Becoming: ASP Service Trip to Virginia

by Charlotte Long, Youth Ministries

After many weeks of planning, scheduling, scanning, praying and phone calls... we finally have gone to and returned from our Service Trip to Wise County, VA with Appalachian Service Project (ASP). The non-profit's mission with the help of weekly volunteers is to make homes in the Appalachian region "warmer, safer and drier." It's also been called "Relational Ministry with construction on the side." We can't believe it's already over!

On the last night of the week, ASP staff always have everyone share a "God moment" with the rest of the group. We were volunteering alongside a big youth group from North Carolina, so there were a lot of stories and tears. I was so proud of our Holy Comforter kids - they were vulnerable and open about how the week had touched them and the part God played in the work. If I may say so, they were much braver than the N.C. kids in this way!

From what they shared, these seem to be the most memorable moments from the trip.

One team had to put in a new floor. The ASP family who owned the house had a little boy named Ethan who absolutely fell in love with Julia Green, Amanda David and Sarah Caywood. He was energetic and joyful, even in the midst of family turmoil. When the week was over, our teens were sweet enough to give him their phone numbers. Sure enough, only 2 hours after our last work day was over, Ethan called them to tell them he missed them and that they were his best friends. All 3 girls expressed deep gratitude in getting to spend time with Ethan and his family; and as Amanda said, "this all has to do with God."

Charlie Quigley was on the same work site, putting down a new floor. He told us how he was struck by Ethan's older teen brother, who was very curious about all of these new kids that were his age. Charlie managed to connect with him in a conversation about trucks later in the week. But the transformational moment was seeing how when Ethan would kick or hit his older brother, his brother would just take it. He didn't retaliate. He would hold him and hug him. Charlie said it was moving to see how protective and loving he was.

Carrie Phillips and Bob Lapp were the adult leaders on that team. Both spoke of how, beyond the miracle of a new floor for their ASP family, the hurt and pain of the family began to transform by the end of the week - mostly due to the unlikelihood of inexperienced teenage volunteers in their house and strangers who would listen and really hear them as humans. Carrie spent long stretches of time - using her Stephen Ministry training, she laughingly told me - listening to Frances, the matriarch of the home. Frances and her family had undergone a world of personal trauma, pain and loss. By the end of the week, Carrie spoke to our group of her realization of how holy Frances really was. FJ Phillips and I were on another team, putting down a new roof with a team of four. There were trying times when it wasn't clear if we were doing it right or if any of this would work. However, FJ's end-of-week God moment was talking to the great-grandmother Nadine after several overnight thunderstorms: "It was dry," she assured him, "Both nights! Both nights!"

Henry Shaw and Scott Citari both spoke a few times on one of the many incredible gifts that our family gave us. Just to give you an idea: 3 days in a row, though they had little to offer and no meat in the house, the Grandma of the family made us enormous, home cooked meals. Beans, corn, onions, vegetable soup, dumplings, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, cornbread, cheesecake and black raspberries. It was sacred food because it was made with love. And it was overwhelming to see it spread out in their tiny, kitchen.

Ginny Wise and Carynn Randolph were on the roofing team as well. Both bonded with the many kids who lived in the home and next door to us. They also bonded with the puppies and kittens roaming around! Both expressed a gladness in knowing that our week really had somehow benefited our ASP families despite our inexperience, that the work would continue and that they would feel loved and taken care of. The grandkids on our site could not get enough of us playing with them; and when we presented our little girl Alexis with a new sign for her clubhouse (painted by our teens), she buried her head in her arms in emotion. She then promptly grabbed the sign and clung to it for a while after.

As for me, I wondered more than ever about these families' lives after we leave. We swoop in for a week and go back to our hot showers and AC and large beds. But Alexis is sleeping tonight in a shared room with her grandmother, hot and probably hungry and with bugs coming in the window. What will those kids - Ethan and Alexis and Alex and Logan and Brenden and Justin - remember from the summer that teenagers came from all over the country for a week at a time to work and play with them? What will they take away from that window into the outside world? Will they remember how much we loved them? Will they remember how much love they gave us back? And then what? And then what. It is a hard one for me to accept. And it should be.

Thank you for your prayers and support of this trip. There is really nothing like seeing our youth perfect using a hammer and I am so honored to get to watch it from the front row. Can't wait for next year!