Non-Christians would look at ASP as anything but glamorous and glorious. It’s hot: jeans, boots and short sleeve shirts every day, sweat dripping down your face soaking your shirt, your jeans sticking to your legs. It’s messy: dirt, grime, creek water, mud, spackle, paint and more of that sweat. It’s exhausting: on the worksite as close to 9 am as possible, working 6-8 hours on your feet, tools in hand, 5 days straight, learning as you go. It’s outdoor showers, in black plastic tarps secured by duct tape blowing in the wind, and sleeping on deflating mattresses in a stuffy room with two dozen of your newest friends, complete with a couple of your favorite snorers. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s draining. It’s paradise. It’s glorious!
God calls us for Love in Action:
1 John 3:18: Let us love, not in word or in speech, but in truth and action.
35 youth and 16 adults made that commitment this past summer, and because of the incredibly generous support of our loving congregation, we were able to put these contributions to good work.
Our teams, together with some of our homeowners, built decks where the old had rotted out so a gentleman with cancer could enter and exit his home safely for his treatments. We replaced subfloors and floors in a new-to-the-family, but so-old-to-us trailer, so young children could play in their own home without the risk of injury. We built 14 trusses and raised 4 walls on a home that a young family had lost to a tornado. We added a new entrance and replaced flooring so a family could live safely. We mudded, sanded, painted and paneled walls and ceilings of a new home to replace one lost by fire to a woman and her three children. We added siding to a home to protect a family from the elements.
We acted on behalf of this church … sent by God to do his work. And the lives of many were transformed. From the homeowners who shook the hand and called each of the 14 volunteers at his home by name as he said thank you, to the woman who called the team repairing her home her family, lives were transformed. From the couple who cooked dinner for a team on their last day, to the woman who looked each volunteer in the eye and said I love you, lives were transformed. From the homeowner who said something special about each member of their volunteer team, to the woman who told her team she would be praying for them, lives were transformed. From the grandmother who told each volunteer that they are going to do something really good in their lives because of their generosity, to the 3 young girls who smiled endlessly completely shocked that their new shared bedroom would have windows, lives were transformed.
Lives were transformed because of you … your donations, your generosity, your prayers. And yet, not just the lives of those that we met in Kentucky and West Virginia, of those whose homes we worked on, on those who were in such need. Our lives were also transformed. Our lives were also in need. For those that have served before, be it on ASP, at the Sharing Table, at Manna House, in Puerto Rico or beyond, you know this so well …. We go to help others and in doing so strengthen ourselves.
How? How do we know? Because our kids tell us.
They tell us that ASP is the week that they look forward to all year long. They tell us that working for others on ASP is better than anything they do for themselves. They tell us that seeing others in Appalachia with needs much greater than our own teaches us to appreciate what we have. They tell us that watching others with living conditions that are unimaginable and struggles beyond our greatest fears, live with happiness and joy because of their faith in God, teaches us to find our path with God. They tell us that clearly money and material things are not what “does it”, as the people of Appalachia are truly happy. They tell us that ASP is Home, that the friendships and the memories are stronger than any other because they are rooted in doing for others in God’s name. They tell us that because of ASP they want to do more for the community, both at home and in Appalachia, by coming again, by trying to get on staff, by connecting with an ASP College Program. Our kiddos tell us that they are inspired to become better versions of themselves.
They tell us that family should come first, after all, it does in the mountains and the people are happy. They tell us that kindness, love and respect are rooted in Christ and that they have reconnected with a God that they had lost because of this trip. They tell us that they were angry with God, but have found a way to resolve that anger because of the strength and words of a homeowner. They tell us that some of the happiest moments of their lives have been spent on ASP where they have laughed harder and shared more. They tell us that somehow God put the teams together, the chemistry unmatched, to go forward and never give up. They tell us that those without don’t stop– don’t stop loving, don’t stop appreciating, don’t stop trying to make things better– and so they learned that we too should not stop. They tell us that the best representation of ‘love in action’ is ourselves.
Our kids tell us … because they have felt a change. Be it large and life-altering or small and tweaking, they are changed. Your generosity has caused transformations to occur, lives to be altered, dreams to be created.
Our kids were phenomenal. They were respectful and polite, kind and compassionate, not only to each other and the center staff, but to their families and to the community. They worked their tails off. They followed all rules and volunteered for jobs around the center when exhaustion seemed like the only answer. They looked after each other. Many of them took vacation time from work for ASP. Some gave up camp with friends and fun. Others spent their own money to do God’s work. EVERY single one of them made us proud. They were amazing! They were inspiring! They are inspiring!
And they inspire us …. to go forth.
At the end of our share circle we were reminded that God does not live at ASP, that God and the work to be done, is not limited to the mountains.
James 2 26: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
We are indeed united in love. United in our faith. And yet, our faith must include that which we do as the hands and feet of God. We are challenged to be selfless as we prove our faith through reckless actions of love. For love in action is undeniably paradise for all.
Tonya Bonner Chandler leads the ASP group from Fallston United Methodist Church, Maryland. As she and her group prepare for another summer serving in Central Appalachia, she shared this testimony to her congregation from their 2017 trip, focusing on the theme “Love in Action.” Many of her words were taken from her youth reflecting on the final evening of their trip. Fallston United Methodist spent their 19th year with ASP in Lawrence County, Kentucky. They served the week of July 9th with 7 teams and 2 floaters for a total of 51.