Back Bay Mission service trip: Experience of a lifetime

The Alternative Break Trip to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, on March 4-11, was the 11th for a Heidelberg contingent. This trip celebrates the connection with the United Church of Christ that created both Heidelberg University and Back Bay Mission.

According to Chaplain Paul Sittason Stark, this year Heidelberg started an initiative shared by Back Bay Mission, the University and the national office of the United Church of Christ to expand the program by including other universities. Catawba College in North Carolina and Olivet College in Michigan joined Heidelberg in serving folks in Biloxi, Paul said.

Catawba and Heidelberg shared the same spring break and 27 students and staff members participated in the first full week of March. Olivet College just finished their week.

In addition to serving persons seeking shelter and food, the group also heard speakers from the area on topics of Racial Justice and the Civil Rights movement as well as Environmental Justice and global sea rise. “This, together with the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, with its focus on the history from slavery to mass incarceration, served as a great educational event for participants,” Paul said.

Kelly Devine, a Heidelberg alumna who lives in Biloxi, shared her sojourn from trips to Biloxi to now working for the Chamber of Commerce in Biloxi.
Seniors Lillian Whitcomb and Andre Navas led the trip for Heidelberg students. They planned and facilitated an excellent trip with 15 students and a few Heidelberg and Tiffin folks to assist.

“One of the takeaways from the trip is the understanding that people from most faith and philosophical traditions believe in serving other people--something that unites us all,” Paul said.

Here is a first-person account of the Biloxi trip, written by Andre Navas, a senior business administration major.

The Alternative Spring Break Trip to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, was filled with different incredible experiences. The trip not only will help us grow as individuals but also connect with others and create new things in common with the rest of the people you meet throughout the duration of the trip. 

Most people discovered how much they like helping others the way Back Bay Mission intends to. On this trip, most people enjoyed every single second of the experience and at the end of it, no one wanted to leave. This feeling of joy at the end of the trip is due to the connection built between the group and the experiences shared with one another. 

On the way to the mission, there were a couple of stops due to the duration of the trip. One of the stops was at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. In this museum, topics like slavery, African American history and prostitution are presented. The next stop was at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. At the Legacy Museum, African American history and its relationship with slavery is addressed to educate people. The information is greatly impactful and makes you reflect on every issue about slavery and social justice. Both of these museums are worthwhile and many of us left feeling like we needed more time going through them. 

At the Back Bay Mission, there are a couple of activities we performed to help people in need and difficult circumstances, or like the mission refers to them, “unsheltered people” in Biloxi. These activities are performed mostly in the morning, from 8 a.m. to noon, except for the day center which operates until later in the day. 

In the pantry, we helped provide food for people in need. The pantry is not open every day for everyone and during selected days, each person needs to select food for the rest of the week. Mostly, we packed their selected food. The day center fulfills other essential needs like showering or doing laundry for them. Clothing is also provided during a certain time for everyone. We also assisted the people in the day center to get their emails too. 

The day center is a great place to be in as we felt and saw the happiness most people have when they are there as they socialize with each other. It is great to see their joy when we interact with them by helping or just talking with them.

The next activity is called Loaves and Fishes, and in this activity, we helped prepare food for people in need and provided it for them. 

The last activity is not in the mission itself but in Biloxi. Volunteers get the chance to give a hand in helping to renew houses or sometimes build new houses. Most of us loved this activity as we learned new skills like making wood stairs or learning to paint the outside of a house. 

The trip was not all work. Since it is during spring break, the group finished its activities in the morning and had time for fun, leisurely things the rest of the day, like going to the beach, arcade games or a day trip to New Orleans or Mobile. 

No matter what activity you perform during your time at Back Bay Mission, you will have the time and opportunity of your life and you will feel like it. The only way to know for yourself if it is true is to experience it by yourself. 

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