What happens when 14 college students and one really cool advisor road trip to rural West Virginia for a week? Magic. The answer is pure magic.
This was the second year that I had the privilege of serving in Appalachia for spring break. There is so much to think about and process still, but after just two days of being home there is one thing that I know for sure. Since being back in Chicago the only thing I can think about is the beautiful mountains, rich culture, and the people who grew to be more than just a team. My heart already aches to be back in West Virginia. On a scale of 1-10 this past week was a perfect 12 and made last year look more like a 7. Despite the many unexpected changes and delays, God worked in some massive ways.
The trip started off with a bang when we were informed that our departure would have to be delayed a full day. It was disappointing to say the least, but we didn’t really allow that to dampen our excitement. We loaded up the vans on Sunday and pointed the headlights toward Brenton, West Virginia. Days one and two went just as expected (with the exception of a surprise visit from Dave Duvall upon arriving in KY for our first evening) and were mostly unremarkable in comparison to the rest of the week.We arrived at the ASP center on Monday evening and settled in, but we were so unprepared for the way God was ready to work.
On Tuesday morning we woke up bright and early with such an eagerness to head to our work site. We had already lost one work day and we were just chomping at the bit to get started. We were met with more disappointment when we were told that we would not be able to work due to the rain that was pouring down outside. This forced us to spend the day (mostly together) at the ASP center. We passed the time by playing games, napping, talking with each other, and sometimes just sitting together in comfortable silence. When we were debriefing later that night, it became so apparent how much we needed that day together. God was most definitely already hard at work. He took our team and molded us into a family that day. It was so refreshing to have our expectations entirely shattered. We don’t get to put God in a box, and He made that incredibly evident. Wednesday morning was met with the joy of FINALLY getting to work! We split off into one team of 5 and one team of 10.
My team of 10 made the half hour drive to our work site and were able to meet the family we were working for. The main caretaker for our home was a woman named Connie. She lives with her father who has Alzheimer’s, her husband who has Parkinson’s, and her brother who also had some struggles in life. After briefly meeting Connie, we got to work. We were assigned the task of building a front porch and adding an underskirt to the home. The first day of work was relatively normal, it was rainy but our team was able to keep each other in high spirits, plus there were puppies and kittens to play with at all times. After a long first day we had a long debriefing session to match. It is amazing how time ticks faster when you are with people you genuinely care about. Each night we would also do worship together. Wednesday night was just our team, but the other volunteers and staff quickly took notice. Jesus was getting sneaky again.
Thursday was a fantastic work day. It was sunny and 70, we got a ton of work done, and we got to know Connie a lot better. She came out to spend time with us at lunch and she told us all about her family and their struggles. Hearing her story was utterly humbling. Her love for God was so apparent. She presented each of us with a goodie bag and then asked to pray for us and by the end of her prayer, this woman was reduced to tears. She spoke so much love and blessing over us that I couldn’t help but cry a little bit. Later that night we debriefed and did worship in the hallway and we had some other students from the University of Indiana along with ASP staff members and some older volunteers join us. The ASP center rang loud and clear with songs of praise and it was such a powerful experience. The best part was the fact that not all of the people who chose to join us were Christians. Jesus was visibly using our team to spread His love to other volunteers and it was mind-numbing. He is so good.
Friday brought mixed feelings. Anxiety to finish our project, excitement to see the animals and Connie, sadness because it was our last work day, and exhaustion from a whole lot of hard work. It was a cold, windy, slightly rainy work day and proved to be a bit less industrious than the two work days before it. At lunchtime, Connie presented us with 4 pizzas as a way of showing her appreciation for our work and I was completely blown away. She reminded me so much of the woman in the bible who gives just a single penny. That woman was harshly criticized but Jesus defends her because that one penny was all she had and she gave it to Him. For that reason she gives more than the rich who give a lot. Connie didn’t have much to give, but she still gave it all so that she could serve and bless us. Connie served us better than we served her and I was so incredibly humbled. It reminded me that I still have so much to learn. Later that evening God used my trip leaders, Kenley and Jason, to bless me yet again. They decided that before debriefing the week, they would wash our feet as a way of serving us. It made me feel cared for in the most tender way. Our team then sat for a long while debriefing the week as a whole and we were just able to be so raw with each other and God continued to work in those relationships.
Saturday morning was met with heavy eyes and strong resistance. It never becomes easy to say goodbye to a place that you love, or people that you love, or just the simplicity of life that exists in Appalachia. Despite the feet-dragging we loaded up the vans once more and headed back toward North Park. It was a long drive (13 hrs in total) with many detours, naps, laughs, and good music. When we pulled back into the parking lot I wanted to cry. What a week it had been. We had a very long goodbye (despite the fact that we all go to North Park) and then returned to our homes. It is hard for me to explain this trip in words and this post most certainly doesn’t do it justice, but with confidence I can say that God did some marvelous works this past week. I am stunned by his steadfast love, faithfulness, and his ability to create a plan that we could never expect or foresee. If you’ve read to the end of this and still want to know more, PLEASE reach out to me. I would love to share a meal or coffee with you and continue the conversation. I won’t stop talking about it anyways.
God is so so good. I am so so blessed. This spring break was perfection.