Grow Through Service

Today we are celebrating the trip our teenagers took down to Appalachia, Virginia to serve with the Appalachia Service Project. As a reminder, ASP’s mission is to make homes in Appalachia warmer, safer, and dryer. So, that’s what we did all week!

As the pastor on this trip, I had a slightly different view than everyone else. I wasn’t just a part of one crew. I was a part of all the crews. I tried to visit each of them every day that we were there, which meant I got to see all their progress throughout the week and hear about all the different experiences they were having.

At the beginning of our week, we faced a lot of challenges. The place we were going to stay had seen better days and didn’t have most of the amenities we’re all used to. We were going to be uncomfortable, though I have to say my experience with growth is that it almost always is uncomfortable.  I’m not gonna lie though, that first night a part of me worried that none of them would ever sign up to go on a trip with me again after this. But then, I walked outside, and I saw the kickball game that our kids had started with the kids from Hudson down on the football field. I remembered the power of community. Seeing them together reminded me to be hopeful that even if we had challenges to overcome, and we did, we would find a way to do it together.

As you probably know, when you start a new home improvement project, you uncover things… Usually, you find more than what you bargained for. As the first ASP groups at these homes, the honor of uncovering issues was ours. But our kids and our adults were resilient and determined. They pressed on, and rolled up their sleeves, and eventually found their rhythm. They accomplished so much, and not just in their labor. Even when they weren’t working – they did something just as amazing. They got to know the people they were serving. They became friends with them and encouraged them. They learned that everyone has a story, whether you know it or not, and that everyone, everyone deserves dignity and love. We also learned that when you spend any part of your life in conditions that are unhealthy or unsafe, it has a huge impact on your mental and physical health, and as a result so many other facets of your life.

ASP’s theme for this year is Building Kindness. Using Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Building kindness means doing what we can to make people’s lives better in practical ways, that really impact them and there are lots of opportunities for all of us to do that. One of the staff people we met told us that over a thousand people had applied for help. There are so many opportunities for us to help each other.

Building kindness also means hearing each other’s stories. Practicing compassion and empathy; listening even when its uncomfortable for us. People don’t just want hand-outs; they also want to be seen and heard. They want to connect with other human beings and receive a little reminder that some people can be kind and genuine; that someone cares about them.

Have you ever experienced this for yourself? Has there been a time when serving someone else helped you to grow into a better human being? Have you ever put yourself in an uncomfortable position to make things better for someone else without asking them for anything in return? Have you stepped into someone else’s life to catch a glimpse of the image of God in them while they experience the love of Christ in you?

If you haven’t lately, I highly recommend giving it a try. In whatever way you’re able, with whatever gifts you have. When you give someone a part of your very self like that, building kindness, you always receive something in return. Not always something tangible, but always something from the Holy Spirit. Like, a reminder of your place in the universe; a nudge in the direction of the neighbor you had overlooked; a sense of interconnectedness and the ability that each one of us has, to make a difference for someone else.

At the end of our week, none of our projects were 100% done. However, each of our crews had built a foundation of friendship with the homeowners who will welcome more groups into their lives this summer. We built kindness, and we got to be a part of something much bigger than us, and yet completely dependent on what we brought, ourselves. The projects may have been more work than we could get done in a week, but we moved them so far along. Now, others will build onto the foundations and porches we built. It’s not our job to fix everything, but it is our job to love our neighbor as best we can, and to build kindness wherever that we can. Such tenderhearted actions can inspire forgiveness and reconciliation in a world that sorely needs it.

I’m so grateful for all the ways I got to see these people I care about grow in just seven days. I hope hearing about their growth has inspired you to build kindness with your neighbor. Thanks be to God, who sends us to each other, and through us, can accomplish more than we could ever imagine. Amen.

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