During the week of August 6th, a team of eight volunteers from St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Charlottesville, VA) journeyed through the Appalachian mountains to the town of Grundy, in Southwest Virginia, to provide support for the ongoing ministry of Buchanon Neighbors United (BNU) in that region. The team from St. Nicholas parish, as directed by the leaders of BNU, engaged in numerous repair projects on behalf of two homeowners with special needs - including roof repairs and re-shingling, gutter installation, interior repairs/plumbing and painting. While the hands-on work was challenging, and at times demanding, the work week also included rich opportunities to interact with the homeowners and offer a glimpse into the ministry of Buchanon Neighbors United - anchored by Director Gertrude Hibbits, Sr. Pauline Champagne, and project coordinator Junior Pack. The leaders of BNU provide the framework for outside groups to come to Grundy, including groups of college students, to provide services where they are needed the most. Team members from St. Nicholas Church included Karl and Karen Bowman, Cynthia Patzig, Kiros Lema, Don MacKay, David Murphy, Debbie Hutson and Fr. Robert Holet, the pastor. Some team members provided the on-site work, while others did essential behind-the-scenes support for the effort.
The week began with a rainy start, so the team focused on interior repairs and painting for Mary (names are fictitious), who has lost the use of her arm, but nonetheless is able to work and care for her autistic son. Seemingly simple repairs like re-aligning doors, hanging window treatments and painting are difficult for Mary, so the team set out to accomplish these tasks in short order. One special item that was provided for the family was the installation of a dishwasher. At first this may seem to be something of a luxury - but one need only take five minutes trying to wash one’s own dishes - using only one arm - to realize what a real time and work saver the dishwasher can be! In channeling the efforts of the team to this type of activity, it was clear that the leaders of BNU approached the dynamics of each family individually, so that the real needs of people could be addressed.
Spiritual and Material Needs
With the parting of the clouds on Tuesday, the outdoor projects could be tackled in earnest. Hence the team split up, with two members continuing work at Mary’s home, installing a gutter system, while the balance of the team went to site #2, the home of Theresa, who had some very special needs as well. Theresa has been experiencing some serious challenges in life - most recently two surgeries for her knees. However, other challenges proved to be even more weighty for Theresa. Recently, her home had been the site of a horrific shooting and death of two local law enforcement officers - an event which was purely random with which she had neither personal association nor responsibility. A deranged man simply began to open fire when he saw the officers approach her home on routine business. Blood was literally running down her driveway, and one of the officers was shot to death seeking refuge in Theresa’s car. When law enforcement backup finally arrived the horrific scene was brought to a grisly end with the shooting death of the sniper. One can only imagine the emotional and spiritual impact impressed upon the soul and embedded in memory by such a horrible experience.
Clearly, the needs at Martha’s home were many, and not just material. The team worked prayerfully and diligently to carry out the assigned tasks - including a major roof repair, shingling half the roof, painting and other tasks. To the delight of all, on Wednesday, Theresa came from her rehabilitation home to visit our team at her home. All joined in prayers for a successful completion of the project, but especially for healing, spiritual protection and restoration for Theresa and her family. Although not Orthodox, Theresa’s Christian faith was strong despite her many struggles. She was open to receive a simple anointing with a blessed oil from a monastic shrine in Ukraine, which Fr. Robert administered while the team prayed.
A special night was planned for Tuesday evening, when a community fellowship meal was shared at the church hall of St. Joseph Catholic parish in Grundy. Special guests included those in the community who are actively working to combat poverty and provide health care in the region. Both Orthodox team members and community leaders were of one accord - sharing a sense that the Holy Spirit truly had gathered the group together that night. Through the sharing of stories and ideas, a more solid relational foundation was fostered, a foundation upon which future ministry efforts can be built. The dinner was preceded by a Moleben to Jesus Christ, offered by Father Robert. The church was filled with the chants of people of faith - some Orthodox, some not, crying out “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us!” While many present had never experienced an Orthodox prayer service, they certainly knew well how to call out to the Lord in prayer and intercession! For those who serve in BNU, this prayer is a way of life and undergirds the entire ministry. These prayers were joined to many throughout our Metropolia who expressed a desire to support the mission effort spiritually - including the faithful of St. Nicholas parish who would also offer the Reader’s Moleben that week for this intention.
By the grace of God, the team members were able to complete the essential tasks by Thursday evening. This left an opportunity on Friday to make a brief tour of the area with Sr. Pauline and Junior to their homes in nearby Hurley, Virginia - the site of a devastating flood less than 10 years ago. The harsh life in the old coal mining camps came to life for us - revealing a people who are as rugged as the land in which they live. In such an environment, the choice is clear - have faith in God, or perish in despair.
As we prepared to depart, we presented an icon of the Transfiguration of our Lord to Sr. Pauline, for the chapel in her residence, as a reminder of the transforming power of Christ through the work of their ministry. A financial gift was also presented to help defray some of the expenses incurred by Buchanon Neighbors United during the week.
The team members returned home, glorifying God for His presence in the hearts and lives of the people we met. As the Lord permits, we hope to return to Grundy in the summer of 2013, and invite more people in our Metropolia to participate in this special work among our neighbors and friends in Appalachia.
A follow up article with reflections from team members will be forthcoming in the Ukrainian Orthodox Word.