We Call Out to Dry Bones, Come Alive: How God Moved in the Teams and in Appalachia
Throughout the eight weeks of serving in Appalachia, there were countless times that I saw God’s hand at work. These “God moments” came in the ordinary and the extraordinary moments, in the chaos and in the stillness, in the scheduled and in the spontaneous moments.
A faith-based dance company, Steps of Faith, from Georgia and Beulah Baptist Church blessed Wheelwright, Kentucky during the second week of June. On Thursday, there was a community pool party at the local pool. The girls from the dance company planned to perform and have the children that attended their dance camp that week also perform. The community sat in awe as Steps of Faith danced and big smiles covered all the faces as a group of twenty children danced. During the last song “Your Glory,” two girls walking to the local convenient store stopped to check out the sight. The girls went unnoticed by many, except the youth pastor of Beulah. He approached the two girls, with one girl visibly upset. She shared with him about how she felt overwhelmed by God’s presence like never before. The youth pastor was able to pray with her and she accepted Christ, right there on the sidewalk! At this point, the dance had concluded and the girls were heading back to the building to change clothes. Four of the dancers noticed the two girls by the fence, and as they described it, they felt “God telling them to go talk to them.” What a joyous moment as they celebrated the girl’s decision to follow Christ! They immediately invited her into the pool party and ran sharing the news! In this moment, no words were necessary because she saw God through the dance being performed.
During the second week in Wheelwright, Kentucky, Christ Church from Minnesota brought 60 people to serve throughout the community and other surrounding areas. Just as the week was beginning, the church leaders received word that the mother of one of the youth girls did not have much longer to live after a long battle with cancer. The pastor of Christ Church decided to wait until that evening to tell the girl and spent the afternoon booking a flight for her and another female leader to travel back to Minnesota. Shortly after informing the girl, the pastor told the rest of the church. A silence filled the church and soft cries spread throughout the sanctuary, and then another youth asked if they could pray for her. For the next hour, the group prayed and hugged her before watching her take off into the night with the youth leader. As the group filed back into the sanctuary, the pain and sorrow fell heavy in the room. One teenager got up from her seat and approached her guitar at the front of the sanctuary and began singing “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).” Following behind her, the rest of the youth worship band circled in the front and continued to sing praises to the Lord. It was a heart wrenching and powerful experience to witness these teens praising God in the midst of such pain and agony. It may have been a broken hallelujah, but God brought strength and comfort into that group, and they left changed because of it.
The first week in Pikeville, Kentucky proved to be the most challenging week of the summer. There was a large amount of rain that caused issues in the midst of large home repair projects. The week was also difficult as teams faced hard home situations and conflict within their individual groups. Throughout the week, the groups and the SCORE staff held onto hope, believing that God was about to do something amazing. On Thursday, we held our first Shoes of Hope event for the summer. It started off rocky as the two groups helping with setting up had some issues working together. In the hopes of restoring unity and bringing peace to the situation, we gathered in the center of the UPIKE gym to pray together. As we were about to begin praying, two members of the UPIKE custodial staff saw us and asked if they could join us in prayer. We used a “popcorn” prayer style and in one of the pauses, a man began praying; it was one of the men from the custodial staff. He prayed for us, he prayed for the event, he prayed for the people of Pike County, but he also praised God for His gift of salvation and prayed that God would work in his life. It served as a reminder that we are the hands and feet of Christ and we have to act in a way that reflects that awesome responsibility. Following this pause in our morning, the groups were able to move forward and serve together. By the 2pm start time, there was already a huge crowd gathered. Despite a torrential downpour at about 3:30pm, people continued filing into the UPIKE gym until 7pm that night. By the end of the day, 389 pairs of shoes were handed out and 37 people accepted Christ. One of the female leaders from New Hope Baptist Church was so excited when her homeowner’s son came to her foot washing station. The home that they had been serving out was roughly an hour away, but they still made the trek to Pikeville. As the son had his feet washed, he heard the Gospel and accepted Christ! The woman bubbled over with joy as we all celebrated God’s goodness!
Meanwhile on Thursday morning, a few members from Bethel Baptist returned to their worksite after a hard Wednesday. There were concerns about the homeowner and her choices regarding her grandchildren. These concerns prompted Bethel Baptist to leave the worksite early on Wednesday with no intention of returning on Thursday. One of their female leaders told the men that they would be returning the next day because she felt like something was not finished at the home (and she was not talking about the gutters). So early on Thursday morning, they headed to the worksite. During our final devotion of the week, the female leader shared that when they returned to the house, they shared the Gospel again with the homeowner. However, the homeowner did not seem receptive to their words. Feeling a bit discouraged, they got up and ran into her 9-year-old granddaughter. The granddaughter was full of questions about what they had been sharing with her grandmother. Through conversation and prayer, the granddaughter accepted Christ and was asking for the ladies to bookmark certain Bible stories in order for her to look them up later. The group was reminded that even though the situation may have been hard to face, Christ and His love was still necessary to be shown and shared.
In Huntington, West Virginia, there were multiple groups that served at the Huntington City Mission. A group of 12 women from Mauldin UMC worked with the women at the shelter, while two churches took turns watching the children for the ladies. On the final day, the ladies had a tea party together and the ladies of the shelter shared stories of what the week meant to them. The leader of Mauldin prepared to give a charge to the ladies to stay connected and support with one another, but before she had the chance to deliver it, a lady from the shelter stood up and spoke to the ladies. She said that just because the church group was leaving did not mean that they had to stop spending time together. The ladies of the church grew so close to the ladies of the shelter, it made Thursday very hard for them.
While they were with the women, the church groups had the opportunity to entertain the children and care for them. After the first day, the youth of the one church had a really hard time as they tried to put themselves in the places of the children at the shelter. Their hearts broke as they started to realize the weight of the struggles that these kids were facing. The group spent time debriefing and in prayer every night to prepare for the next day. On Thursday, many of the teens shared where they saw God during their week of service. The common theme was seeing God in the small things and in the ordinary. While the kids loved having so many teens to “love on them,” the team learned so much about God’s love and care and what joy really looks like.
The summer was full of amazing God moments. Many of the God moments came when the teams realized that they could see God moving everywhere if only they stopped and looked around. The atmosphere of mission trips usually seems chaotic and busy, but it also provides the space to break free of outside distractions. It is all about cultivating those quiet spaces with God to see Him more clearly and be closer to Him.