By Linley Wartenberg
MINOT The words emblazoned across Pastor Mark Bernthal's shirt sum up the mission of St. Armands Key Lutheran Church: "God's work, our hands."
Ten pairs of those hands traveled 2,175 miles from Sarasota, Fla., this week to Minot in order to assist in the rebuild.
It's the second team from Florida that's volunteered through Hope Village this summer, but St. Armands gets the nod over Shepherd of the Hills for the team that traveled farthest to assist Minot. SAKLC is about 100 miles farther away than Inverness, where Shepherd of the Hills is located.
The Sarasota team worked in flooded homes and at Christ Lutheran Church.
Lynn Blackledge helped put together the team in February. She and her husband Steve had been working out west in national parks when the 2011 Souris River flooded in Minot, and when she went looking for a mission trip for the church's Son Servants group, she remembered Minot.
A talk with Michael Stadie of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America organization further pointed her to Hope Village.
"He said it was all so organized and that it would be a good way to introduce the servant ministry," she said.
So Blackledge found Hope Village's web site and Facebook page and started following the progress of the rebuild in Minot.
Planning for the trip started in January, and the team held two benefits that raised about $5,000.
Although some members' reaction to the thought of a service project in Minot were in the vein of "North Dakota? Where's that?", the church has a large base of snowbirds from Minnesota who were familiar with Minot.
Blackledge started a blog, saklcminotservants.blogspot.com, and started promoting the trip in the church's newsletter and website.
"We had a lot of interest," she said. "We had six others who wanted to come, but the timing didn't work out."
The group of 10 learned that they would be hanging drywall and took a class at Home Depot to sharpen their skills. They also installed shelving at Christ Lutheran.
Once in Minot, the team also presented the Recovery Warehouse with a check for $4,000 for the purchase of materials for flooded homeowners.
Although the team volunteered through Hope Village, its members opted to stay at the Staybridge Hotel at Blackledge's suggestion.
Four of the team members, she said, spent time two years ago working Suriname and their stay was less than pristine, so, even though the accommodations at Hope Village include air conditioning and hot showers, they decided to splurge and cash in frequent-stay points.
All its members attend St. Armands church, but some winter in Sarasota. Those members of the team traveled to Minot from other areas.
The Blackledges came from Florida, but wound their way through Chicago, where they visited both Stadie from the ECLA and family members. Roger Arnholt, a retired pastor, rode his motorcycle from Sarasota for the duration of the trip. Other members came from Colorado and Indiana.
Christ Lutheran Church was severely damaged in the flood and multiple teams have come through to assist in the rebuild. This week, SAKLC worked alongside Mission Builders, another ministry of the ECLA.
Blackledge said that nearly 40 percent of Christ Lutheran's congregation was affected by the floods, and many are still in the rebuilding phase.
"Having some parts of the church usable again will be a great relief because [Pastor David Maxfield] knows God has a plan for this church within this growing community," she wrote on the team's blog.