McDowell County, West Virginia
Thank you to all the parishioners, staff, parents, and volunteers who made this trip possible. We could not have done it without your love and support. Join us in 2015 or our next Kingdom Adventure!
Meet the Team
Back: Heath, Leah, Amanda (staff), Wilson, Jim K, Megan (staff), Matthew (staff), Brandon (staff), Ben, Kenzie, Angela. Front: Michael, Max, Madi, Mark, Charlie, Grant, Jack, Jake.
What an adventure! Below is an outline of what we did each day, but please continue reading past that to see the really important stories: the people we met who changed our lives.
- Saturday, July 12: Traveled from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM to reach St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington, WV where we spent the night after dinner & shopping in Pullman Square (think The Glen).
- Sunday, July 13: Worshiped with St. John’s, checked out Marshall University, picnicked & swam at Cabwaylingo State Forest, then drove the rest of the way to Gary, WV.
- Monday, July 14: Split into teams to tackle three work sites. It rained on and off all day, which interrupted the work, but allowed time to hang out with the people we were helping!
- Tuesday, July 15: At our work sites all day, again. One team ended up playing cards most of the day because they were supposed to paint outdoors, but it rained and rained and rained. Young men from the area came up to the school and we had intense basketball tournaments in the evening.
- Wednesday, July 16: The day was divided into two parts. In the morning we were at our work sites. We went back to the school to eat lunch, then ran Kids’ Club in the afternoon. Kids’ Club ended up being more exhausting than the work sites! The evening was spent at Miracle Mountain, a local look-out. We played Ultimate Frisbee, had worship & bible study…and played more Ultimate!
- Thursday, July 17: To quote Grant, they were “long days, but a short week”. We finished up everything we could at our work sites, then spent another afternoon with the kids. Even though we were only with them for about six hours total this week, we made some close relationships and were sad to say goodbye. In the evening the kids performed a praise dance they’d choreographed and we met Jack, the missionary who bought the vacant Gary School and turned it into a building that houses work teams throughout the year. We packed our bags and got ready to leave in the morning!
- Friday, July 18: We packed up the vans, cleaned the communal rooms of the school, and said our goodbyes. Within an hour we were out of the mountains and into Kentucky. We went zip-lining in the MegaCavern underneath Louisville and had a celebratory dinner at the beautiful Bristol Bar & Grille.
- Saturday, July 19: We spent the morning at Churchill Downs and then headed to the Louisville Slugger Museum. By the time we were done there, we were exhausted and ready to be home! We headed north, anxious to sleep in our own beds, and arrived in Winnetka by 6:45 that evening.
Our Work Sites:
Brenda’s House: Jim C & Deacon Heath led the work site at Brenda’s house. Brenda is a woman in her fifties with a son in his 20s who drives a garbage truck, which is a really good job. The floor underneath her toilet was rotting because of a leak and there was quite a bit of mold on the wall and toilet. She’d had a hard time staying on top of it and was so excited to have us there because she’d waited four years for help on her bathroom. Jim C and his (self-proclaimed) Bathroom Boys tore out the flooring & stool, cleaned everything up, patched it, and re-installed the toilet. As is typical of the original railroad homes, the house didn’t have a basement or cellar. The house sat on a wooden (sometimes cement or fieldstone) foundation about two feet off of the ground. In this crawl-space is all the plumbing, which mainly runs out to the backyard. If something leaks (like her toilet was for years), it all leaks into this crawl-space. In the midst of being excited about the new floor under her now-sealed toilet, Brenda had her son tear out the cast-iron tub (caulked in and with no shower) to investigate the floor underneath that. Although it was good news and the floor was fine (although unlevel), part of the drain pipe broke and we weren’t able to fix it, so Brenda is now without a tub and without linoleum on her plywood floor until someone with the skills & certifications to fix that issue volunteers his/her time to Experience Mission.
Brenda’s son also built her an addition to her home out of plywood and 2x4s, a 6×6 enclosed porch, which needed to be painted. She has two sheds that needed to be repainted, too. We were able to tackle those after the rain stopped the third day. Brenda was incredibly hospitable, always welcoming us in and chatting. She was so excited to have someone help her with her home that she got tears in her eyes. Her friend down the road, Mary, also came over most days, bringing food and coffee for everyone! The coffee at the school was pretty sad, so the chaperones were always excited when we saw Mary drive up!
Marie’s House: We were there for Marie’s birthday! She turned 79 on Tuesday the 15th. We couldn’t believe it when she told us–Marie looks more like 55. She was born in her house and raised there by her mother. Her father was a miner. When she grew up she moved to Indianapolis for several years and enjoyed reminiscing about Chicago with us. Marie has several brothers and sisters, but when her mother became ill, she was the only one who was able to move home and give her the care she needed. Marie inherited the house from her mother and hasn’t left since. Although she hadn’t planned to live there, she’s happy to be in her hometown and with her people. Marie goes to church almost every day for Bible study and services and she still loves to travel, so she is busybusybusy. Leah led a team painting her house. The wooden siding hadn’t been treated in several years, so it was definitely more of a “patch” than a fix, but we were happy to be able to help. Although we weren’t told we could make other repairs as we saw them, Grant pointed out a few areas where the siding was loose or split, so we found some nails at the demolition site and got everything back in place and secured it as best we could. At several of the houses in the area there were perfectly round holes in the wooden siding about an inch in diameter. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Often you could see through the holes into the house. As we were able, we patched those up, too. On Thursday we had more people than normal working at Marie’s house because we wanted to finish as much as possible. She’d made pizza for the normal number of people who came, but didn’t have enough for everyone. Suddenly, her neighbor Priscilla showed up with more pizza! We all ate well.
Priscilla is Marie’s next door neighbor. She lives in the “Key Lime Pie” house, as she calls it. Many of the houses in the area are painted vibrant colors because the paint is donated and it’s a mixture of remnants. Priscilla used to live across the alley from Marie in the “Sweet Potato House”, but last Thanksgiving that house caught fire. Priscilla told us that they filled out all the right paperwork and turned everything in, but they have yet to see a claims adjuster. They moved into the abandoned house next to Marie’s (Key Lime Pie house) and have begun rehab-ing it themselves bit by bit so that it’s livable. Priscilla is a preacher’s daughter. She was raised by her mother in a house “down in Gary Bottom”. Although that’s just down the hill, people tend to talk about it like it’s the wrong side of town. Priscilla’s father died when she was three, so she doesn’t remember him. Her whole life her mother told her stories, “Pastor did this…” and “Pastor was a man who…” When Priscilla was 13, she finally asked her mother who this Pastor person was and found out that her mother was talking about Priscilla’s father the whole time! He was 80 and her mother was around 30 when they married. He passed away soon after Priscilla was born. Priscilla said when she started to think about getting married, she thought, ‘Not for me! No old man for me!” She and her husband had six children, all of them born prematurely and with developmental issues. Three are still living and adults. Two of them–Jamie & JR–became our first and best friends.
Vince’s Mother’s House:
Vince was raised just across the street from the house he inherited from his mother. Vince has worked a wide variety of jobs that include teaching history, counseling drug addicts in prison, selling pot to seniors (he gets the irony), and building houses. Vince is full of wisdom. He tells stories effortlessly and we often spent most of the morning listening to him talk about his life instead of working. Vince told us about his ex-wife, deceased fiancee, and current girlfriend (his high school sweetheart-turned-minister): “I’ve been lucky enough to find love three times in my life. I never thought I’d find it once.” When our teen, Max, scraped his foot on a rusty nail, he declared that if he died there of tetanus (no chance–had his booster), he wanted to be buried next to Vince’s plot. At Vince’s house, we dismantled an enclosed porch & overhang that were falling apart. It was exciting because we all got to use crowbars and power tools. Vince wanted to reuse what he could and sell what he couldn’t, so we had to be pretty careful about how we dismantled everything. The most exciting part was when we collapsed the overhang!
Jim K and Leah were working with their teams on Vince’s house the first day when Jamiestopped by to chat. He was wearing a white t-shirt with blue tie-dyed spots and quotes about God written all over it in blue marker. Jamie promptly started rapping for us and telling us about his YouTube channel. Jamie’s older brother, JR, raps, too, and the next day when he stopped by, they had a rap battle for us! Jamie told us, “God doesn’t like bragging, so I’m just going to say it…it’s true, I was the one born with the gift.” Jamie & JR both came by often, even helping us in our work. We would be painting, look around for a brush we’d laid down, and realize JR was using it. Jamie helped us pick up trash at the demo site. They both made our days brighter and more fun, playing pick up games of basketball when we had free time and NaeNae-ing with us. The day we left, Jamie had us all sign his tie-dyed t-shirt and gave us the gold medal he won for running in the Special Olympics. As soon as we got home, some of our students got together and sent him speakers for his phone like the ones he’d admired.
When we began preparing for our mission trip, Experience Mission staff told us that the kids we would work with lacked structure in their lives and we should be prepared for sassiness and disciplinary issues. They reiterated this after we arrived and said that it was best to herd the children from one activity to another and that dividing them up for separate activities didn’t really work.
They were right. Within the first ten minutes, we threw the lesson plans and games with rules right out the window. Although we still did the activities and kept to the spirit of the lessons, we mainly spent one-on-one time with the kids and played with them. It was amazing to see them change from sassy kids who pushed all the boundaries and refused to do what we said to sassy kids who ran up against the boundaries, but generally obeyed them, and clung to us like monkeys.
Madi & Mark led the skits and lessons, improvising and shortening as necessary. Max & Charlie led the singing and tried to instigate a dance party. Angela & Jake led the crafts and even got the older preteen girls involved who usually hang out off to the side. Kenzie, Michael & Jack led crazy games like Duct-Tape-Grant-&-Mark-to-the-Wall and water balloon fights. Grant, Ben, and Wilson led the way in welcoming them to Kids’ Club and playing with them one on one. It was wonderful to watch our students lead and care for these strangers-turned-buddies.
There & Back Again: a Tale of Team-Building
We left on Saturday as acquaintances and returned 7 and a half days later as a family and a team. Very few of the students knew each other and no one knew everyone, but over the course of the week, God drew us all close and taught us how to work with and appreciate each other. Part of what helped us grow into a team is that every evening we had Family Time. During this meeting, each person shared the Best & Worst moments of their day, complimented someone else in the circle, and then we all worked together to solve any problems that arose during that day. Although the compliments started out pretty generic (“You seem like a good friend…”), by the end of the week we were able to pin-point very specific things we appreciated about each other, like, “Angela, you came alive when you led Kids’ Club. I saw you with Hailey and you did an awesome job including her.” We made meals together; we slept in vans together; we planned programs and solved work-site problems together; we zip-lined through caverns under Louisville, toured Marshall University, saw Churchill Downs, and learned how Louisville Slugger bats are made together. And as we learned about each other and how God works in each of us, we also learned about ourselves…together.