Mission Trip to Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church
Gatlinburg, Tennessee

October 1–6, 2017

Gatlinburg – Day 1, October 1, 2017

Greetings y’all, from the Mission Trip Members working in Gatlinburg, Tennessee!

Thankfully we all arrived by Sunday evening without any mishap and started our time together with a traditional Southern dinner . . . at No Way Jose’s Cantina. Well, it was delicious Southern Mexican cuisine.

Monday morning, well fed and semi-well-rested, we were ready to begin our first workday. We divided into three groups: “The Chain Saw Gangs” (each one armed with three chain saws to help clear some property), “The Let’s Ramp It Up Gang” (tasked with building a disability ramp for a home), and “The Picture Perfect Framers” (charged with putting up the outside stud framework of a hillside home). Suffice it to say, curious readers, things didn’t quite go as planned.

I’ll begin with the Framers. More workers, fewer tools meant several of the gang members were put to work pulling out tree roots and grading a hillside. Having proven that they were crazy enough to accept any challenge, they then moved on to digging a drainage ditch and filling it with gravel that had been shoveled into a bucket and carried to the ditch. Mary Spencer, Pastor Jay, Edco Bailey, and Fletcher had the brains . . . and skills to work on the framing. Building their muscles with the heavy labor were Elisa McClelland, Lucille Baur, Alexandra Parker, Dinah Jones, and Bob Aldridge. (We have three Bobs on this trip, including former member Bob Beard.) But enough about those frisky Framers, read on to hear how the other gangs fared at their job sites.

The Rampers (Amy Jackson, Abby Lindstrom, Maxine Aldridge, Bob Beard, and Russ Madsen) were tasked with laying out a disability ramp for an 82-year-old woman’s home at the top of a hill.  We arrived to find that there were no supplies or plans for the ramp. We were then going to work on a punch list that we couldn’t find, so we used our own vision to finalize items:  painting and clean-up of trim, hanging of ceiling fan lights, and hanging of outside lights. We had the chance to meet with the owner’s brother. He mentioned that he was one of 12 siblings who had spent most of their lives on the hill. It’s amazing how many cement foundations were visible without the houses that used to stand on them. Now, to hear more from the Chain Saw Gangs.

Two Chain Saw Gangs (Todd Chapman, Art Eisenhour, Dave Francis, Diane and Sam Glasgow, Fred Hebdon, Matilde Hernandez, Jimilee Kalu, Elena Leon, Sandra Menzies, Stuart Morrison, Karen Smith, Charlotte Spencer, Charles and Marjorie Tanner, and Bob Wasik) began the day with a total of six chain saws. If three were working at any given time, it made our day. In spite of the challenges, 20 trees were felled – hickory, maple, cherry, oak, locust, and poplar. Even more importantly, we all finished the day with all of our fingers, toes, and extremities intact.  One of the homeowners is an 80+-year-old artist who built three houses: one for grandparents, one for his parents, and one for himself. They all were lost in the fire along with all of the neighbors’ homes. The toll from the fire is not only the physical loss, but also the emotional loss related to losing material possessions as well as friends and neighbors. The grieving process included expressing anger about not having been warned to evacuate. We are thankful that we had the opportunity to show God’s love through listening.

Gatlinburg – Day 2, October 2, 2017

Welcome back, faithful mission trip blog readers. Day 2 brought us beautiful weather, just as we understand you are having back home. Today we broke up into four groups: Framers (not to be confused with farmers), Painters, a smaller Chain Saw Gang, and the House Siding Honchos.

Today’s group of Framers was composed of Fred, Fletcher, Mary Spencer, Abby Lindstrom, Pastor Jay, Bob Beard, and Edco Bailey. Full disclosure: some of the nails didn’t go where they were supposed to go, but most did and the framing for four interior walls was completed. The homeowner had been steadily working on this home for quite a while now and came to help. The sun made this roofless site very hot and the team actually drank every bottle of water they had brought with them. They were very pleased at the amount of work that they were able to accomplish. Mary and Abby held their own with the guys as they expertly wielded the framing nailer—if you don’t count the wall that they accidentally nailed to the floor. Not a single bandage was required.

Today, for the first time, we had a Siding group: Bob Wasik, Karen Smith, Sandy Menzies, Russ Madsen, Diane Glasgow, Amy Jackson, Matilde Hernandez, Elena Leon, and Dave Francis. When they arrived, the siding was there, but first scaffolding needed to be erected. Four team members got to work on that project, while the remainder of the team cut and installed pickets on the railing of a handicap ramp. Those two projects took all day. Russ wants to call his team’s work “Pickett’s Charge” (you have to be a Civil War buff to appreciate that reference . . . take some extra time when you finish reading this blog to look it up.) Later in the day, the homeowner arrived—a proud disabled Marine veteran, Oohrah! He and his wife had gone to Maryville to escape the smoky air and therefore were unable to save any of their belongings. Unfortunately, the fire department had not thought that it would be necessary to evacuate, but the 80-mile per hour winds changed conditions dramatically. He and his wife had left at 11:00 a.m., and by 2:00 p.m. their house was gone. Not only was it great to meet and get to know the homeowner, the team also enjoyed meeting his service dog, Tank, who is as wide as he is tall and loved the petting attention that our team was more than ready to provide.

Another new group today, the Picasso Painters—headed by Charles Tanner, Marjorie Tanner, Dinah Jones, Maxine Counihan Aldridge, Alexandra Parker, Jimilee Kalu, Lucille Baur, and Elisa McClellend—started their day off wandering the hills of Gatlinburg looking for their property for the day. They soon discovered that there is something special about the ups and downs here in the Smoky Mountains: our GPS units and map applications don’t always lead us to the correct location. After a couple of false stops, the group finally arrived. Once there, they had the opportunity to meet a couple of volunteers from Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville. These two men were part of a larger group that had started framing and putting up the house over the summer. The only work left for our group to do was the prepping and painting of the outside of the house, and we were quickly on the job—squatting, standing, and climbing ladders to caulk and paint the outside of the house. Following the shade from the sun, we managed to nearly complete three sides of the house. And we can proudly say that there was more paint on the walls than on us!

Today’s Chain Saw Gang included Art Eisenhower, Charlotte Spencer, Stuart Morrison, and Sam Glasgow. Only the strong survived from yesterday’s two groups. This mighty foursome took down half a dozen trees and cut them up. And everyone came home with all of their fingers and toes intact! A special component of today was getting to know the homeowner. He is an architect and was not at home when the fire reached his property. He literally lost everything but still manages to tell some great stories, one of which we shall call “The tale of the architect and the two bears.” On one occasion, he was outside and came face to face with a “really cute” 250-pound female bear. He started gingerly backing away but she then advanced rapidly toward him. He backed away even more rapidly and when he clapped his hands she got really annoyed and advanced even faster. He managed to get back to his house just in the nick of time and avoided certain injury. Another time, while he was doing yardwork, he saw a bear that was taller than he was, even though it was sitting down. He dropped his lawn cart and that attracted the bear’s attention, causing it to stand up and tower over him. The homeowner said that it was the tallest and ugliest bear he had ever seen, but it started backing away, which allowed him time to get back inside his house safely once again. He looked out his window and saw that the bear was scratching its back on a tree trunk and appeared to be in complete ecstasy. He laughed for 15 minutes watching the bear. Even the tales of the two bears are not going to be enough to scare our fearless team from coming back tomorrow.

Who knows what tales, trials, and triumphs are in store for us tomorrow. Dear readers, you will just have to wait and see!

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Gatlinburg – Day 3, October 3, 2017

Is it really Wednesday already? This is the traditional hump day, when the aches and strains have kicked in, but we’ve gotten into a rhythm.

The Soffit Cutters, Trim Staining Crew, and Picket Line Group:  As soon as Mike, our sarcastic homeowner, his wife, Diana, with a broken arm, and Tank, their Brindle Terrier, arrived, Karen Smith and Diane Glasgow led a prayer circle. We cut 40 vinyl siding pieces, stained all of the ceiling and window trim, installed more than 80 more pickets on the wheelchair ramp, and then topped off the day by moving 22 knotty log siding boards. Tomorrow we hope to complete the deck railing and start attaching the pine log siding. The best part was that Mike agreed to meet a case manager at MountainTough.org this morning! He thanked Diane for jogging his memory about them, after resisting the suggestion yesterday. He will get help with insulation, will receive good, used furniture, and plans to attend a fire survivors’ support group at an Episcopal church in Gatlinburg.

The fearless Framing group continued to frame. I’ve always heard measure twice, cut once. This morning we measured approximately 27 times, then cut, then kept measuring, and discovered that we had a busted tape measure. After Fletcher chucked that out the window, the measurements lined up and we got the wall up between the master bedroom and the second bedroom. After lunch, we put up several more walls, and the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms and adjoining bathroom began to take shape. We hope to finish framing the rest of the interior walls tomorrow, as long as our math skills and supply of two by fours hold out.  (At one point, Abby ran off with some studs—interpret that however you like.) As we finished our lunch and talked with Nole, our homeowner, he brought out pictures of the devastation of his house after the fire. He lost everything, including thousands of dollars worth of tools. We also learned that he installed all of the stained glass in the Sanctuary of the church we are staying in. We’re really hoping that he can join us for dinner tomorrow night, to meet the rest of our group and show us the stained glass.

The Chainsaw Gang added another member today. Bob Beard and his chain saw joined the group! The gang cut up the two trees that came down yesterday and cut down six more trees. These were also cut up and carefully placed on the growing woodpile. We waited all day for the splitter to come and demolish the pile, but it never came. We have decided this was our last day as The Chainsaw Gang! The trees on the almost vertical hillside are a little too hard to get to, and planning where to cut and where the tree will hopefully fall is too uncertain.  We had a great time and it was wonderful being in the beautiful, quiet woods (quiet when the chainsaws were not in use!). The Chainsaw Gang will join other groups tomorrow, sans chainsaws.

The Fun Bunch Painters began the day painting the outside of our house a fashionable beige with white trim. To keep spirits up, we sang camp songs (oh, no!).

After lunch we sang show tunes. We had the house 85% finished by the end of the day. White trim will be the project tomorrow. By special request, no music is planned.

Can I get an “Amen” for our cooks! Who said an army travels on its stomach? It wouldn’t be a GPC Mission Trip without the wonderful culinary contributions of our volunteer cooks. This time around, dazzling us in their aprons and mismatched socks, we have: Ella Bastine (Bob Wasik’s cousin), best friend Carol Bunch, Cecilia Bailey, Mel (I’m not afraid to wear a frog apron) Reid, and contributing her own personal spices and select pots . . . former member Jean Beard! Not only is the food delicious, but it’s liberally spiced with their own brand of hilarity (plastic cockroaches by the food and snakes in our bunk beds). They’ve all added measurably to our waistlines and our hearts!

So that wraps up Day 3. Hope you’re hungry for more news tomorrow!

Gatlinburg – Day 4, October 4, 2017

Day Four—same as the first, a little bit louder and (maybe) a little bit more organized.

The Fearless Framers were joined by another group of five people for about 30 minutes. Then we decided that we had just too many people in a small space (that was getting smaller as the walls were going up) and they moved to another site. We walled off all 3 bedrooms, including lots of detail work with 3 closets and headboards. Then we installed 4 support beams across the ceiling, which took all hands on deck because those things are super heavy. The beams really stabilized the house, and we’re all happy with the 16 interior walls that have gone up so far. No tools were chucked out the window, and all fingers and toes are accounted for, so it was a good day of framing.

The Superb Siding Team actually nailed log siding three-fourths of the way up one side of Mike Morgan’s house today, thanks to reinforcements: Art Eisenhour and Stuart Morrison assisting Sandy Menzies and three volunteers from Fort Wayne, Indiana! The deck rail and picket team—Russ Madsen, Dave Francis, Amy Jackson, Karen Smith, and Bob Wasik—installed about 50 additional feet of railing, cut pickets, rails, 5 6×6 posts, and top pieces today. After lunch another team of volunteers from Knoxville and Fort Wayne arrived and installed insulation in the basement! Yeah! The expert staining team—Matilde Hernandez, Elena Leon, Charlotte Spencer, and Diane Glasgow—put a finishing coat of natural stain on all the ceiling molding, and stained a bathroom door and one side of 8 folding double doors for closets. We had a prayer circle with Mike and our combined volunteer teams.

The Picasso Painters had a full day! We started off a little early, and some of us were able to see a raft of wild turkeys in our homeowner’s front yard—an exciting start to the day! Later we broke out into the show stylings from the hit musical Hamilton, which helped move the work along as we climbed up and down extension ladders or braced said ladders. There were some difficult places to reach, and late in the afternoon Elisa proposed that we make a faux scaffolding using two ladders and two 2×4’s. Charles, Marjorie, and Maxine made it work, and the challenging area was bypassed. The group goal was to finish the remaining painting today, and we almost made it. Tomorrow we will finish painting the front fascia and soffit. I think we’ll make it before lunch.

Before the homeowner spaghetti dinner tonight, the Gatlinburg Presbyterian Church sanctuary was opened so that we could view the Tiffany biblical stained glass windows, which are over 100 years old. (To see them, go to gatlinburgpresbyterianchurch.org.) A church in Chattanooga donated them to this church after that church “went belly up.” One group’s homeowner, Noel, who is over 80 years old, began installing them in 2006 with cherry frames. How amazing!

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Gatlinburg – Day 5, October 5, 2017

All of the PDA mission teams have had the most productive workweek ever! The “before” photo from Tuesday is attached to remind everyone how much we accomplished!

The Awesome Picket team finished the wheelchair ramp, side deck rail, and pickets and almost finished the log siding on one wall. Woo hoo! Thank goodness!

Three of the Expert Stain Master team members returned to Maryland on Friday morning. Thank goodness, three volunteers from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, offered to help Diane stain, so three doors, one cabinet, and the remaining ceiling molding were finished before 1:00 PM! Woo hoo! Next week new volunteers can finish the rest of the staining and will tile the kitchen floor as well.

The Picasso Painters finished painting the exterior, caulking, and trim. And they sang the Hallelujah Chorus when they finished!

The Fabulous Fearless Framers finished most of the walls except for a few short walls in the kitchen because they ran out of wood and nails.

Our final prayer group with Mike included prayers for healing of severe back pain and for encouraging medical tests.

Diane Glasgow, Mary Spencer, Alexandra Parker, and Jean Beard explored the Gatlinburg craft fair, which gave Diane some ideas for enhancing greeting cards to benefit Lesotho orphans.

Friday night, 21 of us PDA volunteers and Bill (our volunteer contractor) and his sister and nephew celebrated with trout, ribs, or steak and salad for dinner at The Park Grill, a wonderful lodge near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The lodge was built with gigantic old-growth spruce logs from Idaho; the restaurant website (parkgrillgatlinburg.com) has excellent photos.

We thank God for such beautiful weather all week—cold nights, a full moon, sunny days—and for willing hands. Some teams worked with highly involved homeowners who, despite the trauma of losing everything that meant so much to them, the inconvenience of replacing important records and dealing with difficult insurance companies, are keeping faith, hope, and laughter.

God works in mysterious ways to bring groups of volunteers to help these victims of fire and wind. We pray for the restoring power of God’s love and compassion and that those whom we’ve helped may find strength and comfort in these days of rebuilding.

We look forward to returning to Gatlinburg in the spring of 2018!

Thoughts from Chuck Tanner:  This mission trip to Gatlinburg has been notable to me for several reasons, and I wanted to let others know how special it has been for me. I suspect there are others who feel the same way. First of all, we were blessed with a wonderful team to paint the house on Beanstalk Court. Alex, Elisa, Dinah, Maxine, Lucille, Jimilee, Marjorie, and I looked for the house on Tuesday morning and we finally found it! Second, we had the materials we needed waiting for us. Third, the task was limited, and one that our team could handle, since many on the team were skilled painters. Fourth, we thought we could finish the project before the end of the week, and we did! This is the first time since Marjorie and I have been making these trips with GPC that we were able to finish a project! And it looks nice. Today’s posting contains a photo of the “Final Five” who were able to put on the finishing touches on the house this morning. As we say in Honduras, “Gracias a Dios!”

(Note: Charles and Marjorie Tanner are members of Christian Community Presbyterian Church in Bowie. They are friends of John and Kay Travis and started going on our mission trips with us many years ago.)

For information about participating in the Spring 2018 trip,
please contact Pastor Mary Beth Lawrence or Mary and Bob Wasik.