Two weeks ago, we gathered a thirteen member team and embarked on a six hour road trip to Cowen, West Virginia.
Our mission was to help two other churches host a Christmas party for families in the area, included the distribution of presents to kids. It was a quick trip (less than 48 hours), but an important one.
During the three months prior, I collected friendship bracelets to take as a small gift of our own. My hope was that the children of West Virginia would feel loved by other children, from other states, who knotted and braided the bracelets just for them. We brought 317 of these, along with crafts made by our congregants. The most popular items were the colorful hair bows created out of duct tape.
We stayed overnight at Camp Caesar, ate camp food, slept in bunks, and all worked together to prepare a festive atmosphere for our guests. The men on our team spent a few hours at a local mission, organizing their pantry and warehouse.
Rev. Gary & Lily Melton are the cute elderly couple who run the mission in town, which feeds over 300 people each week. Their tiny facility is located a few miles down the road from the camp where we hosted the party. The Meltons have felt called to serve the poor all of their lives. Once their own kids were grown, they relocated to the area and began their work 16 years ago.
Next summer, we'll take a larger group back to help the Meltons with their work, and to host a ministry week for the families there. We're talking about a sports camp for the kids, construction projects, and possibly an event with our Spa Team.
I am amazed at the level of poverty that exists in our country, including the families we met in West Virginia. As we drove to the camp, we saw several remote areas covered in snow with single trailers and mobile homes. Not trailer and mobile home parks, but single units scattered throughout the region. I remember wondering to myself if any of those families ever get lonely. The folks we met looked tired and worn - their children seemed to be the ones carrying joy for them. Simple joy in desperate times.
One week ago, we joined our senior pastor at a home in Wellington, Ohio. Two families in the area have a desire to start a home church there, as an extension of Cornerstone Chapel. We shared a rich evening talking about their hopes and joining in their excitement about this opportunity. At one point, two of the daughters played violins for us, someone else played piano, and we all sang songs and shared stories in their living room.
It's fun dreaming with people who share our heart for community.
Then last Saturday, Chris & I helped lead a Christmas Eve service with our friend, Jeff, who works as a guard at a women's prison in Cleveland. We were surprised by the zeal that flowed out of these ladies, despite their circumstances. They sang the Christmas carols with gusto, and blessed us with performances of their own (sign language & dancing). Hubby did a little preaching as well, and we were both so moved by the time we spent there. We had our own church's gathering to go home to, but were tempted to stay and do the prison service all over again.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all.