Family time. We had each other's undivided attention every night at 9:30 to talk about our day and "pray out" or sign-off with God. Family time was where we adults got to hear the hearts of our young friends, having seen them in action all day.
One night in particular we had an inspired conversation about a quote we read on a poster board at the earlier Evening Gathering. The quote was attributed to Australian indigenous activist Lilla Watson: "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
How often might we who are called to serve "the least of these" make the disastrous mistake of believing ourselves to be "the most." The real truth is that in serving we discover our own desperate need for liberation. We heard from the kids about their need to be liberated from materialism, from judgment, from elitism, from bad influences, even from parents who serve us a little too well. We realized that when God calls you to participate in a trip like this one, He is not only interested in what you can do for his children in Knott County, but He is equally interested in what they can do for you. It's about all of his children. We are all in our own way "the least." When God calls you to serve a brother or sister in need, it is about them, but it's about you, too. Pay attention! He wants to transform your life alongside theirs.
We also talked that night about having a "slow drip" kind of faith experience and how that kind of growing recognition of Christ is just as valid as a firehose drenching. As far as I could tell, none of our kids had a firehose style conversion, but I know from having heard their hearts at family time that we put more than a few drops in their buckets. Christ became a little more clear to them, mostly in the faces of the beautiful people we had the privilege of serving...just as God intended.
Thank you, Westminster Presbyterian Church. What an honor it was to serve and to be "the least" as a reflection of this faith community. -Laurel Hall (Adult Leader)
On our last night of the ASP (Appalachian Service Project) led Evening Gathering, we formed one large circle. In the county where we served, Knott County, there were four churches represented by youth and adults from Michigan, Illinois, Georgia and Oklahoma. So it was a BIG circle. We were asked to share an instance in the past week where we saw God. I chose to share two.
First was seeing God in the beauty of Eastern Kentucky. Our work team had a 30 minute drive each morning to our home site. I was dreading that winding tedious drive that would torture me each morning and afternoon. Oh but was I wrong! The amazing green landscape, the harsh blasted rock walls with surprise waterfalls and the deep blue water of Carr Creek welcomed us. Throw in a smattering of tiny mountains towns, one lane bridges, hairpin turns and it turned into one glorious commute. Who knew? God's beauty was the perfect start and finish of each work day.
My second reveal was seeing God in our youth's persistence. They had a challenging task of designing and building a much needed wheelchair ramp for our homeowner. There was nothing easy about this project. Nothing. Each new day presented a new set of unexpected challenges. Two steps forward and then one step back. But they kept going. They wanted to see this ramp happen for their homeowner. And so they made it happen. They built an amazing 18ft safe wheelchair ramp!
This youth mission trip like most, allowed our youth to be at their very best. Away from pressures of school and activities and the everyday expectations of being busy active teenagers. They discovered how they can change, how they can change others and what it means to serve The Lord.
"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving The Lord." Romans 12:1 -Sarah Frank (Adult Leader)
Friday June 19th
Coming into our project on the first day, our group was assigned the task of building a ramp for an elderly woman in a wheel chair. Not knowing the deep thoughts that had to be put into this seemingly easy job, our group had high hopes of getting our ramp built within the first 3 days. The first three days ended up consisting of digging eight holes in what seemed to be the equivalent of concrete. It wasn't until Wednesday that we actually got to start cutting our wood and putting it into the holes that took way longer than expected. frustrated and almost hopeless, we noticed that we measured the widths of the holes not far enough away from each other and had to rip up our boards and start over. Once we completed that, it was pretty much smooth sailing from then on. Today, on our last day we finally got to bond with our homeowner and her caretaker. It felt so awesome to finally get the appreciation that we deserved after struggling to overcome building that ramp that would make such an impact on this woman's life. Arden (Youth Junior)
Thursday June 18th
I came to be on this mission trip very last minute. On the Friday afternoon before the group was set to leave on Saturday morning, my mom sat me down with two choices. The first was that I could attend a mission trip to the Appalachian mountains with the Westminster youth group. The second was to go to a facility in California that treats the anxiety and depression that I've been struggling with for many years. My first instinct was panic for fear of the unknown. I am not a member of the Westminster church, and had never been on a mission trip before. However, after a lot of reflection, I knew that I had to go on the trip in order to take steps towards getting better, and that it would be a great opportunity serve others while improving myself.
I am so grateful that I made the choice to face my anxieties and attend this mission trip. The work was tough and I am easily exhausted, but it was gratifying all the same. The family whose house we worked on this week were incredibly kind and gracious people. They didn't have much, but they constantly went out of their way to show their gratitude. Throughout the week they treated us to things such as ice cream and pizza, and welcomed us into their home. Serving these families has opened my eyes in many ways. I always thought of poverty as something that plagued other countries, but being here and seeing the dire situations of many Appalachian families, I know that extreme poverty can exist closer than you'd think. I have made friends and lasting bonds here, and I am thankful that I was able to have such a great opportunity. I hope to participate in more mission work in the future. -Annie (Youth Senior)
Wednesday June 17th
Day 3 was the most productive of all since we've been in Kentucky. So far, each day has presented an obstacle that requires some starting over, but today was different. We put our minds to the task and did really well. We've made a lot of progress and I can't wait to see the end result of our fervent efforts. I went into our family's house for the first time today and it really made me realize how blessed I am. It is very kind of them to supply us with water and let us use their restroom. Yesterday afternoon we met two boys, Rich and Tyrone, that play basketball at the high school we are staying at. Their from northern New Jersey and their stories made me sympathize for them. They told us their trials that they've encountered in their hometown and how they are happy to be out of there. Rich said if they were still there, they probably wouldn't be alive (due to the violence, gangs, drugs, etc). Also, they brought up how they've been treated by others here and it was evident that racism still occurs in these parts. Rich and Tyrone opened my eyes to the parts of life that I don't see or experience and I wish them the best in their future with athletic scholarships to a local college. Kentucky has caused me to step outside the life I am fortunate enough to live and made me able to listen to and serve others. -Amber (Youth Senior)
Today was good. We got a lot of work done. The insulation on our house is so close to being finished, so tomorrow we can start the siding and the bay window. The family we're doing this project for is the sweetest. They are grateful if everything we do and try their hardest to show us. The other day they invited us into their home for ice cream and today they came out and served us Popsicles. It's amazing to see how thankful they are, even under their circumstances. -Scott (Youth Senior)
Tuesday June 16th
Today we met new friends, Rich and Tyrone. Rich and Tyrone were African American basketball players from New Jersey, but they were in Kentucky for basketball. They told us stories of how they were discriminated against in Kentucky. They told us that the wealthy residents in the town would pay the refs to give them penalties so they couldn't play in the games. These stories broke my heart. I could not believe people could still have so much hate for people based on skin color in 2015. The stories they told made me want to change the world, where race is not a factor. -Josie (Youth Freshman)
Today was a very hard day. Our group had to re-dig all of the holes that we dug. It's super hot out here and very humid. Although the weather is not ideal, I've seen so many beautiful things happen. When we first left for our trip, no one in our group really knew or talked to each other. Now we are having the best time ever. We all get along so well and work together in a way that is truly inspiring to me and everyone around us. Our work site is about 30 minutes away from the school we are staying at. On the drive to our site, there is a beautiful lake that we drive over. Yesterday on the way back, we got to swim in the lake and have a little bit of chill time which was AMAZING. This experience has been so humbling. It's truly amazing how quiet this place is and its beauty is insane. It gives you a lot of time to sit and reflect on why we are here and how we will impact these peoples lives. This is my first mission trip and honestly, I'm exhausted. But it definitely won't be my last. There's something about working hard and knowing that it will change someone's life that makes me want to go out into other places and help. God is truly amazing and there is no doubt that he's working here in Knott:) -Maddie (Youth Junior)
This is our "Warm & Fuzzies" wall!! What a wonderful way to spread some love through anonymous affirmation to our fellow brothers and sisters on our Team and at ASP! No "Hot & Spicies" or "Cold & Pricklies," ONLY "Warm & Fuzzies" allowed! :)
Monday, June 15th
All churches joined together to celebrate the end of a successful first workday by playing one of the largest games of jungle pong in the history of ever. What a fun bunch! God is way good and blesses us so well with abundant laughter and joy amidst loving community and fellowship!
Its easy to understand why we're here- the need for repair is evident. The people we've met have been nothing but welcoming. They have opened their homes to us, and showed every kindness one can imagine. The mom even opened her home to us for ice cream, a much appreciated break from the heat. And several more times invited us for drinks inside. The small story exchanges inside was all that was needed for an energy boost. We even got extra hands to help us when the dad came over to help take off an old piece of siding. Even the two small dogs come to greet us with hugs and licks. We are there to help, but the best part about these trips are how we help and sacrifice for each other no matter the degree.
"For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another." -Dylan (Youth Senior)
Our first day at Cordial high school was very relaxed, we had plenty of free time in which we had a chance to explore the scenery and meet the other youth groups who are assisting the ASP program. The second day however was an eye opening experience. After the morning devotional, our work group, known as "Egg Loop," arrived at our designated family's home. The sight was definitely a culture shock for myself and the rest of my group. To see a home which is considered relatively nice by people in the community yet, in our eyes, was maintained in a manner that would not make one think the word "nice". We introduced ourselves to the caretaker, "Sally" (for anonymity), of the elderly woman we were instructed to help. "Sally" verbally expressed how she was very appreciative of the work we were doing and humbly offered the home available to us if we needed it.
The conversation ended and work began. We had been instructed to build a handicap ramp as prior to our arrival the caretaker had to pick the elderly woman and her wheelchair up the steps. In the beginning the instructions sounded easy enough but we quickly realized a number of obstacles were placed before us. It didn't take long to find out that under the thin layer of dirt was a very thick layer of rock. The homeowner had prior knowledge to this and left a very handy pick axe. Using the pick axe we were able to dig holes in preparation to place the support posts, unfortunately whilst clearing space I accidentally snapped the pick axe in half. My unfortunate accident halted production for the day.
Probably the most memorable part of the first day for me was an experience the others didn't get to have. Before lunch I got to see the inside of the home our family lives in as well as see the elderly lady we were building the ramp for. What I saw was a woman who was very ill, she sat in her chair almost motionless and unaware that I was even present in the room. The living conditions on the inside reflected the conditions of the house on the outside. It was truly a heartbreaking sight but it was a reminder for why we are here, to help those who are in dire need of help.
I never realized that people in our country faced so much adversity and it pains me to think that these people go unnoticed by the general public. Honestly, even I was completely unaware of the poverty in Kentucky. I hope that this week prompts us to think about those not only in our country but also in our community as there are those who struggle on daily basis that go unnoticed. Our missions as Christians is to spread not only the word but peace and love, as well as to serve those who are in need. Although a mission is typically understood to take place in another country, they can just as easily take place in Kentucky or even Oklahoma City. No mission is lesser than another. "Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves." Psalms 96:2. God bless. -Ethan (Youth Senior)
Our group decked out for 'MERICA Monday in our red, white, & blue and hit the ground running for our first morning of the ASP work week!
Sunday June 14th:
The theme for the youth at the ASP mission is "Becoming." I believe that fits well to our group because most of the youth are upperclassmen. We have many choices ahead of us and they will define who we will become. What's important is that we start to think about what we want to become. From my experience, that question is no simple task. There's no formula to answer it either. I plan to look for characteristics I would like to have as I go on this week and implement them in my home life.
Yesterday, after we got in, Laurel and I had the privilege to meet the family part of our group will be working with. This family included a father, mother, daughter, son, and two dogs. As we stepped into the trailer, the mom and dad greeted us warmly and shook our hands. From what I had heard about the region, these people seemed more friendly than most. I was told they live off of very little money, but despite that, they helped feed the group that worked on their home last week. That just amazed me. These people have barely enough for themselves and they still give to others.
The biggest concern of mine this week is to be respectful to the family we are working with. Choosing words and actions carefully. Respect should not start and end only with our family though. As humans, we should respect each other, even those who do not reciprocate respect. This respect goes along with the attribute humility. Although I couldn't really tell you a time in the bible with humility, I know it's an important attribute to have. I believe humility is respecting people from all walks of life. In addition, it entails not putting yourself above others.
In the wise words of Ernest Hemingway, "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
I believe this trip, the people on this trip, and God will sharpen our group and everyone here into better people. That's something we can be proud of. -Will (Youth Senior)
Within the first few hours of being in ASP's headquarters I came to realize just how close nit this community is as a whole. To have churches from all over the country come together to help ASP's cause is a very cool thing to witness. Fortunately I had the opportunity to go out and meet some of the families we were going to be helping. The task my group was given was to build a wheelchair ramp providing much needed accessibility for the disabled. When seeming like a little task I could tell the sheer excitement on the woman's face. One thing I learned is no matter how small the task it will be making a major difference in some of the people's lives. I'm very excited to be here in Kentucky to help change people's lives. -Thayer (Youth Senior)
Saturday June 13th:
Delicious family dinner in Indiana for our Saturday night on the road. All smiles and queso galore.
Last leg of the trip, stopped Sunday for lunch in Kentucky at KFC...we think it's gotta be the real deal right? Kentucky Fried Chicken, check!
6AM bright and early Saturday morning at WPC our journey began! What a wonderful group of sweet people! Feel incredibly blessed.