Multigenerational Mission Trips: Q&A with Christ Memorial

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How multigenerational mission trips provide opportunity to grow together as a church family.

Kurt Jostes, Camp Restore – New Orleans: Please go ahead and introduce yourselves and your age, if that’s OK with y’all.

Tony: Hi, My name is Tony Avina. I’m 61… plus.

[Others] …Are you 62?

Tony: In two weeks.

Jenna: Jenna Callahan, and I’m 21.

Wil: Wil Kolnik, I am 56.

Madison: Madison Bick, I’m 22.

Scott: Scott Mertens, 54.

Kurt: Great! So, who would like to share the background story of how y’all first got involved serving with us in New Orleans?

Wil: Christ Memorial’s senior pastor during 2005, pastor Jeff Cloeter, was just installed at our church in June before Katrina. So, he served his vicarage at Trinity Lutheran in Baton Rouge, had contacts, and our first trip that he organized was in November of 2005. And then in 2006 he organized another trip because his first call to our church was as youth pastor, so we had 20 or 30 youth come back in June of ’07. In ’08 we weren’t sure where to go, for some reason we didn’t know Camp Restore existed, so we were contacted by a team in Baton Rouge to do a Habitat build. And then I was surfing around, trying to figure out, OK, where are we going… and found Camp Restore, and have been addicted ever since.

On the first two trips we… it’s pretty amazing – we had homeowners who were doing a lot of the work themselves, so some of the team was helping them put their drywall back up… about four or five feet… and other groups were mucking out houses, with the oil that was… pretty scary stuff. But we’ve always managed to have a team that’s done construction.

The interesting part of coming down here is… what I know now compared to when we first came down is immensely more. Not only do you learn things at Camp Restore that you take home and use, but you learn things at home that you bring down to Camp Restore and use. I mean, it has to be a God thing. It’s just amazing how it works. We’ve done stuff we would’ve never [imagined]… putting rafters on a tornado-damaged home on the second floor… we did it! It was fun and we’d do it again!

Scott: On that first trip my daughter Rachel came along as well, so she had been here before I was, and she came back and was telling me everything that she had observed and what was going on down here, and between herself and Wil, they convinced me and got me into this, and as Wil said, it’s kind of an addiction… God has given me a talent, he’s given me something that I do well, and I really feel strongly that it is something I need to share. That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back.

The way we are treated here at Camp Restore is just phenomenal. Between the cooking of Mrs. Lorraine, when we had Walt here as construction manager, just everything that goes with it, and then meeting the actual homeowners and taking a moment to hear the stories that they have and just letting them talk… I don’t really know how to explain how it makes me feel, but it’s something that I feel strongly enough about that I need to come back again and again for.

Kurt: In addition to the core work, what are some aspects of taking a trip together like this that you’ve found valuable?

Scott: In years past we’ve had a wide spread of ages, usually an older group – 40s and 50s, but we also had some youth in their teens. I’ve had two daughters down here before, Jenna here and Maddie were teenagers when they came down here with us, and it’s actually given me an opportunity to really get to know them on a different level that what I knew them before, prior to coming down here. To me it’s a lot of fun to be with them.   

Jenna and Madison: Awwwww!

There are people that I would probably have never walked up to at church and said, ‘Hi, I’m Wil, how ya doing?’ But now you walk up to them every Sunday and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ You find out what their life is about while traveling together, while you’re working together.” -Wil Kolnik

Jenna: I would say that coming down with this group of fathers, we call them our Camp Restore Family. They’re all of our dads. I would say that it just gives you a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. The support that you get from them, and then you learn all these neat things, and then meeting the homeowners. They’re just so thankful that we’re down here, and with us being younger, they’re sometimes surprised to see us working on the houses and doing construction things. That’s really neat to me – how they see us and appreciate what we’re doing. That’s really huge to me.

Madison: Like Scott alluded to, it roots your intergenerationality, kind of, because you talk about how for a church how it’s significant… how it brings youth back, yada yada, but I think this actually gives a face to that whole notion.

Wil: When you drive here for twelve hours with whoever you’re with and then drive back twelve hours, and spend five full days with them, you get to know each other, unlike going to church every Sunday for an hour or two. There are people that I would probably have never walked up to at church and said, “Hi, I’m Wil, how ya doing?” But now you walk up to them every Sunday and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” You find out what their life is about while traveling together, while you’re working together. I highly recommend it simply for that aspect of it. Like I told the team, “I’m not here to crack the whip and make you work… I’m here to figure out…”

[Chuckling amongst the team members]

Wil: Well, it’s in my brain… that may not be how it’s INTERPRETED… My take is, we get done what we get done. There’s always surprises, so we roll with them, but getting back to getting to know those people at church that go with you… there was a gentleman who wasn’t a member of our church who came along. That’s really an interesting aspect of it. Found out that Tony and I are fraternity brothers at the same college – didn’t know that before we came down here.

Madison: At the same time? Were you there at the same time?

Wil: He was enough years ahead of me that we didn’t know each other. I thought I saw his picture on one of those wanted posters…

Madison: HA! Stop! HAVE YOU SEEN THIS FRAT…

Wil: Maybe a few unpaid fines… I’m not sure…

Volunteer Wil Kolnik takes a break at a home restoration worksite in New Orleans, June 2019.

Wil Kolnik (photo courtesy Madison Bick)

Kurt: I see y’all every year for a week, so tallying it up we’ve spent a couple months over the years… dozens of meals… When you guys first came down you were in high school…

Jenna: Eighth grade!

Kurt: It’s cool to watch people going through life together, from our standpoint. We get to see the whole country all the time. You know, there’s this quiet gap in the calendar before ▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆ gets going… you guys have this sweet spot figured out…

Wil: It’s by design… [laughs] The reason for that is there’s less competition for the tools…

Jenna: And the showers!

Kurt: Smart. So, some pro tips!

Wil: Don’t publish that!

Kurt: Ok, redacted, redacted. Well, I know the Blues are about to play [in the Stanley Cup Finals] so this is an important evening for y’all. Is there anything else you want to share?

Jenna: I definitely feel like I’ve grown personally throughout the years. The first time I came down here I was probably in seventh grade and came with Camp Wartburg and so we did a lot of the community stuff which was neat to see. Then, coming back again and again as I’ve grown up, and like I’m married now… it’s a lot different… I feel like I’ve grown just by talking to the people here. Even just seeing the homeowners and hearing what they’ve gone through, just knowing that I get to help them – its something that keeps me coming back. It’s just like part of my life now, I just expect this week. OK, it’s New Orleans week!

Madison Bick and Jenna Callahan work to finish a floor-tiling project at a home being restored by volunteers through Camp Restore - New Orleans.

Madison Bick and Jenna Callahan (photo courtesy Scott Mertens)

Scott: One of the things that I find surprising to me, and I guess it shouldn’t be as much so, is when I tell people what I’m doing, what I do when I’m here, why I’m coming. The response over the past four or five years already has been, “they’re still rebuilding from that?”

It’s amazing how many people outside of New Orleans have no idea any more that the need is still there, and they don’t understand why they aren’t farther along… they don’t understand they didn’t have flood insurance and are living paycheck to paycheck and are scrimping and saving to buy building materials to get their homes restored.

Kurt: It’s like the 80-20 rule… 20 percent takes 80 percent of the time, and vice versa. 

Volunteer Scott Mertens at a project site in New Orleans during a multigenerational mission trip in 2019.

Scott Mertens (photo courtesy Madison Bick)

“When we come down here as a group, we are like a family. It’s a second family for us, and you guys are a third family for us.” -Scott Mertens

Scott: It’s interesting you mentioned family, and Jenna mentioned family, and when we come down here as a group, we are like a family. It’s a second family for us, and you guys are a third family for us. Come Monday morning, when breakfast is being made and I walk around that corner and I see Mrs. Lorraine and she comes over and gives me a big hug because she knows who I am, that is so rewarding to know that we have made an impact in your lives as well to the point that you remember us and pretty much know to expect us every year in June.

Kurt: It does feel like family reunions now more so… I don’t know, there isn’t another description that works better! Probably should start sending y’all Christmas cards…

Scott: That’s OK, I don’t send Christmas cards.

Kurt: I want to be respectful of the time, as I know the Blues are warming up right now and y’all are pretty stoked… so go Blues and thank you so much for sharing this time with us!

[Everybody] Thank You!

Editor’s Note: The Blues went on to win the 2019 Stanley Cup, continuing a long tradition of sports championships achieved by the hometown teams of volunteer groups present at Camp Restore while the championship is in progress. Is Camp Restore a good luck charm? Past “coincidental champions” include: Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Baltimore and New England. And now, St. Louis.

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