On July 22 nine of us left Adrian for a week long mission trip to Henderson Settlement, a Methodist mission outreach in the Kentucky mountains. Our work included painting a big activity room on the mission campus, working in a thrift store and food pantry, and putting metal skirting on a trailer a few miles away. We also enjoyed a rest day for sightseeing. Our group was made up of three women, three teenage girls, and three men. We saw beautiful scenery of gently rolling mountains, densely forested. We also saw firsthand the poverty of Appalachia. One man told me that the economic downturn of ’08 was simply life as usual for them. Their economic woes are deep and perennial.
On our last evening there, we sat on the hillside devotion area (picture above) and shared our surprises for the week. My surprise was how much I enjoyed the trip. Although I love dearly the people who came on the trip, I was not looking forward to the trip itself, and it was a surprise to me, once I got immersed in it, how much I enjoyed it. Which is a good reminder that my mood is often not an indicator of what is best for me.
There was no cell phone service at Henderson Settlement, so at times I felt disconnected from the world. It is good and healthy to disconnect, I know, and it helped me in a small way to feel the life of the poor, who are disconnected in many ways, but it also meant it was that much harder to make contact with my wife. I missed hearing her voice each day. The dorm we stayed in had wi-fi, so I could contact her through Facebook messages, and I was able to post pictures of our work for my church folks to see. (The Internet connection was spotty, though.) This was the sixth mission trip I have led, and the second to Kentucky. I have always been a reluctant leader; the role does not come naturally or easily to me. Each time I lead something like this, though, I become a little better at it and the role feels like it fits me more. I learned a few more leadership lessons this time. We had free time in the evening, and no TV. I played cards with our girls, and I finished reading John Woolman’s Journal for the third time. The girls were fun to be with. And Woolman was good to associate with; he helps me cultivate silence and models what a Christian life looks like.
I suppose on a trip like ours you are supposed to learn all sorts of important things about poverty. I did not. I am tempted to say with Jesus, “You will always have the poor with you, and you can help them any time you want.” John Woolman analyzed the causes of poverty, but 250 years later it seems we are no closer to ending it. I prefer to think in terms of small acts. On this trip we helped a widow to have a prettier home to live in. That is enough for me.
The best line on the trip came from one of the girls as she enjoyed a vanilla milkshake from a local market one evening. “Heaven in a cup,” she said. I hope she will remember that cup and the mission trip for years to come.