Saturday, June 28, 2008

Words Work - Part 1

This article first appeared in The Heads' Letter in October 2000. I hope it provides food for thought as the summer begins.

I guess it all began when my wife and I exited a summer Sunday church service a year ago, and simultaneously responded in conversation to the minister’s words. Talking about the virtues of lending a hand to those less fortunate by providing service was his message, and the experience he and his wife shared in a week-long work project was how he demonstrated his belief. You know how ideas and good intentions come and go; his words did not leave us, instead they persisted to inspire us.

Work a week during the summer? That’s when we cherish our time together doing what we want to do, recuperating from our work and profession. People would be suspicious if we admitted that we squandered a vacation week laboring. Nevertheless, throughout the fall and into the holiday season the summer sermon stayed. After choosing Habitat for Humanity and investigating using the internet, we made contact with a chapter in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. “You want to spend a week with us in August?” was the initial response of the volunteer coordinator, in spite of the fact that he was pleased and excited about the prospect of having two workers at his disposal for one week with no strings attached. Frequent flier miles, a rented car, a local bed and breakfast and minimal living accommodations made it all very affordable.

Central Illinois is very flat and from 12,000 feet above, the checkered carpet of corn and soybean is arranged in perfect one-mile squares. The University of Illinois looms like an oasis in a desert and is responsible for the twin city’s airport. Retrieving a duffel bag packed with work clothes and a book bag stuffed with our summer reading, we marveled at the difference between our layover airport, O’Hare, and the simplicity of our destination airport, Willard.

Before having dinner with our Habitat coordinator, who was an employee of the university, we walked across the street from our B&B to marvel at the size and beauty of the university. How can one school educate over 32,000 students—the population of a good-sized town in Connecticut? After dinner we toured the area looking at many of the 19 beautiful homes this Habitat erected during its 10 year existence; and before turning in for the night, we went to his car where he gave us his tool box, camera and cell phone—all necessary to complete our assigned tasks. Talk about trust!      To be continued . . .

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