Mission Accomplished: Bay UMC volunteers help rebuild Virginia homes
When it comes to mission work, “check your motivation.” Almost 70 youth and adult volunteers from the Bay United Methodist Church community took this admonition to heart as they travelled to Wise County, Virginia, with Appalachian Service Project (ASP). While sometimes mission work starts as a checkmark on a college application or a “look at me” post on Instagram, typically those who serve find that in the end, they do not know who was blessed more, those served or those who serve.
From June 10-16, 23 adults and 47 youth from Bay United Methodist Church and the surrounding community hopped into 10 vans to spend a week in the mountains of Virginia. Partly due to the closing of several mines and the lack of industry to replace them, 61 percent of Wise County families are near or below the poverty level and over 28.5 percent of those are disabled.
Homes have crumbled and schools have closed. The drug crisis has shattered many families and lives. Despite the true hospitality of the residents, the rich, vibrant culture and the close bonds between family and friends, frustration and loss of hope hang thick in the mountain air.
The teams, consisting of two or three adult leaders and four to five youth, grades 8 and up, set up home base at Appalachia High School. The school gym was divided into male and female sleeping quarters. The gym floor became scattered with air mattresses and cots, drying racks and suitcases. An old classroom was transformed into a tool shed, complete with any tool necessary to rebuild everything from a deck to a floor. The cafeteria doubled as the spiritual center for morning and evening devotions, ASP programming and the place to share meals. The home away from home was designed to inspire camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose.
Each day started with a jukebox blaring an uplifting song, morning devotions and breakfast, chores of the day and the collection of tools needed for each respective project. From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. the teams set out to either build decks, repair porches, dig French drainage ditches, replace underpinning of homes and most importantly, spend time with the residents of the home they were fixing.
The days were hot and the work was hard. The required uniform of work boots, long pants and sleeved shirts made the intense heat even more difficult to withstand. Sometimes a project, seemingly simple such as replacing a floor, turned into a massive undertaking due to unforeseen flooding and years of damage. All the while, the unspoken spirit of connection and compassion lifted each volunteer up to complete the day’s tasks and offer hope to the homeowners.
At the end of each day, the volunteers met back at home base. The youth set up “hammock villages” or held a game of cards. Some took to the track to decompress with a walk. Evenings consisted of either an immersive cultural experience or a spiritual program designed to deepen the overall meaning of the trip. Songs were sung, stories were shared and bonds were created. The evenings were capped with nightly trip to get ice cream, an ASP tradition celebrated by the adults and the youth.
In the end, there was no emotional preparation for leaving the residents served and teammates who became a family. It takes nine months to raise funds, study and prepare. That is nine months of anticipation, forming friendships, learning about a culture that seemed so different only to find out that despite differences are so much the same.
Upon leaving tears were shed, bodies were exhausted and emotions were raw. An unspoken bond was created. A connection was made that can be understood only among the volunteers and the families served. It is this connection that since the 1980s has brought volunteers from the Bay community back together over and over again. It is this breaking down of cultural, social and economic barriers that bridges division and unites us in a shared purpose.
But who really serves who? No matter what brought these volunteers together, a calling or personal need, most found out that mission work is reciprocal and while one may do it to feed the souls of others, in the end all are blessed.
In September, Bay United Methodist will gear up again for another week of service in June 2019. If you are interested in serving, visit bayumc.org.
Youth/Communications director Bay United Methodist Church