Pete Feil • Derry Member

In June 1989, 20 members of Derry Church went on the mission trip to Yonkers, NY. The names of some people in this photo have been lost to time. Here are the ones we can identify: First row: Bill Daniels, Maggie Becker, Marion Alexander, Glenda Speicher, Blondie Ferguson, Marcus Geist. Second row: Charlie Koch, Claudia Holtzman, Pam Garver, unknown. Third row: unknown, Fred Speicher, unknown, Dale Ferguson, David Reinert, Paul Reinert.          

Just over two months ago, Derry concluded its collection of the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering (OGHS), exceeding the goal of $19,000 by more than $1,000. At Derry, this offering is shared equally with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and Bridges to Community (BTC). You might ask, who is BTC? In our 300th anniversary year, what is the history of the connection between BTC and Derry and how has this played out over the years? 

The story begins with Derry member, the late Dr. Jack Hewlett. Jack’s cousin, Rev. Bill Daniel, was a Presbyterian pastor who had a project called SWAP (Stop Wasting Abandoned Property) which was rehabbing burned-out rowhomes in Yonkers, NY. A mission project began in the late 1980s with Rev. Daniel and many people at Derry. SWAP quickly became Sweat With a Presbyterian in the Derry vernacular! Many of the people moving into the rehabbed apartments were from Central America. In the early 1990s, Rev. Daniel decided to move to Nicaragua to see if he could help improve their living conditions. He was joined there by another Presbyterian pastor in a series of public works projects, which then developed into the organization known as Bridges to Community. Derry maintained contact with Rev. Daniel and BTC projects over the years. In fact, Derry helped buy a white Kia truck for BTC use. 

Fast forward to the turn of the century. Derry’s Mission & Peace Committee (M&P) was looking to establish a long-term, international mission partnership. The Committee established guidelines for mission trips to include participation by the entire congregation, yet realizing not everyone would be able to go, for one reason or another. Those going on a trip would be responsible for the costs of transportation and room and board: these would not be Derry subsidized vacations! Other costs, such as those for administration and construction, would be covered by various fundraising projects, such as currently with the shared OGHS Offering. Remarkedly, no funds from the M&P budget have been used to support a trip. It has all been via trip participants and this congregation’s generous support! 

In 2001, Derry reconnected with Rev. Daniel and BTC in Nicaragua, helping to build homes following the destructive effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and an earthquake in 2000. As we left the airport, our luggage was loaded into a white Kia truck! Among the suitcases were several containing Bible school supplies. From the very beginning with SWAP in Yonkers to today, Bible school activities have been an integral part of Derry’s mission trips. Many thanks to Claudia Holtzman for organizing and directing these activities over the years.  

Derry’s trips to Nicaragua continued annually through 2017, after which they were curtailed by political unrest. BTC was operating a similar program in the Dominican Republic, so we were able to go there for two years until halted by Covid. The lack of trips almost brought an end to BTC’s mission, but they have come back strong and we have rejoined them for the past two years. Through the years we have been impressed by the BTC model for helping. A local committee decides who will receive a new home. The home is built with local masons, supported by the family and neighbors, and volunteers. There is a payback period by the family, which goes into the local community fund and whose leaders then decide how to further assist community needs.

PCUSA uses the OGHS Offering in three ways: Presbyterian Disaster AssistanceSelf-Development of People, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program. The effects of a new home through BTC offer similar results. What does a homeowner get? A new home with securable doors and windows, safe from the elements and theft. We have seen new businesses like stores and a bakery being run out of new homes. This is an agricultural area where many homes are adjacent to the fields which provide food for the family and a source of income. What do they get? The fellowship and knowledge that there are Christians from the United States who care enough to help them build a better quality of life. 

Now you know the origins of Bridges to Community and its historic connection to Derry for over 35 years. Thank you for your continued prayers and financial support for this ongoing mission project.