On Sunday, July 7, 8 parish members and friends of St. Nicholas Church in Charlottesville, Virginia once again journeyed to Grundy in far Southwest Virginia, to provide home reconstruction services for two families in the area, representing the UOC of USA in its Appalachia ministry project. The home repairs involved completely rebuilding floors and adding an exterior wall to restore the integrity of the structures. The projects were successfully completed after five days of labor.
‘And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.’
My Greek isn’t good enough, but I’ve been told that the verb used in that verse for the term we often translate as ‘dwelt’ actually relates to pitching a tent. The idea in play with the verb in Greek seems to be along the lines of going in to a place, setting up shop, and intending to stay a while. The expression ‘putting down roots’ would not be an inappropriate way to think of it. This is not a fly-by-night activity, in other words. The first chapter of St. John’s gospel is communicating to us, then, that the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, took flesh from the Theotokos and not only entered the created order, but came intending to stay.
The primary way that the Lord stayed is in His Church. In this season after Pentecost, we especially call to mind the gift of the Holy Spirit given to those who had already received the Great Commission from the Lord before His Ascension. We, too, are recipients of the Holy Spirit through the mystery of Chrismation. The Lord Jesus Christ has called us, sent us, and equipped us to do the good work of acting as His hands and feet in the world.
And so we go down the road five hours from our homes in central Virginia to Buchanan County, Virginia. Not because it is convenient (it isn’t) or close (definitely not) or particularly easy (no way), but because this is the work that Christ has put before us in this season of our parish’s life. We go to repair roofs, rip up rotten floor joists and lay new floors, spackle and sand drywall, paint, and any number of other construction activities as we partner with the local Christian ministry there, Buchanan Neighbors United (BNU).
But one of the wonderful things about BNU is that they understand very well the reality that physical repairs are only one part of the equation. That is not the totality of the repair work that needs to happen. There are also hearts and minds and souls that live in those homes that need healing as well. The shingles and paint and nails are simply tools being used to minister to what are truly the more pressing needs at hand.
It is worth mentioning here that while BNU is a remarkable organization doing great work, there are also a host of other local ministries right there in Buchanan County with the same mindset. Gift of Love supplies clothing and household items to those in need. Sunrise Center provides tutoring and job placement training to women recovering from abusive situations. Backpack Blessing sends elementary school kids home over the weekend with non-perishables who otherwise wouldn’t have food to eat until they got back to school on Monday. The locals even host a Remote Area Medical clinic the first weekend of October every year that provides a startlingly wide array of medical care at no cost to patients. For many, this is the only medical care of any kind that they will receive all year.
God is doing glorious work through some faithful Christian people in an area desperately in need. It is truly the privilege of our parish to partner with these ministries. One of the most striking things when making that trip for the first time is that these are people who know how to love. They don’t shake hands when they meet you—they hug. They understand and live the reality that it is the love of God that binds us together in the work of true Christian charity.
They are there to stay. They dwell in the midst of some of the most shocking poverty you will likely ever see, all the while seeking to illumine lives with the love of God. Our parish is making an investment to dwell there also, to pitch our tent with them in whatever ways we are able and as the Lord leads us.
by David Murphy
Note - David is a member of St. Nicholas parish and teaches history in high school in Charlottesville, Va. This is the second mission trip David has made to Southwest Virginia with the parish.