[NOTE: I first published this in March 2009. Appalachia Service Project works to help repair homes in some of the poorest counties of Appalachia.]
They purchased the house 22 years ago. Another family had tried and failed to win the contract and, as an act of revenge, set fire to the house.
It stands today, fire damage still evident. Seven children have grown up in this single-story, white five-room house. The youngest, Paul, is thirteen; his older brother, eighteen.
At some point along the way, Appalachia Service Project came into the picture and began to fix the house. Not only is there fire damage, but water damage and rot and termites and a poor foundation have also taken a toll on the building. The family, of meager means, had no way to adequately repair the house on their own. Through ASP, they depend solely on the love and work of volunteers.
I, along with several others from InterVarsity or other organizations at Virginia Tech, Old Dominion, and Saint Louis Universities, was one of these volunteers. Our team spent the week reinforcing the roof with cross-bracing, tearing out ruined insulation and walls, and demolishing the structurally-unsound front of the house. A second group, from Old Dominion, finished installing a new floor in the main room, as well as adding a new interior wall. Before we arrived, previous groups had replaced several exterior walls and removed the interior carpeting. The week after our work, a group came to finish the foundation for a new front room and porch.
Each day, we would leave the worksite for lunch, driving a mile down the road to an old farmhouse, built in 1793. Six years after the Constitution was drafted. Two hundred and sixteen years ago. There, we talked to the family about the Civil War, Confederate flags, the C.S.A. Hunley, railroads, and all sorts of things while we ate our peanut butter and jelly (or turkey) sandwiches. They invited us into their lives, showing us some of their prized possessions, allowing us to play with their amazing dogs, evil goose, mellow horse.
We grew to love this family. We grew to love their determined outlook on life, despite the hardship they faced. We grew to love their selflessness and openness. We grew to love all the history in their minds, homes, and yard.
Little in my life has been more fulfilling than spending eight hours a day, for a five day week, giving my all to see this family have a warmer, safer, drier home. Little has been more fulfilling than seeing their appreciation and seeing the change in the house itself. In all of it, I could see Christ. In their hospitality. In the friendships created and strengthened. In the work we did. In the love that sprang up that week. Christ was there.
“…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Christ came to serve, not to be served. And we, his followers, are called to do the same. How wonderful it was to serve this family in the spirit of Christ, expecting nothing in return. I shall not forget them.
[To the best of my knowledge, work on the house is complete. It has new siding, a new front porch, a new bathroom, and is finally weatherproof and free of fire damage. I have as of yet been unable to go back and see for myself.]