Susan McDonnell Testimonial

Susan McDonnell Testimonial
from HoLH BOD meeting (conference call) on July 13, 2016

“Okay, great, thank you for the opportunity to join you in this call and your right it was a team of people.  A huge team of people, that came together in various ways that has enabled this work to be completed and we certainly appreciate Homes of Living Hope, your consultations, your process, your encouragement, and all of that was a great benefit to us.  We got involved, it has been a couple years now, it’s kind of hard to believe, when a member of our congregation came to us, he, Glen Herman, does these projects with his schools in New Jersey and came to us to see if we were willing to help out on his projects and we just liked the idea so much.  It really resonated with our council at the time and so we decided to take on an entire hanger project within our church and our community.  

I volunteered at the beginning to just sort of help out with communication and make a few posters, to be honest.  And it kind of just grew from there and into coordinating the work on the project as a whole and the work team.  We built the container over the course of a full calendar year, a portion of which was spent waiting for the weather to improve enough to do anything.  When the work was completed, we sent the containers to Life in Abundance in a community called Kisumu in the western part of Kenya and then had the unbelievable opportunity to travel to Kisumu, only about a month or so after the containers arrived in a final destination and able to connect with the community there and I’ll get into more of that later but that was just an amazing experience.  

One of the things we said from the very beginning, was our mission here at home was to connect our community, and connect people in our church to each other, and really the community at large through this opportunity.  We really liked the idea that you can make an impact somewhere else across the planet by being here at home, and in the process connect to each other through this service to God, and it really did turn out to be that way.  We had a group of people that did the construction itself and that varied depending on the skills we needed at the time but we were able to involve the children in the painting of the outside, and the men and women of the congregation.  We were able to bring in professionals from the community that volunteered, like electrical work or plumbing work or were donating supplies.  We were able to invite people or involve people that had no construction or handy man type of work into prayer or into the project or donating supplies or money for the project or bringing lunch to the workers or what not.  We had Girl Scout troops that collected soccer balls for us, we had the knit and crochet ministry of our church that put together some knitted items that we could include in the items that we packed into the containers.  It really was a very broad community effort and I was continued to be amazed at the level of support and publicity and broad range of visibility that we got in the community.  If anything will get visibility, it’s this giant painted container on the street.  We had some interest in the press and the uniqueness of the program itself and were able to make a lot of connections in that way.  

End of the project, when the container itself was finished and before we packed it, we sort of staged the medical clinic furniture and some of the donated items as we had envisioned it would be set up in Kenya.  We had an open house and set it up to look like the clinic and invited the whole community.  We had a picnic and a bouncy house for the kids and food and it was a beautiful day and the community came and walked through the clinic and we had a blessing ceremony.  The newspaper came and since then had gotten even more people that have called and said, they heard about it, and interested in helping out or even doing their own.  I’ve talked to two other churches since then that have started their own projects which is just wonderful.  At that time, we donated thousands of dollars to fund the shipping of the containers to Kenya and within about a week of that open house we had a segment that appeared on the CBS news in Philadelphia and within about a week of that, all the remaining money that we needed to ship the container was donated to the church and most of which came from people who weren’t even members of the congregation and haven’t even seen the container in person.  It was an amazing level of support and connection that we got just in doing the project here at home.

Yeah, I remember when you, Bart, came to visit us and talked about how meaningful it was to travel and how life changing it was to travel to the communities.  I was ready to go right then and there and have always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to go and when it came down to the end of the project there were several other people that expressed an interest in going.  We ended up with a team of seven people, all of which who have been involved some way in the construction of the container itself.  It was myself, our associate pastor and her husband, who is also a pastor of another church in Philadelphia.  Then we had a man named John who worked tirelessly week after week on Saturday mornings on the container, his daughter Amanda came with us, she’s in her early 20’s.  A colleague of John’s, who also worked many, many, many weeks with us, from the community.  He was not a member of our church but he was a member of our community and his nineteen-year-old son.  That was the make-up of the group of people, it was an interesting space experience as well because we were all coming from very different places in our faith journey.  We had two pastors with us, John is very science and nature in his career and is not necessarily a spiritual person or religious person, I should say.  His family are members of our congregation, he was admitting to not being very religious and his friend Rob is Jewish so he and his son were from that place.  I admit to being a little bit, not too sure about how this is going to play out because Life in Abundance is a big faith based organization and everything that they do is based in prayer and in faith and scripture and they reach out to these communities through the church, and for us to be immersed in that experience, I wasn’t too sure how it would go and if everyone was going to feel comfortable.  In particular, John and Rob.

Within 24 hours of us being in Kisumu, the first full day of us being there was Sunday so we spent the day in worship and it was a very moving experience on how they worshipped and how welcomed we were into their churches.  They asked us all to speak and we all did so we went to separate churches that morning.  The next day we spent in prayer, Monday’s is a day of prayer for Life in Abundance so we sat in a prayer meeting and every person there shared a testimony.  Within that short period of time, everyone was so comfortable and so welcomed that we were able to share our own personal faith stories.  John, in particular, was inspired to share the fact that he wasn’t so religious and was wanting to be genuine in that and someone else in the meeting, one of the local pastors in Kisumu, told us a story about he had grown up in the streets with nothing and had been saved and now is serving as a pastor and quoted a scripture that, “Do not despise yourself.”    I think that had spoken immediately to John, that there was no guilt necessary for anything, that we were all welcomed by God and by each other and he stills speaks to that to this day, about how, how much a relief that was for him and how he was so moved by that experience.  Rob also shared at that time, his faith, and that he wasn’t sure how he would have been received as a Jewish man in their midst.  I was amazed at their response, like I said, they were all just so welcoming throughout the week.  One women, I believe the wife of a pastor at the church we were in, said she had just been to a meeting where they have been asked to pray for their Jewish brothers and sisters.  Here in my church is a Jewish man and she absolutely felt like this was God’s doing, to bring the two of them together so they can pray together.  It really was an amazing experience, I never felt this genuine spirit filled hospitality that I felt there and we brought all those conversations back to our own congregation about how we can do things better here.  We have a lot to learn from their faith communities there.     

I really do and it went really beyond, there just connections on so many different levels.  The relationships that we formed in just working together and completing the task together and that fulfillment.  The connections we made with people we never even met that were willing and inspired to donate.  The connections that we made through the community and we had been praying in connect with Kisumu throughout the process, day to day they were praying for us and we were praying for them.  To walk into the community already having that prayer connection set up sort of instantly open some of those doors it was powerful and neat to people that we have been thinking about all this time.  We saw video of the day the container arrived and their community, the celebration and the prayers that they experienced when that arrived was just truly meaningful and emotional for us to see and I believe those connections will continue.  We certainly were able to connect with the people we traveled with but then to bring the stories back home from Kenya to our congregation here, has continued and we have with our congregation on new work occasions.  Absolutely the connections were very powerful and lasting and we discussed ways on how to continue to partner with Life in Abundance.

One other thing that stood out to me and that has come back from what you said when you visited us was, to trust in God’s timing on these types of things and as you have said in these types of devotions stuff that really the only thing that we can bring to these processes is our faith and we since our project took over a year to complete. We often got frustrated by that, had a very difficult winter and couldn’t work through the winter and a lot of delays in delivery of some things and shipping process and everything and it was a frustration on our part and it felt like we were letting them down and taking so long.  When we got to Kenya, we heard the story of their search for faith for their offices in Kisumu and how frustrated they were and getting a lot of pressure and they finally were able to find a place for their offices and very shortly thereafter they received a phone call that the container was on its way and it just so happened that the compound where their offices were, was the perfect place for the container.  Had all of these delays and frustrations had not happened, that would not have been a possibility for that container to go there so it brought to my mind immediately that the container arrived, when it needed to arrive and that part of the faith process was something that has always been a struggle for me.  To release that control and it’s in God’s hands and it was really meaningful to hear how that all worked out, how it needed to work out.”