Perhaps it would make more sense to say “how my 40 companions spent their summer vacation,” because what they did was a lot more important than what I did. I mostly stood around and watched, and lent some chaperoning service, while they replaced a roofed porch, repaired two roofs, a deck and three sets of stairs, built a 20-foot-high retaining wall, removed and replaced the deteriorated bottom of the backside of a house and did exterior painting and cleaning and extensive yard work.
They did this as part of the mission work we do every summer for people who live in unspeakable poverty in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.
In addition to serving those in great need, we formed new friendships, renewed old friendships, enjoyed Christian fellowship and participated daily in Morning Prayer and evening chapel services. And in so doing, we came to more deeply appreciate Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 25 to welcome and serve “the least of these.”
The robust widow my nine-person team served, Miss Reba, lives in a house that looks like it’s about to fall off the side of the mountain; the second floor has no siding, but we were afraid the entire structure would collapse around us if we tried to repair it. A series of Swiss Family Robinson-style stairs leads up from a steep driveway to that house and to a second, smaller house that we worked on, in hopes of making it safe for her to move back into.
Our team, led by Tawfiq Hodaly, an amazing cabinetmaker who serves as operations manager for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Columbia, demolished and rebuilt a rickety covered porch and replaced crumbling siding that exposed much of the underside of the house; my fellow parishioner, Steve Amodio, built a 20-foot retaining wall along the only pathway to the back of the house – a section that used to be the side yard before it eroded to a foot-wide strip of unstable soil that falls off to a 30-foot cliff along the roadside.
This is the seventh year that both Tawfiq and I have participated in the work trip, which is conducted in conjunction with the Columbia-based Homes Works ministry. My main purpose on these trips, I’ve come to understand, is to protect Tawfiq from being teamed with another adult who might challenge him on how to do the repairs, though I did manage this year to contract a wicked case of poison ivy — my first since I was a child — clearing away a briar patch along that narrow walkway between the house and the cliff.
My priest, the Rev. James Lyon IV, has been leading the Valle Crucis work trip and predecessor trips into other parts of the Appalachians for 30 years, the past 23 as rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbia, which provides generous financial support and most of the adult volunteers. Also in our group this year were the Rev. Joseph Whitehurst of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church in Aiken, Deacon Fred Walters of Good Shepherd and the youth leaders from St. Thaddeus and St. Joseph, along with adults and youth from all three parishes and a smattering of youth from other churches around Columbia.