Forever Changed

by the 2014 ASP Team, co-written by Pastor Heath & Charlotte Long

Dear Holy Comforter Family,

Thank you for supporting and praying for us while we were on our mission trip. We had an unbelievable time. We traveled all the way to Perry County, Kentucky, in the Appalachian Mountains where we laid a floor for one older couple and built a back porch for a woman and her foster daughter. The tasks we were given by ASP (Appalachian Service Project) were challenging and at times seemed beyond our ability. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit blowing through the trees and cooling the ninety degree weather, or the face of Christ smiling back at us on the face of an Appalachian woman or child, or the power of God passed to us through the team leaders who believed that we, a group of teens and four adults, could actually do the work that made it all possible. As Charlotte always says, this kind of organization shouldn't work; but somehow it does. For decades, it has. There is no way we can really share exactly what the experience was like, but please find us at church and ask us. Until then, below are some of our reflections we shared on the way home.

Q&A with Holy Comforter Youth Group (in the vans on the way back)

Questions asked by Heath, dictated by the youth to Charlotte the Scribe

Q: What is something you'll never forget about this trip?

Ginny: Every time we went to the site, the family we were working for were sitting there waiting for the day, ready with water and popsicles. They were always happy to see us.

Sophie: Mrs. Burke [the grandmother of the family we worked for] always smiled every time we walked in the room, like we were the greatest thing. We never felt weird walking around in her house. She always welcomed us.

Ginny: And clouds! I noticed that on this trip, the clouds looked so surreal - they didn't look like any clouds I had ever seen. They looked like paintings! I made everyone look at them, every time I saw them. And we drove through a cloud at night, too. So, that was cool.

Charlie (who has been quietly thinking in the way back): I probably won't forget the first day when Nicky and I were up in the room and everyone was downstairs, and Arden [a youth from another volunteer church from North Carolina] just came up to us and started talking to us. We hadn't said anything to him, he just was friendly.

Heath: Oh that's a good one - greeted by a stranger!

Sophie: One time at our work site the youth minister from the North Carolina church, his name was Wayne, drove up in his car and came into the house and asked us to come outside. And he asked us to take off our shoes and he washed our feet with a water bottle. He asked us our names and looked at us very sincerely and then said our name and then, "God loves you and so do I." That was very meaningful to me.

Charlotte: I'll never forget sweeping Mrs. Burke's floor right before we had to leave on the last day. My amazing team had spent all week building this floor and now this was the last thing to do. I wanted to make it so perfect; she had told us, very quietly and shyly, that she loved it. And as I swept the floor, it became this kind of prayer for me, a prayer for every day of Mrs. Burke's life, for as long as this floor held up her feet. And in my mind, I could see her sweeping it every day, long after this summer, long after we were gone. God seemed to be giving me this little vision of her sweeping, as if to let me know that though we were leaving, she would be alright.

Heath: I'll never forget the love Mary Lou had in her heart to give - her love for human beings. She has very little, and yet she has so much love. You know when you meet people who are completely authentic. Just like: wow. It was like that.

Nick: I will never forget the expression and happiness on Mary Lou's face when we finished her porch.

Amanda: The share circle at the end on the last night. Seeing what everybody did the whole week and hearing people tell stories and getting emotional really spoke to me.

Liz: Mary Lou. I liked how she was painting the tires in her yard to make a garden.

Charlie W.: The dignified, simplicity of the Burke family.

Bob: How teenagers who have never held a hammer before can do construction. Outside their comfort zone they can take an unfamiliar task and do construction. I am glad our church is offering our teenagers an opportunity to move outside comfort zones and excel in unfamiliar situations.

Q: What's something that you didn't know about yourself before the trip that you know now?

Sophie: Oh God.

Charlie: I didn't know how annoying it is to put in a new floor. I hate it... well, I don't hate it. Mixed emotions. I didn't think flooring was that hard.

Sophie: I didn't know I would be okay with crawling in a dirty hole with spiders [referring to when she went under the house to measure joists]. If someone had said, "You're going to get in a hole with dirt and spiders and possibly snakes," I would have been like: no.

Ginny: Heath said one of the first days, "Ginny, you are a little Beam of Hope!" And I took on that role this trip, not because I felt I had to, but because I really did think it was true about me.

Sophie: I didn't know that I was going to get close to people this week!

Heath: I was reminded that I'm stronger than I realize and I can live without my comforts... for a week.

Sophie: I'm so proud that you ate junk food, that was hilarious.

Nick: That I can make a porch! With teamwork, I can do things I would not imagine.

Amanda: I thought that on a trip like this you want to leave with a significant story. I didn't really have that. The couple we were working with was quiet. However, you could see their appreciation and love in what we were doing through their actions like Mrs. Burke's smile and giving us water daily. So I learned that people still appreciate what you do. You don't need to come home with a "magical story" to see that you made a difference.

Liz: That I can saw better than most!

Charlie W.: Wow. Half jokingly... that I can actually reach a point where I don't want more ice cream. I didn't think it was possible, but it's true.

Bob: How out of shape I am! [But don't let him fool you! Bob is amazing. He was quite the leader of Heath's group.]

Q: What is something that you learned about God that you didn't know?

Heath: I always hear about the power of God's love. But I was reminded of it in the relationship between Mary Lou and Kirsten, her foster child. Mary Lou has very little, very little, and she is sharing what she has with this twelve-year-old child in need. She holds nothing back. She knows she cannot change the pain of Kirsten's past, but she can make her present and future different and love-filled. Mary Lou speaks openly and regularly about her reliance on God which can heal and empower all. So true.

Sophie: The day of the washing of the feet, I felt disconnected to God and the work, and that morning I wasn't sure about how this work could be in God's name or what that even meant. And then, when Wayne came and washed our feet, and when he said that thing, God loves you and so do I, I just suddenly realized it was just a perfect example of God's unconditional love.

Ginny: Mary Lou said on the last day, "You have given me so much this week, so much more than a porch. You have brought ears for listening, lips for speaking, and hands for creating - and may God bless you for it." Her saying this to us was a reminder of how it is so incredible that I can be a giver of God's love: I thought you had to feel that somehow in yourself, by yourself. But I didn't realize that I could give it to someone else and be God's love for them.

Charlie: I don't know why, but I keep coming back to Mr. Wise's shirt - how much work he had put in and how much we had put in. His shirt was soaked every day, by the first 2 hours. He would keep working with it on all wet - and it would give me the will power to keep working hard. I mean, if he can do this, I can too.

Heath: So, do you guys think Charlie Wise's shirt was an outward sign of God for you? God speaking to you through Charlie's work?

Sophie: And God spoke to me through Wayne!

Charlotte: That seems to be the theme, here.

Ginny: In the Bible, God is always speaking in a big, booming voice and everyone always knows that God is talking. That doesn't happen that often nowadays.

Heath: And yet it just did to you three! All of you had experiences of God speaking through other people.

Ginny: Oh yeah! I guess so!

[later in the Subway at a lunch break]

Nick: I learned that even small things you can do that don't seem that important can spread God's love in a huge way.

Amanda: You would think that God does not love these poor people or help them out as much as us when looking at their situation; although, I learned on this trip that he loves them and blesses them just like us, just in different ways. One thing that stuck out to me is that they live in this beautiful area that God has blessed them with.

Liz: Appreciating simple things, like water and shade, bring us closer to God and are interesting.

Charlie W.: That he can put so much beauty in places that are so impoverished and unfortunate... so much natural beauty.

Bob: God gives us abilities that we never thought we had.

The words above only begin to scratch the surface of all that we experienced this trip. Our work sites, the Kentucky mountains, warm showers, air mattresses, and even Dairy Queen (seriously) became outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual realities growing within us. On Wednesday night we celebrated the Eucharist with our Methodist friends who were working and living alongside us. Their minister, Jim, and Heath co-presided. Heath made an altar out of a recycling bucket and a garbage can. The paten was a paper plate and the chalice was a plastic cup. When we came forward to receive the sacrament, we were asked to leave our internal trash on the altar. "Leave your junk. Just dump it right here," Heath said. It was perfect. In the celebration we were once again re-membered into the Body of Christ just as we are on Sunday mornings at home; however, somehow we seemed to get it better/different/more this time - with our trash bucket altar. In that moment, we felt that we were part of all of creation and all of life, its beauty, pain, abundance, poverty, and grace. God is good. God is faithful. God is love.

Forever changed,

Holy Comforter's Mission Trip Team of 2014