Paul Vomhof repairs a home in Cape Girardeau, Mo., while on a mission trip with SEMAC.
Paul Vomhof repairs a home in Cape Girardeau, Mo., while on a mission trip with SEMAC.
The Rev. Dennis Timmerman of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Spring Valley, his wife, Jane, and Paul Vomhof, a member of Our Savior's and Southeast Minnesota Active Christian (SEMAC) construction and home repair group worker, joined 18 other area residents to travel to Cape Girardeau, Mo., during the first week of February repairing homes for people in need of a helping hammer.

"It works out that if somebody's going down, they find someone else who's going down to work, and we usually stay at churches," said Wykoff resident Vomhof. "My brother Larry organizes the trip, then we get together and get our tools and equipment, and if we don't have something we need, we can rent it. Originally, on this trip we were going to go to Joplin, Mo., but the organizers in Missouri wanted us to send the framers to go somewhere else, across the state, so we decided to go to Cape Girardeau instead of driving across Missouri."

The group, comprised of workers from Spring Valley, Rochester, Fountain, Golden Valley, St. Charles, Chatfield and Jane's friend, Annie, from Wisconsin, stayed at Centenary Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau during the mission trip to help an area that experienced flooding in 2011. It's "a very modern church" with amenities to accommodate mission workers who collaborated with Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Disaster Services and Catholic Charities to bring hope to homeowners in distress, what the Timmermans and Vomhof called "a truly ecumenical effort" since the denominations each had something to offer.

Jane said of the Methodist church building, "It was quite a church...it had the chapel, a preschool, a family life center, it had a full commercial kitchen, showers, a walking track and a fellowship hall. The church was so modern that when we were trying to go to sleep at night, we'd roll over and the lights would go on." She enjoyed using the commercial kitchen, as she was one of the cooks serving breakfast and dinner each day, which the ladies and gentlemen in the entourage appreciated.

Vomhof complimented her, saying, "We ate well when Jane was cooking."

The average day began early, before the sun got out of bed. Dennis stated, "We had breakfast at 7, devotions at 7:30, and by 8 we were going out to the job sites. We were usually back by 4 to 6 that evening, depending on the jobs."

Those who were normally early risers got up before Jane and the rest of the cooking crew, making coffee and chatting before the work began.

"We were working on houses in Sikeston and Cape Girardeau, doing different kinds of repair, like flooring, installing bathroom fixtures, drywalling, tearing off drywall and old roofs, putting new roofs on, doing electrical work," said Timmerman.

Vomhof recounted, "There were four or five different jobs going on each day - we had groups going to the different job sites."

The pastor stated, "The people we were dealing with didn't have the resources, so we were working with Habitat for Humanity and Catholic Charities. They would provide the resources and an amount to help people get back on their feet."

Vomhof added, "We wanted to be able to help the people who needed help, and some have limited funds, so we did the best we could with what they had. One house we worked at tearing off the old roof on one side, we had to decide what to do because one side was okay and the other was just terrible, so we did what we could with the side that was worse. Another house we spent time at, there were pieces of sheetrock falling, insulation falling down, just awful. Sometimes we have to decide to fix what's really bad, and there are other things that we should fix that we just can't in the time we're there. We want to make it better than when we came there."

Before departing for a mission destination, the mission workers let the coordinators and local organizations handling their arrival know what talents and skills each person has so that the time and energy available to make a difference for homeowners isn't wasted. "The group has electricians, handymen, carpenters, a guy who does tile floors. We let them know what kind of projects we'll do so that we haven't come all that way just to stand around. We split the talents of the groups, usually bring a trailer full of tools, bring stuff we need, and some other guys bring the rest," said Vomhof, a veteran SEMAC missionary. "We've got some really talented problem solvers who can figure out a lot of different things. There's been a lot of different projects where they've talked with each other and been able to fix something that wasn't in good shape. A lot of times, too, there are brothers working together, nephews, fathers and sons or daughters, and everybody adds something to the equation. And on one trip, there was an 87-year-old man whose house had nothing working, and he was determined to work alongside us, which he did. I felt bad because his house was falling down."

Dennis noted, "One of the places I was at was owned by a couple with three small children, and we were there a lot, so they asked if we wanted pop and brownies. He worked with us for a while. It was neat that one of the people we were working for wanted to help. The house had had several feet of water in the basement, and they were gone at the time it happened, so they came back and found their stuff floating. We worked on putting a new floor in and new fixtures in the bathroom. A couple other people were working at that place that had gotten there before we did, and the kids came in and wanted to play with them. It's fun to interact with the people who are getting help."

At the end of each workday, the missionaries came back to the church, had supper, played cards, read, had fellowship, caught the news on television and got ready to take on another day. Vomhof recounted, "The first night, when we got there, it was Super Bowl Sunday, so we went to Buffalo Wild Wings, then came back and watched the rest of the game at the church."

The trio agreed "there was a lot of fellowship time" during the evenings, time when they learned about one another's experiences and hopes for the journey. Vomhof observed, "We go and we realize that we have so much to be thankful for. It's so rewarding knowing that we're able to help people."

Plans for SEMAC's trips typically are made in September or October, when Vomhof's brother Larry "gets a good idea where we're going...he likes that we're often working with Habitat for Humanity.

"We like to get there about a year or two after the disaster so that we're in the rebuild stage, and we like to have someone like Lutheran Disaster Services or Habitat for Humanity to coordinate with. We usually go at least once in the wintertime where there's been a disaster. We've been to a number of different states. I've been to Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and several different places in Minnesota, like Rushford, Hammond and Mazeppa. January and February are a good time to get out of Minnesota and since a number of the group are self-employed, they can take time off. A lot of times, they'll tell somebody about the trip and those people will want to go. New people go every year. We seem to have every type of person, talent, skill and ability."

The most important influence on the mission, however, is God himself. Vomhof recalled how, on one trip to Biloxi, Miss., the pastor of the local church organizing the mission work spoke of "seeing the face of God" in the disaster and that the upheaval happened only to help people understand what His face looks like. "We had people who were sent to the wrong address, and there was a couple there who were really depressed. Their house was a mess, but it was the wrong address. The people on the trip came in and talked with them, and they found out that if they hadn't come to that particular house, the couple might have committed suicide before anyone got there. There's story after story about how God put people where He wanted them to be, that what happened was actually an act of nature, but this - helping people - is an act of God."