Berks-based ministry blossoms by providing homeowners with property maintenance

Jul. 23—After giving a French pussy willow tree a major pruning in the backyard of an Exeter Township woman's mobile home, Mark Hile reluctantly took a water break.

The mid-morning Saturday temperature was climbing toward the 90s, but it felt a lot hotter, as evidenced by the sweat pouring from Hile's head.

But neither Hile, 66, nor any of the other half-dozen or so volunteers, including a few teenagers, were complaining. They were taking precautions, to be sure. They were under orders to take frequent breaks to drink water, and wear wet rags around their necks.

But to a person, the mission took precedence over comfort.

The group was cleaning up the yard of an older woman who lives alone and has sought the help of Mission Trip Birdsboro & Beyond.

There were similar projects going on at homes throughout the week ending Saturday, from dismantling and rebuilding a dangerous deck to general yard work and even some interior repairs.

Mission Trip started in 2014 as a ministry within St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Birdsboro. The idea was to go outside the church walls to help others while modeling what Christian love looks like.

"It feels like a very tangible expression of our values as people of faith," St. Paul's Pastor Margaret Ernst said.

The first year, Mission Trip had 25 volunteers who took on four projects. It has mushroomed to nearly 150 volunteers from nine congregations tackling 40 community projects.

Early organizers felt they didn't need to go to a far-off place to help others because there was enough need to be met in Birdsboro and the surrounding area, said Stuart Wells, coordinator.

Something as trivial as weeding a flower garden can have spiritual meaning to the given as well as the receiver of that gift of labor.

"It has much greater meaning than just the physical act of doing the work," Wells said. "It is uplifting and has spiritual importance for that widow who might feel forgotten or isolated from people."

As one of the project coordinators, Hile does a pre-visit with homeowners who have signed up for help. Some of them, like the Exeter woman whose yard they cleaned up Saturday, are recurring projects, and as a result relationships have formed.

Hile said it's not uncommon for him to stop at a house for a pre-inspection and end up there for 45 minutes because the homeowner is so thirsty for conversation with a caring individual.

"You come to the realization that the projects we've done are a small part of the impact you have on the homeowner," he said.

Hile has been part of the mission since it began. He's one of two-dozen volunteers from his small congregation, St. John Hill UCC in Pike Township, where he resides.

It was the third mission with the Birdsboro-based group for Henry Smith, 17, a Boyertown High School student.

He didn't mind weeding and flower beds in the hot sun because he knows what a difference the work has on the appearance of the home.

"I really enjoyed looking at what the site looks like when we get there and seeing what it looks like when we leave," he said.

It was the second mission trip for Julianna Keller, 15. Last year, she said, she was so tired after a day or two she couldn't wait for the week to be over, but in the end was proud of what she had accomplished.

This year, she had a better idea what it was all about.

""I just like seeing the smiles on the homeowner's face when they come out and see the giant change that you accomplished," Keller said.

She added that she had a chance to talk one-on-one with some of the homeowners, all of whom have been most appreciative, she said.