A group of teenage girls from Iowa sat at a folding table in the Margate Community Church hall last Wednesday during its weekly potluck dinner.
Seated with them were several members of MCC's congregation, mostly senior citizens, who were asking the girls questions about their visit to New Jersey, such as their favorite part so far and how they have been spending their days.
Katie Davis, one of the girls, said seeing the ocean for the first time in her life was amazing, but her favorite part was helping to rebuild the houses.
"After I heard about Hurricane Sandy, I said to my pastor, 'I need to go there. We need to help,'" Davis said. "The feeling you get from helping someone who has lost so much is just indescribable."
After Hurricane Sandy hit, the Margate Community Church congregation decided to transform part of its building into a hosting facility for mission groups coming to the area to serve.
They renovated the Sunday school classrooms on the second floor to create sleeping quarters, added new bathrooms with showers, created a lounge with Wi-Fi and cable and established a weekly potluck dinner to encourage the congregation and missionaries to connect and share stories.
There are two rules during the dinner - wear a nametag and sit near someone you don't already know.
MCC doesn't organize the trip, it only hosts and supplies the weekly meal.
"When we went to all of our mission trips, the thing that really stood out to us was the fellowship, the community that existed between us and the host churches, and so we wanted to replicate that," said Bill Schweitzer, a member of MCC's own mission group, which includes about 20 members of the congregation.
Schweitzer, of Ocean City, and his wife, Karen Morelli, who chairs MCC's mission group, traveled with the church to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to Texas after Hurricane Ike and to Alabama after tornadoes.
"When Sandy hit, we felt that the mission trip had come to us," said Schweitzer, who was in attendance at the potluck dinner.
MCC's mission group proposed the idea for MCC to become a host church to its congregation at large. The mission group also donated the funds it had saved for its next trip to kick off the project of converting the church into a temporary livable space.
Also as part of the project, MCC committed itself to hosting mission groups for two years, with a new mission group or groups visiting about once per week.
Last week, MCC hosted two groups, one from Wheatland, Iowa, and another from Lynnefield, Mass.
Lynne Forgione, of the Massachusetts group, said serving in New Jersey has been an amazing opportunity, particularly for the teenagers in her group.
"I get emotional when I see the kids coming together - their from different worlds, teenagers from Iowa and teenagers from Massachusetts, but they are working together to help people rebuild their homes and their lives," Forgione said. "They met the homeowner of the home they've been working on in Atlantic City today, and put a face to the need. My hope is that this will make an impression on them, and in the futures, they will continue to give back."
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