I'm posting this a few days late because I have been sleeping non-stop since we returned from Pittsburgh on Friday! I'll be writing this as if it was written Friday night, because it just makes more sense that way.
Today was our last day in Pittsburgh! It was a bittersweet morning. The boys had just begun to really open up and let loose. For the first time, they were hanging out with friends from other churches more than they were with each other. They had a competition going over who could get the most phone numbers to keep in touch throughout the Summer.
Our time at The Pittsburgh Project was short this morning. It mainly involved breakfast, packing, and cleaning! Our last morning Club centered around a video of all the various work groups and homeowners. Some students bought one, so be sure to watch it with them! I am putting together a video of our week together; it will be done this week!
We were out the door and headed towards downtown by 9:30. We landed at the North Shore, which gave us some great views of major Pittsburgh landmarks, including both Heinz Field and PNC Park. There is a really cool wading fountain where we dipped our toes for a little bit. We walked along the North Shore towards the Roberto Clemente bridge, which took us downtown. A quick Starbucks stop was quite welcome by then!
We proceeded towards Point State Park, or as Pittsburghers call it, "the Point." This is is where the three rivers of Pittsburgh come together. The Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers join to form the third river, the Ohio. There is a giant fountain that shoots water 150 feet into the air, a major landmark for Pittsburgh. The Park is on historic grounds - home to two pre-Revolutionary forts, Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne.
We walked back into downtown for lunch at a Pittsburgh classic, Primanti Brothers. It is world famous for it unique and humongous sandwiches, which come with french fries, coleslaw, and a fried egg piled on top! It's as delicious as it is filling. If you're ever in Pittsburgh, make it a priority!
Bellies full, we kept walking towards Station Square and the famous Pittsburgh incline. After making across another bridge, we waited in line for about a half a hour to ride up the incline. What's an incline? Great question. It's basically a trolley car that goes straight up the side of a mountain. They were originally built in the 1800s for commuters coming from Mt. Washington (overlooking Pittsburgh) to their jobs in the city.
It was a pain to wait for the ride in the heat, but the outcome is worth it! We got an amazing view of the city. A great send-off for a great week. We took the subway back to the bus - we were exhausted! Five hours later, we were home on Kent Island! It truly was an amazing week. Please continue to pray for our students. A mission trip can be a life-changing experience, but that it is up to them to embrace the truths they learned and apply them to their lives as they get back to "normal". Pray that normal would not be the same. Pray for a new normal defined by a radical love for Christ and service in His name, for His Kingdom!
Today was our last day working in Mrs. Aliene's home! In reality, we had very little left to do in her yard, so we spent the majority of the day helping another group with Mrs. Cora's house, who lives two doors down from Mrs. Aliene. Our main task was painting her fence and foundation, but we also did some weed-whacking.
The cats were herded much easier today! The guys did a great job of staying on task and getting the job done. I think a lot of it had to do with the ice cream they were promised at the end of the day! We went to the Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh for Starbucks and ice cream. Oakland is home to a couple of colleges, including University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Duquesne. Also in Oakland is the church where our TPP speaker, Dennis, serves as pastor. They just moved into a new building, so we stopped by to say hello and check it out.
Our evening was packed full today! It started with pizza in the park on the North Shore. We had a great time just hanging out together in the community. We headed back to TPP campus and had discussion groups, wrapping up our impressions from the week. Our final Club was fantastic. I'd like to take a minute to just summarize what we learned this week about the Lord's Prayer.
Many of us have the Lord's Prayer memorized and have no problem rattling it off. But how often do we stop and truly think about what we're praying? We started by focusing on just the first word - "our." We tend to think of faith as personal and possessive, but it really can be communal. We experienced that firsthand this week, growing in our faith side-by-side. Second, "Father." Jesus says God is OUR Father. We are brothers and sisters with Christ and with each other. When we come together, we are spending time as a family. It's a beautiful picture of the Church.
"Give us this day our daily bread." This is a foreign concept to us. I've been considering buying a deep freezer for my garage so we can keep food longer. When's the last time you wondered where your next meal would be coming from? Not just deciding between pizza or sushi, but truly unsure of when you would be able to eat again? A culture that celebrates hoarding is at odds with the Kingdom of God. We must fight to live a life, not necessarily of poverty, but that challenges us to put ourselves in a position where we NEED God.
"Forgive us our debts." We have a balance to pay, and our checks of penance aren't going to cover it. Thankfully, Jesus Christ paid for us in full when He died on the cross. We must call on His love and His sacrifice to pay our sin debt. "As we forgive our debtors." So many of us carry baggage from wounds inflicted on us by other people. We will experience true freedom when we offer up forgiveness and put our pain in God's hands.
We had a great conversation tonight about how to take these truths and continue to apply them in our lives at home. It can be discouraging to come down off the "Jesus high" of a mission trip, but we can still cling the things that God has spoken to our hearts. Please pray for our students - that the way they've experienced God this week would not just be a fun memory, but a turning point in their lives, when they began to live completely sold out for Christ.
You could see it on the boys’ faces this morning at breakfast. The reality has set in that this is a week-long trip, and the majority is still ahead of us. Today’s challenge had less to do with the actual tasks and more to do with herding the cats to actually do the tasks. We worked so well yesterday that we left little for us to do today.
The highlight of the work day was the very first thing we did - taking care of those pesky bees. We brought a can of bee-killer spray and used the whole thing. Stay tuned for the hilarious footage of 13 year old boys acting like 4 year old girls, screaming and running for their lives. We also made a trip to Home Depot to get a few bags of mulch. Aliene’s garden beds look great!
Every Wednesday at the Pittsburgh Project is Homeowner Night! Every staff member says it is their favorite night of the week, and for a good reason. Every work group invites their homeowner to come back with them to TPP’s campus for dinner and Club. We get a chance to say thank you to them, and they get a chance to thank us. Many tears and hugs are usually shared! Aliene was kind enough to join us tonight, and we were happy to play host to her.
We’ve been talking about Aliene all week, I figure it’s time you learn a little more about her. Aliene is an 86 year old widow, who lives in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. The Hill District was once a mecca for jazz musicians, who defined the neighborhood with their art. Today, the jazz clubs that once lined the streets have either been boarded up or torn down and replaced with row houses. The neighborhood has aged along with it’s people, and many are living in poverty.
Aliene and her late husband built their house in 1971, and have lived there ever since. When her husband fell sick 10+ years ago, her daughter Joelle moved in to help take care of him. Since he passed, Joelle stuck around to help her aging mother. Fast forward ten years, both Aliene and Joelle are living with cancer. Joelle does not seem to be doing well with her pancreatic cancer, and relies on Aliene heavily. Aliene’s leukemia is progressing very slowly, and she remains quite active and nimble on her feet. She has been doing as much weeding as the rest of us, and she even demonstrated how to work the power edger!
For 44 years, Aliene has called this her home, but she can no longer keep up with it while taking constant care of her daughter and herself. [ENTER]: the Pittsburgh Project. A home is a point of pride for many, and seeing it crumble around you is demoralizing. TPP restores the dignity and humanity by making elderly people's home a safe and comfortable environment for them. We are so proud to be a part of that this week. It has been wonderful to get to know Aliene and to serve her by taking care of her home.
We have one more day of work ahead of us! Since we are nearly done with our projects at Aliene's home, we'll be helping the group nearby with some yard work and painting. Please continue to pray for us! Specifically, pray for Brett, as he has been feeling under the weather since around dinner time. He has been sleeping it off and improving, but we know that God can bring him complete restoration!
Our first day of work is in the bag! We started bright and early with a 7:15 am breakfast. Waffles, eggs, sausage, and cereal gave us the start we needed for a full day of activity. Today was the most difficult day for getting on the road, as we had to gather supplies before leaving the Pittsburgh Project. It can be tricky to know what we need before starting the work, but the Project has an amazing work crew that handles much of that for us.
TPP’s crew visits each of the homeowners that they will be serving, plans out the projects, and sets the expectations for what the various groups will be able to do each week. Some homeowners have multiple crews come throughout the Summer, but others, like our Aliene, may only have one week’s worth of help.
We have three main tasks this week: 1. Yardwork. Cutting the grass, weedwhacking, trimming some bushes, etc. 2. Painting her railing. It is rusting and peeling, and needs to be cleaned and repainted. 3. Repairing her cracked sidewalk. They gave us a jackhammer. Yes, really.
Once we arrived at Aliene’s home, we said good morning to her and jumped right in! We made quick work of the bushes and began working on the fence. Part of the fence had been overgrown by a shrubbery, which we quickly learned contained a bee’s nest. Thomas was the first to discover this… the hard way. Will wasn't far behind. Tomorrow, we're bringing bee killer spray with us.
Much to your relief, I'm sure, we decided not to fix the sidewalk after all, which means no playing with the jackhammer. The sidewalk was in much better shape than previously thought, and we discovered that we needed permits from the city to do the job.
We finished early enough to go get some ice cream! We tried going somewhere downtown Pittsburgh, but there was literally no where to park the bus. So we went a little closer to home and found an amazing local creamery. While eating our ice cream, we were approached by a homeless man, whose name we learned was Michael. He was incredibly friendly, respectful, and thankful. We spent about a half an hour with him, buying him lunch and an extra t-shirt and hat. We had only introduced ourselves once, and he remembered most of our names a while later! By the time we parted ways, we knew our names well, even when we tried to trick him.