Butterflies… or maybe it was the leftovers from the China Inn, (Craigsville’s sole downtown eatery), but either way there something rumbling in my stomach on that day in June of 2015. It was my first day of my first year being on staff in Nicholas County, West Virginia. Amelia, my Center Director and I were off to do our Initial Home Visits (IHV) to find some fantastic people to work with for the summer. I remember specifically the feeling when we pulled up to our first address. Stepping out of the van it was quiet and peaceful as we walked up to an old mobile home.
We knocked a few times, but all of my pent up anticipation had no pay off: no one was home. We left a note with our phone number on it and scattered dust as we drove away down Crupperneck road. Not 5 minutes later I received a call and heard the soft but certain voice of Roger Workman for the first time. He apologized for not being home, but said “I’m home now if you’d like to come back”. We turned around and that’s when I met the man who became a truly iconic, kind and hardworking presence all summer, and as it turns out for many summers to come. He was long and lean, with a big bushy beard, camo hat and a shirt that on it was written, “They call me papa”. Roger had a heart of gold and within a few minutes of walking around his house and meeting his lovely wife Patty, Amelia and I knew that this would be a genuinely fantastic relationship to foster through home repair all summer long.
Throughout the 7 weeks of our summer in Nicholas County, our volunteers worked along side Roger to build a handicap ramp for his wife, add insulation and siding along the back side of his house, create a safe second exit, repair various floors and walls, add structure to the roof system, install new windows, doors and all sorts of odds and ends. Roger radiated a gentle and kind spirit, working with the volunteers and sharing his tremendous wealth of knowledge in a humble, instructive and selfless way. Roger and Patty became regulars at our weekly cookouts where Roger was pretty quick to show us his skills when it came to horseshoes and corn hole. At the end of the summer, we said goodbye to the Workmans, disappointed that we did not accomplish all that we wanted, but grateful for the opportunity to become friends with such good people. We promised that we would be back to visit. As we were leaving, Roger asked how he could do this again next summer. We said, “Just fill out another application, and we’ll make sure that next year’s staff sees it”. He said “Oh no, I want to do what y’all do. I’ve received enough help, I want to help others now.”
That was the summer of 2015. I visited Roger again the next summer on a day off, but that was the last I had heard or seen of him.
In the summer of 2018, I did not work for ASP. I was off in Washington and Oregon leading backpacking trips with groups of 9th graders. I remember getting off of the trail in North Cascade National Park and back into cell phone service. I got a picture message from my old friend Matt Headland from ASP staff. It was a selfie with Roger. He said “Look who I found helping out.” He informed me that Roger had become a local volunteer with ASP, working as an all-around helping hand for the Nicholas County staff. I recently was able to speak with Tom Davies, who served as Center Director for Nicholas County in 2018. He informed me that he reached out to Roger at the start of the summer about volunteering. He gave Roger the paperwork to fill out, expecting it to take him a few days to gather up all the required documents, but within 2 hours Roger was back at the office eagerly awaiting his first assignment. “There were only 2 days for the entire 8 weeks, where we had volunteers working, and Roger wasn’t,” Tom told me. “He was willing to go anywhere and help anyone, and was a tremendous saving grace and resource: almost a 5th staff member”. Tom told me that Roger would come to Evening Gathering and every picnic. He would go along with the staff when they signed paperwork to begin work on a new family’s home. “His presence in those moments was especially comforting. Not necessarily for us, but for the homeowners who could find solace in a familiar, local face,” Tom confessed. It truly warmed my soul to hear about where Roger is now.
With my own often self-centered mindset I find that my default setting reinforces the idea that good change only happens when I initiate it, or in this situation, when ASP is the catalyst. The capital T-truth is that God is, has been and will continue to be present in rural Appalachia whether ASP is there or not. Roger might have been transformed by the work of a couple dozen youth and adult volunteers in 2015, but the impacts that he is making on the community far surpass those simple original repairs. His presence builds crucial bridges between ASP and Nicholas County; between folks who are willing to serve the kingdom, and the kingdom itself. If ASP is truly a relationship ministry with construction on the side, then Roger Workman ought to be a perfect example of how that plays out in actuality. Finished projects are great and a huge component of ASP’s ministry, but the true impact of relationally focused service is the attitude evoked to serve and be served long after the initial week of volunteering. Unlike a porch or new floor, that mindset won’t necessarily deteriorate after 10 years; hopefully it will only grow larger and more outreaching just as it has with Roger. That is the real sustainability found in short term service.
ASP has the vision to, “transform the lives of all whom come in contact with its ministry”. It is comforting to know that that transformation does not begin or end with ASP: it begins and ends with the true Alpha and Omega, and we as people and as an organization are just lucky to be a witnessing presence helping along the way.
Before I finished speaking with Tom, he told me that at one of the last picnics, Roger came into contact with Doc, who ran the local Hardware store in Craigsville. Doc was in search of some extra hands and with Roger’s tremendous work ethic and knowledge, he was a perfect candidate. Turns out that Roger had his first full day of work in the first week of August after finishing up volunteering for ASP. He told Doc that he would be able to work 9 months out of the year, but when summer rolls around, he has a commitment to volunteer with ASP.
Isn’t it beautiful how a transformed life, can continue to transform others?
I think this is when Jesus might tell us, “Go and do likewise.”
Lucas Jones is a former staffer originally from Raleigh NC, and currently living in the Atlanta area. He has served 3 summers on staff with ASP. In 2015 as a Volunteer Coordinator in Nicholas County, WV; in 2016 as Volunteer Coordinator in Greenbrier County, WV; and in 2017 as Center Director in Bland County VA. Lucas graduated from NC State University and is currently enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur GA pursuing a Masters of Divinity.