When I first applied to domestic service, I had no idea what to expect. I completed my application about 17 minutes (give or take) before the deadline at the urging of some friends, and knew very little about any of the trips. However, over the next few weeks the prospect of a service trip became more and more enticing and by the time I was placed on the Kentucky trip, I couldn’t wait to get involved. Even so, the trip was still more amazing than I could’ve hoped.
Our service involved doing various types of home repair in conjunction with the Christian Appalachian Project, which seeks to offer assistance to people living in a region that is often forgotten by the rest of the country. When we arrived at the retreat center, where we would stay for the week, the staff split us into different work groups so that we would each be with various members of other colleges that were participating. I imagine this news came at the collective relief of the rest of the group that had just spent 9 hours driving together and one interesting night at a Quality Inn. I slept like a baby; my bedmate Sean Cleary was apparently not so lucky.
My work team consisted of students from universities such as Ohio State, Duke, and UConn, a priest and science teacher from University of Saint Francis, and two long-term volunteers at CAP. On Monday, they were total strangers, but on Friday they were friends that I never wanted to say goodbye to. It’s amazing what four days of hard labor in the freezing-cold Kentucky mountains can do for a group of people.
I felt like the luckiest guy in Kentucky for being in a group with such devoted, self-giving and loving people. Some of the most impactful moments of the week were my conversations with group members about prayer, relationships, vocations and fermented PB & J sandwiches. In just a few short days, I became part of an amazing Christian community that I was able to learn so much from.
Our group served Bill and Debbie, an elderly couple who were fantastic hosts. Their house needed a ramp to make it more accessible for themselves and the friend they had taken in. His name was Mark and after several strokes left him partially-paralyzed, Debbie and Bill offered him a place in their home and in their family. Their incredible generosity even in the face of hardship will stick with me forever, and it seems that during the week they served us as much as we served them. We built them a ramp; they gave us soup, hot cocoa and a place to come in from the cold. Debbie and Bill taught me that no matter what we are going through, we can always serve those around us.
On our last night in Kentucky, Debbie said that our work team had helped restore her faith. That was one of the best and happiest things I’ve ever heard. Who could’ve guessed how much those four days of work would change all of our lives? Because of Debbie, Bill, my work team and the awesome Scranton team I came with, my faith has been deepened as well as my understanding of God’s love in action.
The ride back to Scranton went a lot differently than the ride to Kentucky, and not just because of the sketchy Italian fast-food place in a gas station we ate at. I knew the people in my van so much better, and had gotten to see God’s love shining through each of them that week. Each of them brought unique gifts to the trip and each helped make the experience as impactful as it was. We reflected on how our service had changed us for the better as well as our realization of the countless people still out there needing a helping hand. My week in Kentucky was a positive experience, but also one that opened my eyes to the incredible need that is present in the world. If I learned anything from each awesome person I interacted with during the trip, it’s that everyone has gifts and everyone can find ways to serve those around them, no matter the circumstances.