In 1978, I led my first ASP trip to Oneida, KY and from then on, my life was changed. Little did I know that for 18 years I would be leading groups to the hills of Appalachia to serve the people who lived there. We had the opportunity to serve in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and our home state of Tennessee. 1981, we even worked in Knoxville and learned more about our own city and who lived in the part of the city that few of us had ventured into.
Along the way, we met many people from different states who served with us and lived for a week in a variety of settings. In 1979, we stayed in a community center in Clairfield, TN where the girls slept in the community room and the boys in the tool room. It was very small and we had only 14 from Cokesbury UMC and a small group from Ohio. I learned what the difference from a want and need during a evening gathering and I still use that when buying something. A sign in the bathroom said: “If it’s brown flush it down; if It’s yellow let it mellow”.
In 1984, I met James and his family in Dingess, WV. James would do a lot of the work at night with the materials we left because he was handy and we were not as much. He taught us so much that year and we loved his family. On Friday, since we finished early, he gave us a gift of hiking in the mountains near his home. In 1988, while in Logan, WV I had contacted James and he came to see me. ASP had built him a new home because the previous one had burnt down. I went to see the new house and thanked God for ASP. James shared with me that he had become a Christian because he knew that there had to be a God because He sent people like ASP to rebuild and repair homes and lives too. (His mother had preached to him for years about becoming a Christian but it took Christians coming to WV to love and care for him and his family that changed his life.)
I could go on and on about the families and lives that were touched by ASP year by year that I served. I saw the number of people going from Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville from 14 youth and adults to over 70 youth and adults. I got to go not as the leader but as one of the adult volunteers for a few more years until 2010. I saw a transformation in the organization of ASP and the outreach to more and more communities and families. ASP is changing Appalachia but there is still so much more work to be done.
However, one of the most important things that ASP teaches is what it is to be a servant and to serve our Lord Jesus. I have seen the lives of young and older people who came for a week a service be made into a life of service. I was so thankful to see many of our youth serve on ASP staffs over the years. Their dedication to God and ASP inspired me to do whatever I could do to promote ASP. It causes me to reach out to those who are hurting and often seen as lesser than. Tex Evans will always be one of my heroes because he saw a world where people could come to these Appalachia mountains and make a difference in families’ lives by making their homes “safer, warmer, safer and drier.” May we continue to follow our Lord and walk in His footsteps.
Connie Vincent, long-time group leader serving with ASP.