The scenic drive was breathtakingly beautiful. The van winded and spiraled along one-lane roads up into West Virginia’s mountains, leaving swirling smoky dust clouds behind it. A waterfall rose majestically under the ridge of a mountainous cliff, resplendent and complete in itself alone.
Sara, Janet, Steve, and Kyle; Shalonda, Jim, Drew and Christine and Mr. Hodges--eight teens driven by a local man to their worksite--all volunteer members of a summer program to help disabled poverty-stricken locals with home repairs and building projects, a church missions outreach camp.
Steve and Kyle, veteran home repair gurus, headed up their team, ranging in age from 14-19.
“Dude, look at that, will ya,” as they arrived in front of a dilapidated structure, “are you tellin’ me people actually live in this dump?” Drew whistled in disgust.
“Shh-hh, you dope,” Sara punched Drew in the ribs, “they’ll hear you!”
The residents, moved from a spot “down yonder” after a flood had demolished their home, tried to rebuild on higher ground, but lacked the skills and materials to erect more than this roughshod cottage, supported on one corner by a single cinder block. Janet, the most sensitive amongst them, was appalled by the living conditions evident by the Spartan plumbing and furnishings. Mr. and Mrs. Hornby were so tearfully grateful for the group’s presence, they insisted on treating the group to pizza at the end of the week, something the kids were aware they could ill afford.
“Aw, get over it, will ya? It’s not like YOU have to live there. Anyway, it didn’t seem to bother THEM,” Drew remarked.
“That’s because they’ve got Jesus,” Shalonda piped in.
The only team non-believer, Jim--a rich kid from Nebraska--had been forced into this community service by a school counselor,
“Not this Jesus stuff again! You guys are SO not with it! I don’t buy this religion crap for a minute. Where’s believing ever gotten you, anyway? My ol’ man has it made, big time, and he didn’t rely on anyone but himself!”
The others began responding all at once, trying to convince Jim of Christ’s existence and reality in each of their lives.
“Aw, save it for your rallies. I’m out-a-here,” Jim going back to his dorm.
Tired as they were, the seven believers held a prayer vigil for this misguided friend.
Similar scenarios played out across the camp of volunteers with thankful area residents often suggesting someone else deserving assistance more; teenagers with varied backgrounds from all over the country, bonded by a common cause mending dangerous steps, replacing roofs, painting, and in some cases, even reconstructing broken-down homes.
Mandatory attendance at evening programs cemented these bonds and created individual spiritual growth. One particular service was so powerful, the effects stayed with the volunteers for years and generations to come. Every worker had a plastic identification wristband and was told to imagine it represented a stronghold in their lives. A rough wooden cross stood at the front of the room where each camper came, laying their broken bands at it’s foot, representing Christ’s power to break the bonds. Audible sobs could be heard as burdens were released. The last person to come forward was Jim, humbly falling to his knees beneath the cross. Later, he would testify that he could never get past the willing, loving service he saw over and over again administered to the residents of Clay County, and their self-effacing gratitude in return.
As they hugged and said their good-byes at the end of their week’s stint, Jim summed it up best:
“What I am growing to understand is that these needy people aren’t the needy ones—we are. Bound by society’s materialistic standards of competition, we neglect what is most important. These people value relationships and caring above all else, a lesson to us all.
Sara returned home to Texas, becoming a nurse who organized Christian professionals to a yearly month of service ministry . . . Janet, affected by Jim’s 180-degree turnaround, founded a Christian boot camp for wayward adolescents . . . Steve and Kyle continued their skilled labor to indigents . . . Shalonda and Drew, both from Indiana, corresponded regularly, ultimately marrying and serving in their local church as children’s counselors . . . Christine relocated to West Virginia after earning her college degree in Business & Education, becoming Summer Camp Work Ethics Director, visiting Mr. and Mrs. Hornby occasionally. Jim turned his family upside down and eventually, into the arms of His Savior.
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