When you get even the tiniest taste of ASP, everything changes.
For myself, I feel I was gifted with a beautiful feast of all things ASP, and trying to capture all that it is and all it has done in my life, makes me laugh,
cry, ultimately leaves me at a loss for words but an overwhelmingly grateful heart as I continue to see just how every aspect of my life is experienced, changed, lived differently because of ASP.
I think of that wandering teenager who felt the marginal shift when I felt seen and empowered by four college staffers that very first summer. And how I became obsessed with that week in the mountains, which then later turned to five summers on staff and another summer of leading a group of teens I saw and empowered.
I think of countless families who I witness dramatic shifts in confidence, peace, relief as they felt the overwhelming love of volunteers week by week. Of George and Pat who made a feast every Friday after pouring their hearts into the local food bank all week, because they could not love on their volunteers enough.
I think of Willie, from my first staff summer, whose path we crossed unintentionally, the transformation of his home, and the acceptance he felt to let guards down and love in. And how, five summers later, on my last day of ASP staff ever, I saw him. Counties away from where I met him in his holler. No reason other than, and I am convinced, God said “Here. Look at the work I am doing. Look at how it all connects. Look at what happens when you hold expectations loosely and remember my plans are promises kept.”
I think of thousands of volunteers, their stories, the shifts in perspectives, the abundance of love and acceptance of each other and those they served alongside. Moments of vulnerability, of strength, of hope. Friendships made across age gaps, income levels, communication barriers and learning differences. Families that grow across state lines and roots that are deep and foundational.
ASP is unmatched in the way it removes barriers and encourages intertwine of service, relationships, community, acceptance, faith, and construction. And it is ever growing, ever changing. It truly is a relationship ministry with construction on the side…because what we build and what is rooted internally and between people lasts so much longer than structures we repair or even build new. The work it inspires amongst people is authentic, transformative, and it lasts. It’s faith over fear. It’s valuing vulnerability. It’s empowerment and declarative that EVERYONE is ENOUGH. It is imperfect and messy and ever changing and it is everything and more that everyone needs (and everyone that has a taste of it holds onto forever…trust me).
I am sure that the One who began a good work in you will carry it on until it is completed. That will be the day when Christ Jesus returns. -Philippians 1:6
A timely theme for an ASP summer unlike any other, yet a powerful encouragement and reminder that the work done in a week’s time, relational and structural, lasts so much longer than we will ever know. Both in self, and in serving others, let this summer and any of our experiences with ASP remind us there is and will always be work to be done. Letting someone know they are seen and heard and loved, reminding yourself that you are worthy and equipped, and not taking for granted that faith can be as small as a mustard seed, and the smallest of actions can leave lasting impact.
I think the ripple effect of ASP, of people accepting and loving folks right where they are, just the way they are, sounds a lot like the echo of nails being hammered deep in an Appalachian holler, resounding laughter of a Thursday night picnic, and the stories shared and memories clung to, both by families served and volunteers serving, for ages to come. So enjoy those PB&Js with your neighbors, throw on your overalls just because or when you
love on your community, smile when you see 15-passenger vans heading down the highway, problem solve with the lens of “if I was at ASP…”, and love. Love relentlessly and with reckless abandon. Love without limits. Love while listening. And love yourself and everyone else, right where they are, just the way they are, every day until your next ASP summer…and then some.
Katie Jones is a long-time friend of ASP; she volunteered 4 years with Jamestown UMC and was a Group Leader 1 year; she was also on summer staff for 5 summers, serving in Mingo Co. WV, Wyoming-Mullens Co., WV, Fayette Co., VA, Tazewell Co., VA, and Lawrence Co., KY.