great journeys are not founded by a single leap but by small steps of courage and hope. May we take each step as if barefoot being thankful for our blessings. Wherever we go, may our footprints leave a lasting imprint on the hearts of those we encounter.
Hannah Povroznik is a 15 year old sophomore at Bridgeport High School, active in youth group at Bridgeport UMC, and helps lead VBS.