I am not sure I could ever find enough words to describe everything that I experienced this past week. I chose to serve with 20 other North Park students on a mission trip for my spring break this year, but honestly it was so much more than that. I feel like I have been trying to ask myself questions I cannot find to properly process the things that challenged me, the things that I loved, and the things that were just part of the process.
When I began this journey back in November, I felt like I would have this trip under my control. I could have never prepared myself well enough for the actual experience. The very first time our team got together… and quite frankly most meetings after that right up until we left, I was a little nervous. We were a quiet group and I wasn’t sure if we would ever break out of our shells with each other. Luckily, I was proven wrong throughout this week. When we loaded up the vans to head down to little, unincorporated Brenton, West Virginia, I could have never seen what was coming next. The ride down was exactly what we needed to solidify our team. 9 hours in a mini van really helps you get to know people. In our adventures down toward ASP we encountered restaurants I had never heard of, the University of Kentucky, and a beautiful state park. Upon arriving at ASP, I was full of hope. I settled in quickly and was eager to begin my work week.
Monday morning rolled around and my work crew was informed that we were installing insulation and underpinning on a trailer. I saw it as just a job at that point, but soon God was ready to show me much more than that. Our work site was halfway up a mountain, down a remote dirt road. From the top of the driveway you saw a beautiful creek and mountain tops. It reminded me a bit of Granville… of home basically. We were greeted by five dogs with varying personalities, at least ten chickens, eight horses, three pigs, and whatever other wild creatures were roaming in the forest. As with any job, we experienced some hiccups, frustrations, triumphs, and joys. There was always more to be done, however, I am not here to tell you specifically about the job.
As the week progressed I got to know people that I had never met on our team, and began to find that I didn’t know others nearly as well. Of all of the amazing people that I grew closer with this past week, the people that had the biggest impact on me by far would be the boys who lived in the house we were working on. This was a two bedroom trailer which housed a family of five. Three boys aged approximately 10, 8, and 6 (who were 100% boys) managed to leave a huge mark on me in the 2.5 days that I got to know them. We got to the work site early on Wednesday and the boys were too excited to see us, naturally they stayed home from school to hang out with us all day. One of the biggest things they made me see was that life is so much more than material objects. They were the happiest little boys I had ever met even though they were living in less than ideal conditions. They were proof that ignorance is absolutely bliss, up on that peaceful mountainside, nothing could be better to them. I would venture as far to say that I even grew to love them in those two days, almost like younger brothers. To be able to shower those boys in love (that they may, or may not already receive), and allow them to work alongside us was a true gift from God. Not only did I meet three amazing boys at that site, but five amazing dogs. I can’t say I learned a ton from these dogs (perhaps I did, but I haven’t processed that far yet) but, I do know that I loved these dogs with all my heart. Each of them displayed a totally different personality but, ultimately all just wanted to be loved. It is amazing how animals–dogs especially–can love a person so unconditionally.
Each night after the work was done, we were fed, and we were showered, we would meet to debrief and do some devotionals together. This was another really great space where we were able to connect as a group on deeper levels. The one thing that was repeated many times that will stick with me no matter what is: “We did not bring God with us from Chicago, and we do not bring him back with us when we leave. God is already at work, and has been at work here at ASP for a very long time.” At our last debriefing session last night, I had a very heavy heart. I love the work that ASP is doing and overall I had a very positive experience, however the one thing I struggled with was the fact that it seemed like a one time transaction with the family that we worked for. I knew that I would probably never see those people or animals again and it was a tough pill to swallow. I have been meditating a lot in these last 24 hours on the wise words of one of our fearless leaders, Dave DuVall. When I expressed my sadness at this fact, he brought up a wonderful point; “These families are going to be cared for after us. I have come back year after year and I will hear about projects that I worked on in previous years who are still connected with ASP. These families will still be taken care of after you leave here.” Obviously I paraphrased that so it isn’t a direct quote, but I gave you the important stuff. Although it wasn’t a complete comfort because I had grown to love this family, it at least quieted my soul for a while to know that with or without me, this family was going to receive everything they needed.
I have not been able to process a whole lot beyond that other than the fact that I truly love my team, I love ASP, and I love Brenton, West Virginia. Although I understand that this ministry is a “band-aid” fix, it is important and God’s hand is absolutely there. I realize that poverty in America is a much bigger issue than we are comfortable saying, and I will gladly start that conversation and advocate for those people, but in the mean time I will continue to support ASP. There is so much social injustice being done in our country and my eyes have truly been opened. I will not say that I don’t believe in the band-aids, because I do and I sincerely hope that you would too. That being said, I have a lot more reflecting to do. I know I took away so much more from this trip that hasn’t even materialized yet. I cannot wait to get back to ASP to continue the work that they are doing to better God’s kingdom.
If you want to learn more about ASP (Appalachia Service Project), I encourage you to check out their website. They have multiple locations all over Appalachia, but I served at the Guyan Valley center. http://www.asphome.org/