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Book bash will raise bucks for Mississippi mission trip

by: Cliff Newell, 
The youth group at Lake Oswego United Methodist Church is getting ready to sell thousands of books on May 18-19. From left are Sami Bernal, Michael Higgins, Jim Higgins and Stephanie Higgins. Funds will be used for their mission trip to Mississippi in July.

Ann Mallen's youth group at Lake Oswego United Methodist Church is getting ready for a journey where the heat is too hot, it rains too much, and the cockroaches and lizards are beyond numerous.

They can't wait to get there.

Mallen and her crew are set for their second mission trip to Moss Point, Miss., a town of 16,000 people, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

'We made such a connection with the people there,' said Mallen, who is coordinator for youth activities at the church. 'We had never seen anyplace so devastated, and we had never seen people who were so grateful.'

The commitment of the Methodist kids, who range in age from 13 to 18, is huge. Not only are they taking on a tremendous task, but they are helping to pay their own way. On May 18 and 19, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., they will be holding a book sale to pay off the balance of the $10,000 they need for the trip.

'I thought we might as well try something new,' said Patricia Slayter, who is organizing the book sale. 'I started asking people about it and they were very responsive.'

The mother of five book-loving children, Slayter was ready to make a big contribution herself, and she soon had many other parents contributing, too.

'We have 800 books already,' Slayter said, 'and I think it's going to be in the thousands by the time the book sale is held.'

Each book sold will be going toward a small town that really needs help.

'We got there 11 months after the hurricane,' Mallen said. 'We couldn't believe how bad it was. Eighty percent of the buildings in the city had been damaged to some degree. But the people there are not giving up.'

The youth set to work tearing down walls to rip out rotting insulation, installing new insulation, repairing ceilings and roofs, and hauling out toilets to be repaired.

Stephanie Higgins, 18, had been on previous mission trips, but never anything like this.

'I had done things like repainting,' she said. 'This was so intense. The smell was so bad we had to wear dust masks.'

Jim Higgins recalls tearing out walls and encountering all kinds of little varmints.

'Every time we ripped out a wall there would be hundreds of cockroaches and lizards, too,' he said.

The kids were repaid with great gratitude, and great amounts of food. Stephanie recalls, 'Fried chicken, fried okra, fried pickles, fried shrimp. The only thing that wasn't fried were the biscuits.'

That may have been a little too much fried food, but Nick Slayter said, 'It was awesome. It was a good experience.'

Mallen really didn't expect to return to Mississippi this summer.

'I didn't think we would be able to handle it financially,' she said. 'I thought we would need to be more practical on our next mission trip and do something close to home. But nothing worked out.

'We took a leap of faith.'

The leap involves the book sale, and the Lake Oswego community is urged to come to the church located at 1855 South Shore Blvd. Residents can also make donations.

The youth will be taking along an item to Moss Point that shows how much this city cares.

'Last year we took a bunch of dolls and passed them out,' said Sami Bernal, 16. 'We said they were a hug from Lake Oswego. The impact of that was really cool. We're going to do it again.'