Even in its most prosperous days the town never had a Sears or McDonalds; but by local standards this town was the place to go. A variety of local shops, gas station, even a movie theater this location had it going on prior to the 1970s. The place? Rhodell, West Viginia. The source of prosperity? Coal. The major event in the 70s that began changing everything? At least one contributing factor, the Clean Air Act, and coal was no longer the gem that created a demand; these local towns have since been experiencing a slow, suffocating death - literally.
Push the clock forward a hand full of decades and you have our son, Silas, calling an elderly gentleman who refurbishes bicycles and transports them to towns like Rhodell. In the winter of 2009, we traveled as a family with Mr. Clifton Woodruff and his wife Sylvia. The transition to this reality was gradual as we drove up the mountain; the passing houses worsened in condition, a greater number of abandon vehicles in yards, broken toys littering the landscape. This trip was a quick drop off of bikes, talk with the caretakers of The Open Door, and meeting a few of Rhodells’ locals. Our trip was a brief one, but the Holy Spirits leading was a lasting one.
Over the course of the next few months the Holy Spirit worked on my wife and I not letting us forget the people of Rhodell. We constantly found ourselves feeling led by the Holy Spirit as He revealed different activities we could do and things to provide them. Eight months later my wife, our two children, myself, and three others were headed back to Rhodell with a trailer full of clothing, food and school supplies. We felt the mission was successful in that we had been welcomed and asked when we’d be back.
With the passage of time the Holy Spirit guided us on what to do next. Here’s where it gets exciting…in Jan 2011, a mission kick-off night! Okay, so it wasn’t like New Year’s Eve in Time Square; but what was being done was proclaiming what the Lord would have us to do - stepping out on faith. It was a simple Sunday evening service with prayer, a review of the previous trip, and a guest speaker. As our pastor opened in prayer, the spirit of the Lord came upon me…I was seeing Jesus with His disciples talking about feeding the 5,000. Then a child presented five loaves of bread and two fishes. From that meager offering the Lord fed the 5,000+ people and had leftovers! As the prayer finished I knew what I was to do. Take up a monthly offering of meager funds - pocket change; and see what the Lord would do. As the monthly offerings went on it became known as the “Fishes and Loaves” offering.
The events from Jan 2011 to our departure and our return can be summed up in one word - God. By virtue of the fact that my wife and I were coordinating this mission trip we were designated as the team leaders. Understand, I have no experience organizing a mission trip (much less a block party), if you ask people to pick a word to describe my character, leader will not come from their lips. Yet, this trip came together with such ease; this is not to say the enemy didn’t have moments of casting fiery darts, but discernment and prayer quenched those hindrances. We lost one person to a broken wrist, another to shoulder surgery, and a third needing to care for her elderly mother.
A mission for God comes with efforts by the enemy to hinder that mission. One woman who was bring her two kids had broken her wrist (fortunately her older son came). Another woman ended up having to have shoulder surgery, and yet a third lady suddenly found herself caring for her elderly mother. Hence the need to exercise faith and realize we knew this is what the Lord wanted - what was going to stop the mission. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, New King James Version)
DAY ONE: The trip there was uneventful, arriving about 30 minutes later than we were shooting for. We unloaded the truck full of goods, prepared a meal for the community. We were hoping to show a movie but overlooked the projector (what, me worry?). Turns out things unfolded in a way that we couldn’t have watched a whole movie anyway. The plan was to leave there and be at the hotel by 8 p.m. At 9:15 p.m. we were taking a wrong turn on to the highway, but made it to the hotel by 9:30 p.m. No grumbling, no complaining - I think the spirit of the Lord was upon us.
DAY TWO: Breakfast followed by devotion at 8:00 a.m. A member of our party took me aside expressing a concern about doing devotion in a public place; clearly the enemy did not stay home - should we be surprised. The group headed out to the site while I took care of essential errands.
My mission - get two holes drilled into the metal rod of the wagon that broke and to pick up 120 pieces of KFC. On the way to the hotel we had seen a hardware store. It was suggested that I go there and see if they could drill two holes in the rod. I followed the van as we left the hotel and picked what I thought was the hardware store we had seen. So I walk in holding the metal rod and a wheel at the end. They were unable to provide me assistance so, without being deterred, I headed back to the car. Pulling up to the street I looked across and see a Caterpillar plant. I didn’t know what was in the CAT plant but I felt the Lord telling me to go ask. So across the street I drove, parked, walked to the door with my wagon axel. I explained my situation and was directed to the shop. There, one of the workers drilled the holes and I was done! Significant to the mission trip? Not by obvious means; but many times the Lord gives us tasks to determine our willingness towards obedience.
Next was the KFC chicken that was to be served for lunch. Since I didn’t know the area I would have to depend on the GPS (I think there’s a lesson in that). I typed in the address and headed off on “the highlighted route”. I was taken to a dead end. I mild frustration I turned and went back to a familiar location - the hotel. Again, following the highlighted route I was being taken down a back road (you know what they look like - open field, no houses, no stores. Clearly there’s no KFC around here). Once I returned to “civilization” I pulled into a parking lot and called the KFC. Finally, I get there. A special order was ready, but it wasn’t mine! A discussion with the manager, some confusion about the coupon, then time to put the order together - whew! Now, I’m totally misdirected about what direction to go so I can get to the mission site. I did ask where to go for ice; once I got there I recognized a road sign. After getting the ice I followed the sign and soon recognized what road I was driving on. Did you notice what was missing? It wasn’t the GPS I relied upon to find my way. There were signs for me to follow. I just had to be able to recognize them and be obedient to what they “said”.
After arriving at Rhodell lunch was organized. A young lady from Rhodell helped us serve. She had made a decision for Christ and her husband made his decision a short time after. Some of us sang songs with the children, others mingled with the people of Rhodell, and some of us cleaned up. We were planning on cooking dinner (hot dogs were on the menu); but, we found out the fire department was planning a hot dog sale two days later (they are trying to raise money to finish the construction of an additional bay for another fire truck). We decided to donate our food to them.
Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and headed out to eat dinner. The first restaurant didn’t offer a kids meal and seemed a bit pricey. We headed for another nearby place and opted to take the church van (keep this in mind). As we filtered out of the restaurant after dinner we couldn’t help but notice a young man conversing on a cell phone with his wife crying next to him. The reason we couldn’t help notice is that even 25 feet away we could hear his phone conversation. Pastor Keith and I conversed about what to do. The conversation the young man was having was getting repetitive and his wife was at times frantic (it seems their little girl went in the hospital and had been transferred to a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio; they were needing gas money). “Ringing” in my head during this scene were the words of Jesus, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (in writing this article and further researching the scripture a cross reference scripture is Deut. 15:7-8 and speaks of freely giving to a brother - hold on, I know what you’re thinking; but wait. Looking at a commentary about Deut it references Proverbs 11:24, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”) We gave them some money and went on our way. Pastor Keith stopped the van and we all prayed in agreement that the Lord would move in the lives of those people for His glory.
DAY THREE: This was the day we would be handing out backpacks and school supplies to the children and making the clothing available to the adults, as well as some food items. We finished our visit by taking Paul and Marie out to lunch and talking about the visit. Our trip back to Selma was at times quiet, at other times we talked amongst ourselves about what was accomplished and what we could do next year (Lord willing).
There were no decisions made for the Lord on this trip, we didn’t connect with any local churches; but what seemed to be accomplished is a growing interest towards investing ourselves further towards helping this community. This is life abundantly, this joy made full; to engage with people where the Lord directs and have a positive impact that will bring glory to our Lord. See, that is something I constantly found on my mind, as the team leader; to be consciously aware that if someone says I did a good job that from my lips would come, “For the glory of God.”