A few weeks ago I took a group of young women to West Virginia to participate in the Appalachia Service Project. An experience that I can only describe as transformative. I saw things I never expected to see on domestic soil. I did things I never thought I could do, we are talking hard hats and circular saws; and I returned home just as one should, better than I left.
It was 7am on a Sunday, the morning after a slumber party of preparations took place at the Fowler Farm. Six of us, all females, ages 18-31, loaded up a 15 passenger van and hit the road on what only could be called an unpredictable adventure.
We made (what was supposed to be) a scenic stop, but turned into a microhike (the first of many mini-adventures throughout the week) at Pilot mountain. I got my first taste of “life fear” for these five ladies that were 100% my responsibility. If only I was being paid, by the statement, to remind them to “stay away from the ledge” and to “not go down the slope” or my favorite “too close.” We toured through back roads and went over some significant terrain to get to our final destination. Perhaps my favorite moment was when all of our fancy-phones lost service at just about the same time. We were officially disconnected. It felt awkward but amazing. No phone, no wi-fi, no social media, no text messaging, we couldn’t even make a call, which really wasn’t all that bad. We bunked up with a few other schools, kind of like a grown-up camp. It was pretty cool. Since the neutralizer was the lack of service available in the mining country, we played games, asked questions, we (GASP) interacted with one another. In true Spring Break fashion we had to do something that would gain a bit of shock and awe and we certainly did. Wait for it…we actually had conversations using those things called words, and making that little thing called eye-contact…with people we didn’t even know and with those we did… it was amazing!
Tech connection and communication aside, we were there for a task. And ours for the week would be to initiate the safety and home improvements for a family of four. With a laminated set of instructions and one very (and thankfully experienced) construction-minded student leader, we built the structural support to the home’s addition and enclosed the backside of the home with underpinning. We spent the whole week rolling around in the dirt beneath the home digging up coal, okay really 16x16x16 holes, but lots of coal was found. We mixed and poured cement, cut wood and built supports, we even got in a little unforeseen plumbing experience. Who knew I could do that? Not me…
Realistically, I couldn’t have done it without my team. These young ladies inspired me and it was without question or reservation, I /we just went to work, taking on one project at a time. We were a unit, and I can easily say I’ve never been part of a better group. The dynamic, the work ethic, the tasks achieved, the communication, it was all above and beyond any best-case-scenario I would’ve imagined. I could go on and on about the team but the week was about the work. It was about the family. It was about this community that truly has nothing and yet, to them, they have everything. They were so kind, so honest, so raw and real. It was humbling to be in the presence of true gratitude. Bold honesty without apology; and sincere contentment. The kind that makes people live long, happy and fulfilled lives without greed or selfishness. It was inspiring in every sense of the word. To the outsider the lives lived inside this community seemed like suffering. The homes would be condemned instead of improved. The level of poverty being experienced was unfathomable, especially in the US. For those living it, they were happy. They had no complaints. They wanted for nothing because they had each other. The level of love>greed that we witnessed is, in my opinion, what we are missing in the rest of this world. What a better place this would be…
What’s interesting, and makes my heart ache a bit, is that this trip is one that not a lot of people opt to go on. It tends to be a second or third choice for students. Granted, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of traveling to Alaska or South America. It is a much smaller team compared to some of the other groups; and only a quick five-hour drive north as opposed to an overnight flight; but it was an experience that each of us agreed, without reservation, we were proud to have been a part of and wouldn’t have traded.
For me, this opportunity helped to reawaken many things inside of me. Things that were always there before, but unbeknownst to me, dormant in my being. The motto of ASP is to aim for warmer, safer, and drier homes in their community, but what they do to achieve this is their tagline, putting faith forward. This is exactly what they did for me. My faith was there but it needed to come more to the surface. Not in a preach and project manner, but one of self-recognition. One to reinforce my faith and bring forth new lenses in a way that manifests a grateful heart as our God so desired for his followers.
Disconnecting from the tech world allowed me to reconnect with myself. The insight to this community brought to the surface a whole new level of empathy and gratitude. I have found myself more calm and content with life and let’s be real, I came home with some major Mrs. Fix-It skills so Brent’s certainly not complaining. 😉 The love and life we were welcomed to join for those five days will remain with me and will be my reminder of what putting faith, love and compassion forward can truly do for one’s being.
Last but not least, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel compelled to make this post today. Regardless of whether or not today is more about bunnies and eggs instead of the tomb or cross, let it be about family and self-preservation. If ever there was a day to disconnect and resurrect one’s self let it be today.
Happy Easter. ox