Becoming: ASP Service Trip to Virginia

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministries

The High School Service Trip to Wise County, VA is upon us! On Saturday, June 13th, 8 High School kids and 4 adults from Holy Comforter will pile into rented minivans and drive 10 hours into the lush and beautiful Appalachian Mountains. For 5 days, we will get up early, eat Wonder Bread sandwiches, and work alongside Christians from all over the United States to make people's homes warmer, safer and drier.

Appalachian Service Project (ASP) was founded in 1969 by the Rev. Tex Evans to provide home repairs for impoverished families living in Central Appalachia, and to develop connections with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Founded by Methodists, ASP is a Christian mission, but is non‐sectarian in all its programs. Since ASP's founding, over 300,000 volunteers have repaired more than 15,000 homes. On average, 16,000 volunteers from more than 30 states come to serve each year. In 2014, ASP served in 31 impoverished communities in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. ASP is only able to assist one of every five families who apply for help. Each year ASP must decline providing assistance to thousands of families who have nowhere else to turn for home repairs. Resources of time and volunteers run out after the allotted seven or eight week program and those on the "no" list are left in the same shape as when they applied. There is a great deal of sadness over this fact.

Recently at a Youth Group Meeting, I had the kids pretend that they were ASP staff and take a look at 5 real ASP requests from Appalachian households who in the past have applied to have their homes worked on. The High School group was only allowed to choose 1 out of the 5, as per the statistics above, and they only had 30 minutes. Bob Lapp (who is coming on the trip with us) and I sat at the next table and eavesdropped on their conversation. We were intrigued and deeply touched by the amount of care and wisdom they brought to their arguments. The conversation took a turn when they realized that the criteria would have to be more than just which household's quality of life could stand for the most improvement, but which household was least likely to survive another year without ASP's assistance. Though they understood that their decision did not count for real, some of them got a little upset, discovering the need to be "unfeeling" in order to choose who really needed the help the most. Such is the situation we are driving our teens into in a little over 3 weeks.

I've already talked about this in front of the congregation twice... and the kids are probably tired of hearing me talk about it. BUT, when I was in High School, that one week every year of serving on a mission trip to Biloxi, Mississippi or New Orleans, Louisiana, or Kentucky - those weeks were for me what my Sunday School teacher used to call, "Mountain Top Experiences." The phrase refers the story in Matthew Chapter 17 when Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the top of a mountain so that they may witness what we call "the Transfiguration" as well as a visit from the some superstar Hebrew prophets. Needless to say, the prophets are quite changed by this experience. Just as we are when we go to the mountains for this trip. It's a moment when we don't have to try to feel connected to everyone and everything; it is suddenly easy to know that God's divinity is in all of us. But we have to come down off the mountain eventually. If the "Mountain Top" represents that place where it easiest to hear God speaking to us, then how much harder is it for us to come back to our regular lives afterwards and strain to hear God in our day to day? Real life comes at us, and we are challenged to keep that sense of the Mountain Top in our daily lives. These weeks doing service have been that for me: the brief moment when I see God in everything I do, in the hard work, in humility and in fellowship with those leading very different lives from my own. God is guiding us, and we have only to open our hearts and say, "Here I am" in order to be with Him on the Mountain Top. I can't wait to experience this for the 3rd year in a row with the extraordinary youth of Holy Comforter.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers! It will be good, hard work, and we will come back with a plethora of stories to tell of forgiveness, humility and seeing God's grace in the world.

"You are not the master carpenter. Your Master is the Carpenter."
                                              Ruth, ASP volunteer for 25 years