Sharing the stories of the people of Faith Presbyterian Church
Stories from the 2018 Keys Mission Trip
This summer, Faith sent an inter-generational group to the Florida Keys to repair/rebuild damage caused by past storms. Some members of the team have shared their experience with us by answering a series of questions.
1) How did you know/decide that you wanted to go on this mission trip?
Pat Farrell: I usually go with the youth on mission trips. However, this year there was no specific youth trip so I volunteered to go on this inter-generational trip which included a number of youth. I always receive a blessing from serving, particularly beside the young people of our church. I was reminded that I always get more out of service/helping others than I give. I was surprised at the level of loss to the homeowners we helped, who likely had no insurance. The people we helped were very much in need and extremely grateful. They worked side by side with us. All the team members worked extremely hard and it was a joy to get to know each of them.
Malikah Woody: I have wanted to participate and go on a mission trip for a few years, ever since joining Faith. However, the dates of the previous trips were in conflict with other commitments that could not change. The Key West mission trip fit perfectly with the schedule the boys and I had for summer 2018.
Shannon Guse: I went because there were so many youth attending.
Doug Williams: I felt God's calling. Wanted to help others.
2. What did you learn on this mission trip?
Pat: I was reminded that I always get more out of service/helping others than I give. I was surprised at the level of loss to the homeowners we helped, who likely had no insurance. The people we helped were very much in need and extremely grateful. They worked side by side with us. All the team members worked extremely hard and it was a joy to get to know each of them.
Malikah: I learned that I still have a good amount of physical stamina and that I love mission trips! As I get older, I can feel the changes in what I'm able to do physically (and mentally). The Key West trip largely consisted of spending all day working in hot homes or in the sun. Despite the heat, and despite pain from a recent injury, I was able to sustain activity all day, each day. Before actually doing it, I wasn't sure I'd be able to. I learned about the lives of my fellow team members and got to know them more intimately. It was such a joy growing closer to everyone. I had never been to Key West before, so I researched a little before the trip. I learned about the history, the culture and the politics of the area. Then, I witnessed evidence of those things once we were there.
Shannon: I was so impressed by the Habitat foreman who didn't even blink when we messed up. They were so grace-filled . . . and sometimes we screwed up big time. I was also surprised by the faith that the homeowners had. I'm not sure I would have stayed after a complete loss.
Doug: I learned that helping others helps me to understand their needs. I met church members I had never met before and learned who they are. I learned the need for homeowners to have help.
3. What was you favorite part of the trip?
Pat: The hospitality shown by Pastor NeeCee in not only opening up her church, but also her home to use. She was amazing. The Habitat for Humanity staff, particularly the workers, were wonderful. They showed patience and kindness to us as well as to the people they served.
Malikah: One of my favorite parts was watching my children work. Watching them take pride in the work they were doing and observing them develop an appreciation for the spiritual fulfillment that comes to us when we do for others. I absolutely loved the location: amazing sunsets, beautiful flora, incredible beaches, friendly locals, tourists on bicycles everywhere you turn, delicious food and much more. Dinner with Ms. Norma's friends was definitely a highlight of my experience and it was moving. They opened their home to us so that we could take showers and provided us with traditional home-cooked Filipino food in addition to fellowship. Ms. Niecy, the Pastor of the host church, truly showed us love through her actions. She cleaned the fellowship hall in preparation of our stay, gave us a tour of her church, and walked the surround area with us, sharing her knowledge and insights. I still keep in touch with her, and hope to have made a lifelong friend. The Habitat team demonstrated tremendous patience and grace with us! They taught us many skills and were very forgiving when we made mistakes. I think the entire team was thankful for their guidance and welcoming nature.
Shannon: My favorite part was getting to know church members in a new way.
Doug: My favorite part was seeing our group work together and become unified.
4) What was the hardest part of the trip?
Pat: The heat and humidity during the work days and the long drive to Key West.
Malikah: There was not a hard part for me, but if I had to choose something, it would be the physical limitations that I had due to a back injury the week before we left. The pain kept me from doing as much as I had hoped to do, but looking back, I believe everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to.
Shannon: The heat and humidity during the work days and the long drive to Key West.
5) Was there an experience that surprised you?
Pat: Our visit with Norma's friends from the Philippines. They opened their houses, showers and kitchens to us and cooked a wonderful Filipino meal for us. It was a wonderful expression of Christian hospitality.
Malikah: There were no surprises for me.
Shannon: Our visit with Norma's friends from the Philippines. They opened their houses, showers and kitchens to us and cooked a wonderful Filipino meal for us. It was a wonderful expression of Christian hospitality.
Doug: Group unity.
6) Was there a moment where you saw God?
Pat: John from Habitat at our first stop, a/k/a Santa Claus during Christmas, was a God moment over and over. He was always kind, patient, even-going, helpful and caring. He showed God's love on a daily basis.
Malikah: I felt God many times and I think the people we helped saw and felt God through our presence and through the work we did and the love we shared with them.
Shannon: The grace the Habitat workers showed us when we screwed up.
Doug: Feeling the homeowners' appreciation for the work we were doing.
7) What is God teaching you as you have returned to Tallahassee?
Pat: Many people suffer losses through no fault of their own. We, as Christians, are charged by Christ to help wherever and whenever we can. I am also practicing patience.
Malikah: God is teaching me to be more grateful, to be at peace (not worry), and to show an abundance of grace to others.
Shannon: Gratefulness, patience, trust.
Doug: To see members of the team that I didn't know before.
8) What about this trip will stay with you?
Pat: All the members of the team who I got to know and work beside. We ate. slept, and worked together. It was a wonderful group.
Malikah: What has stayed with me thus far is the joy of simplicity, the satisfaction found in hard work and the soothing effects of a God-focused community.
Shannon: The group's energy and love for the church.
Doug: Visiting Key West after 50 years.
9) How did God change your view of the world?
Pat: It is always eye opening to me when I go on a mission trip to see how much work needs to be done to help/serve others. I have been on many mission trips, several throughout the U.S., but I'm always struck by the work to be done here in our own backyard.
Malikah: I don't know that my view of the world has really changed, but my view that we are all one human family was strengthened.
Doug: How nature (God) works within the environment that is constantly in struggle.
10) How did your understanding of God change?
Pat: God is a "big" God. He/She can accomplish a lot if only we allow Him/Her to lead us.
Shannon: I'm not sure my view changed, but I was reminded that there are people who trust God completely, in a way I'm not sure I can ever achieve.
Doug: Reinforms me that God is always with us.
Stories from Faith Preschool Teachers
From Jen McConnaughhay, the newest preschool teacher:
Faith Preschool is such a special place. Our girls went to Faith and we could not have been happier. I love the way this school loves the whole child. The teachers here at Faith realize the importance of family and do a wonderful job of getting to know the whole family as well. This allows us to help even outside of the classroom when needed. I love that the preschool is affiliated with such a strong, supportive church. I love that we can openly talk to these beautiful children about our Lord and how much they are loved by God.
I also love that Faith Preschool recognizes that all families are different and that is okay. We may not all look the same, but that is what makes us each special. When doing art the other day, I asked a student if he would like to make a picture for both his Mom and Dad, and he immediately said yes and became very excited. This sweet student's parents are not together; however, both can now enjoy his beautiful art work and he can see how much he is loved by each of them. This is just one very small example. I have also seen Beverly provide a scholarship to a single mother who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to send her child to Faith Preschool. When this mother became ill, the preschool provided additional support and love. I have also witnessed this amazing group of teachers provide a very generous Christmas for a single mother and her three children. As you can see, this is a pretty amazing place.
My favorite part of my job is all the hugs I get from these sweet little ones. I love to see their eyes light up when we praise them. I love the way they come in excited to learn. I love sharing the word of God with them and then watching them care for one another. I also love that my job doesn't seem like work. I am also extremely lucky to work with Teresa Hamrick, who is a fabulous teacher and so caring.
Working with these amazing little people helps me see God on a daily basis. I love seeing the world through their eyes. Their smiles and excitement light up the room. I see God when one student leans down to tie another student's shoe who doesn't know how. Or when one student recognizes another student's sadness and sits down beside them to help. Working with these kindergartners has helped me slow down, smell the roses, and enjoy every minute. I love my job!
From Lark Mott-Smith, our longest-serving preschool teacher:
Faith Presbyterian Preschool and Kindergarten is a unique school that is set apart from other schools. You'll see this just be walking down our hall. Our class composite photos dating back to the 1960's line the walls. Precious children, for sure, but what you don't see are the stories that are left behind.
I began teaching Pre-K at Faith in 1981, a young mom with a one--year-old, a degree in Early Childhood Education from Florida State, and a passion for children. The parents at Faith were mostly older than me, and if any of you who are reading this are one of those former Faith parents, thank you. You were my mentors. Years passed, two more children, a Master's Degree, and you became my peers. We commiserated. Faith parents continued to support our school with their time, gifts, and service. They supported our staff in years passed, and we grew as an outreach for the church to our community.
Faith is a school that we can be proud of thanks to our director, Beverly Sims. Beverly recognized, years ago, the value in pursuing the NAEYC accreditation. She led us through this, sometimes challenging, process of attaining the highest quality of early childhood education a school as ours can attain. Her positivity and diligence trickled down to all the staff. We persevered through the process and were awarded the National Association of Educators for Young Children accreditation. Every five years since, we have renewed this.
Our classes are full at registration as we welcome families touring our school with an open door policy. Waiting lists are the norm. Faith is a special place. As the song we sing in chapel says, "The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is the people." The school is not just the classrooms, teachers and staff, or even the credentials. Our school is a coming together of families, parishioners, and the community with the common goal of providing the best early childhood experiences we can for our children, our future.
As we reach into the community, my experience is that the community comes to us. A few years ago, a young mom, husband incarcerated, raising 3 children, found herself in our parking lot with a broken down car. We often chatted at God's perfect timing as her daughter was awarded a full scholarship to Faith, and graduated from our Kindergarten. They came one of our Angel Tree families at Christmas. Mom's illness was discovered one morning as she leaned against my door after dropping her daughter off. We called EMS and had her quickly to the hospital for care. Over the years, we've shared the joys of new babies, but also the sadness of loss. Losing a child through illness or death has also been a part of our outreach. We've rejoiced as well as mourned with families. Due to the tragic death of one of my former students, a father, in his grief, found his way to Beverly's office. His daughter was a teenager, but Faith was a place of solace, and the door was open. We've hoped for pennies to help a student with a frightening childhood cancer, and provided prayers and meals for families facing loss and divorce.
Now that I am a grandmother of seven and have watched my own children and grandchildren receive the benefits our school has to offer, the favorite part of my job has changed. Being a fly on the wall for little Mott-Smith's was truly a gift, but that part of my life has all too quickly come to an end. If you haven't visited our garden, you should. There is no subject that cannot be taught in a garden. A child whose hands are covered with dirt will also have his/her serotonin levels raised, as will the teacher's! The Eastern bluebirds nest nearly every year and the Fairies moved in several years ago. If you have an interest in gardening or feel called to be a Fairy Godparent, your Eden awaits.
It took me a few years, maybe a few decades, but I now recognize God has a purpose for each child that walks through my door. Sometimes the reason doesn't appear until they return as a parent themselves with a little one, but more so, it is because our family of Faith will become a refuge for a difficult year. Trying family relationships affect children more than meets the eye, and when parents are struggling, getting the child to school may be the best they can do. Hungry tummies, forgotten lunches or jackets, are the result. Conferences often become times of offering a lending ear, words of encouragement and hope. We agree to pray together over the year. I am always amazed by what God has in store. I am no longer the youngest teacher on staff, I am more of the grandmother. By the grace of God, I am still here to see His work in action. It takes Faith Preschool and Church, children, parents and grandparents, teachers and staff, to continue to accomplish the task that was begun so many years ago through your church. I trust that whoever walks through my door has been sent for a reason. We are all blessed through His purposes. Faith continues this work everyday a child walks through the door.