Wake up, load up, runs. Group leader check ins, dinner, evening gathering, staff meeting. Repeat. That’s a day in the life of a summer staffer, and this is the fourth week of this for them.They’ve had nearly four weeks of construction planning, logistics coordinating, youth wrangling, community member cajoling, and likely not sleeping as much as they should. Even for the most driven and grounded staffers, this job becomes draining, and when I was on summer staff, it became easy for me to lose focus on why we do what we do as I myopically honed in on what we do.
This is true for any job or any volunteer experience. When you lose focus on why you do the things you do, the machinations of it all takes over. It’s easy for the logistics of morning deliveries to become your top priority, rather than the relationship you’re developing with that new group of volunteers. It’s these times when you either need to recognize what’s happening and stop it, or get a gut punch from a special moment on a worksite or at the center. Something that wakes you up and fully reminds you why Tex Evans started this crazy organization 50 years ago.
This week, Clara (my incredibly talented partner in the field who does all of the lovely videos you see) and I were visiting a family in Tennessee. A family whose story is powerful and acted as a much needed gut punch for me. In the midst of visiting centers and hearing volunteer, staff, and homeowner stories, it can become easy to start worrying about what everyone is saying, and not why we are listening. The Wilson family reminded us why we do what we do.
Jessica, Aaron, and Ava Wilson
The Wilsons live in an old home positioned right at the entrance to a little neighborhood. The bones of the house where Bradley, Jessica, Ava, and Aaron reside are solid, but inside of the house, the previous owners had torn out floor boards to use as firewood and let animals run rampant, leaving it unsuitable for them to live in. The roof leaked, letting rain run freely into Jessica and Bradley’s room. Jessica joked to me that they used to say they had water beds. Two years ago, they moved in and started making that house their home. But before they reached this turning point for their family, Jessica said they needed to be made low in order for them to learn about the pervasive, unrelenting love of God. “If something’s going to be beautiful, it’s got to be a mess first.”
In the deep darkness of addiction, Bradley met the love of God, and it changed him. He stopped drinking. He found work. He and his wife dove deep into faith, turning their entire heart toward Him. As they did this, they started planning how they could serve their community. For Jessica, it will be through photography. For Bradley, it will be a hot food ministry with a focus on giving meals to those in mourning. Once the gears started turning in their hearts, they found this home, albeit in a state of disrepair. They worked on it, making it safe enough to move themselves and their kids in. Then, they applied for ASP. The first year, ASP wasn’t able to help them, but now, volunteers have been at their home for three and a half weeks. Each volunteer hears Bradley’s testimony of faith and transformation, and they get to see how that has played out in the amazing work the Wilson’s had already done on their home before ASP volunteers started helping.
I learned all of this in an afternoon at a kitchen table sitting across from Jessica and Bradley as they sipped on sweet tea while Clara and I interviewed them.
“This is the Lord’s house now,” they kept saying. They were overflowing with Love, and it’s clear that every volunteer who works at their home feels it. Jessica said that some of the kids might not fully understand what this love means right now, but maybe once they go home, they’ll start wondering what was so different about Jessica and Bradley. In fact, two volunteers who worked there have already been back to visit them.
That interview left me teary eyed with a renewed spirit and purpose for the rest of the summer. It seems that the times we have our heads down the most, with our eyes focused so intently on the work at hand, God is most likely to knee you in the face with a phrase or a sunset or a memory that jerks your head right back up to Him, reminding us why we are here. We’ve been called to action. Even though we’ve accepted that, said, “Here I Am,” and received our marching orders, we might forget the banner we bear while we carry out the task. If you’re a staffer reading this, seek those moments. Let God knee you in the face! Volunteers, take these moments home with you. Don’t let that sense of purpose drift away. Families, thank you for being constant bastions of faith, kindness, and love.
Do you have any stories of God reminding you of why you were called to action? Share them with us using #ASPHome on Instagram and Facebook!
Matt Headland is ASP’s newest member of the Volunteer Department. Throughout the year he focuses on new volunteer recruitment, retention, and media. This summer, however, you will find him driving throughout Central Appalachia with our Media Content Team. Follow along with his travels with his weekly blog, “Feels Like Home,” and on social media at @AppServProject.