Well, it looks like everything is in place for the mission trip! I am getting super de duper excited! Finishing up things I need to do here so that I can have a great time there! That has been the hardest thing. It seems that I forgot about the little things I have to do (back to school letters done and dropped off at school as they are mailed out while I am gone, getting in my professional development hours before I leave, getting things ready for VBS as when I get back I need to think about that. Also, making sure I have a sitter for the animals here, plant waterer, lawn mower, etc). Yup, and then it hit me- You gotta get this stuff done, you leave in less than two weeks!!! However, it is all getting done and I have complete faith that everything is going to be fine. I just keep thinking of the fact that soon I will be back with Episcopal Appalachian Ministries! It is something I have been looking forward too most of the year!
I want to tell you about Episcopal Appalachian Ministries (EAM). I went down last year and planned to stay one week. Didn’t happen. I fell in love with the people and the culture there. After saying I did not want to go back home, I had the opportunity to stay another week. I did and was so glad. Talk about taking a leap of faith. One of the team leaders who I worked with the first week invited me to go to her house and spend the night there. Then she would take me to the train station. It worked and it was great! So once I knew I could stay I told the people who I came down with to go home without me haha. It was then that I decided that the following year I was going to commit myself to the entire three week trip. Now Grace House has many different organization come down and stay with them, however EAM only stays three weeks. So, I was telling myself that I definitely wanted to stay the entire time. I am happy to say, that it did happen! Not without bumps in the road, but after today I can say it is happening! I have secured how I am going to get there and how I am going to get back! As matter of fact I am getting back the same way I did last year. Susan and I have kept in touch throughout the year. She is wonderful! Still trying to figure out how to get everything there, but I am not worried.
EAM has a “slogan” – Warm, Safe, Dry: Your Goal, Our Mission! That just about sums it up! What we do – we go into people’s homes and we fix them so that they are warm safe and dry. The areas where you will be working – you will see extreme poverty. However, these people are proud of their culture and proud of their family and who they are! I definitely say that. And, they should be! The culture is WONDERFUL there. The people are WONDERFUL. So, we want to help them so that they have a warm, safe, and dry house. Also, we interact with our families. As a requirement, you must bring them a lunch. I love that! Last year it was great to bring them some lunch. Some were very quiet and just said thanks, and others joined us when it was time for us to eat. We stay at Grace House in the bunkhouse. The bunkhouse is the photo above. As you can see it is new. They had a fire the year before I got there, so they had to rebuild. Do not get scared – it is a great place to stay. Just bring your sleeping bag, pillow, and shower gear. You are allowed to take a 5 minute shower a day. This is really easy to do people! It is wonderful. You will meet many wonderful people. Everyone is friendly! While you stay you are assigned chores. They are not hard – you might be in charge of the garbage one night, sweeping the kitchen, or helping with set up and clean up at dinner. The kitchen and main meeting place is pictured below. This is where you have your meals, prepare your lunch, and you meet upstairs with everyone every night. I even napped upstairs on the wonderful furniture. Breakfast is on your own. No, you don’t have to buy it – you just have to prepare it and do your dishes. Think easy cereal, toast, bagel, etc. Also, you are responsible for making your own bag lunch for the day. Last, but not least, you or someone from your team for the week has to make lunch for your host family. Dinner, EAM hires a cook for during the week. However, on Sundays a local church will come up and make your meal. It is wonderful and another time to meet people. They are very welcoming. Also, the pastor will do a service. On Friday nights, we have a big picnic. What you do is..any house that you worked on – you invite your host family to come up and have a picnic with us. It is lots of fun! You eat, mingle, and then Anita anther family play their guitars and sing. They put on a wonderful show! The first time I heard her sing, I got chills! Anita stays at Grace House since she is the director of Grace House. Her and her husband are wonderful! I spent some afternoons when I got back form my worksite sitting on their porch swing chatting with them. Also, her mama made me chicken and dumplings last year. I got to help her make them even! They are wonderful people! I never, ever met a bad person and I loved everyone! Most people go home on Saturday morning. If you are staying longer, you get the bunkhouse to yourself. Last year, it was just Susan and myself. I actually changed bunks just to get a different view haha. Also, this is when you go into town and do you laundry. Last year, Anita let me do my laundry there since her cleaning lady had to cancel. All I had to do was help Anita clean. It was lots of fun as we laughed and joked. This year I will go into town and use the laundromat on Saturdays. You have to conserve water since they do pay for water at Grace House. On Saturdays you are responsible for your own meals. Actually you are responsible until Sunday night when the church cooks for you. But, if you go into town and go to a local church they put on a wonderful breakfast for you. Seriously, you do not go hungry and do not need lunch. Plus, the congregation is friendly and you spend a few hours talking to them. I also can’t wait to see them again.
What type of jobs might you do during the week? Well, I started out last year on a roof. We put a new tin roof on a home. This home was in sad shape. Thing leaky roof which led to very wet, warped walls. The roof leaked bad! I saw before pictures. These people are proud of who they are and will not move people. They love the area and they want to stay. So, EAM, we want to help them. Do not worry if you do not think you have any skill – they will teach you and you will have a job. Believe me. We had one last year that was not feeling comfortable about the roof, so she was our gopher and water girl. In other words if we shouted down we needed a tool she threw it up to us, she held the ladder when we were going up and down, was just a set of eyes in case we couldn’t see where the tin was, etc. Also, she reminded us when to take our water breaks. EAM is definitely into safety. Paul, the director will come visit your worksites. If he sees you being unsafe or not taking your water breaks, he will make you stop. This did not happen to any of my teams, but it did happen to a team I was not a part of. Paul did not like what he saw so he made them stop for the day. The next day, everyone was working much better and were allowed to continue. No, Paul is not mean at all. He just wants to make sure that we do a great job and that we are safe. I mean, these people are trusting us to fix up their homes for them.
The first week I was there, we did tin one roof. When we were done there, we went to another house to put the felt down on another roof. Then, we dug a trench for some electrical wires at the bunkhouse. So, the first week I did not stay at one site, but went to many. This is good and bad. It was great because we got a lot of work done for many people. However, we did not get a long time to really get to know the host families. The second week I was there – we went to finish a job that the team before could not finish. They did a lot! This house was in sad shape people. It made me sad as I did see it while the team was working on it the week before. You could see the holes right through the walls from outside. Also, if you looked up, you saw a hole in the roof. They had no furnace so no heat in the winter. Not that Virginia needs it, but imagine how cold they were! Before my team got there, the team before did the stud work and insulation. My team went in to put up the 40 sheets of drywall. That was a hard week! The houses were not level! However, the host family was wonderful. For my second week, we actually worked at the same house all week. I really enjoyed that, since it allowed us to really get to know the family. Believe me, we did. They helped us along too. Also, another member of the community came down to help. My team and I decided we never would have finished without their help. We were struggling with the job due to some electrical issues when dealing with the ceiling, and just made some bad cuts in the drywall. Remember – measure twice, cut once! I learned a lot about Dante, Virginia that week. That was where I was working. By the end of the week, we knew everyone’s name and we were all joking around having a great time. I will be honest – the end of my second week, I did NOT want to leave! I felt as though this family was a part of my family. I want to go back and visit them this year. I am told that it happens a lot. Plus, if I am in Dante again, I will walk down to see them. Some of the people on team last year worked at a house down the street, and they did go down to visit. They brought me along too, so I got to meet even more people! I loved it!
Each night you have a meeting with all of the people working for the week. I am not even sure if I would call it a meeting. We just all come together. Paul talks about what he saw, and then all teams report on how their day went, what they are learning, maybe something they learned that day about a tool, the job, or their host family, something they noticed, or if you wanted you could just say pass. We always did compline at the end. I love, love compline. On Thursdays, we had a full worship service with eucharist. Usually, we always had a priest who was part of the mission team do it. Grace House also has an outside chapel. It is beautiful. That is in the photo below. It took me awhile to find it last year, but finally we did! It was very quiet and peaceful. I am told that sometimes we do have the service there. Last year we did not. I am hoping that we do this year. It is located in the woods along one of the trails. While you stay there you are allowed to walk the trails or go off site as long as you have a buddy. Again, they want you to be safe. If you get a chance, walk around. I went for many walks with people. The area where you are staying is in the mountains and it is beautiful! You are right near a community center that has a wonderful trail.
Now can you see why I am super de duper excited about going back? I have stayed in contact with many people who are returning. I have developed some great friendships. You will go home tired and you will work! I think that some people who I have talked to think that it was just fun and games. NO! I was tried and slept like a rock every night! Like I said, I even took a nap on one of the couches in the main house! You have to be up and ready to go by 7 am. At 7 everyone meets outside for a quick morning prayer. Then, you are off with your team to go to your host family’s house for the day. You work all day. Believe me you work. You do get a lunch break, but other than that you are working. When you come back you can take a shower, put your tools away, help unpack the coolers you used, etc. Personally, I learned to wait awhile to take a shower. Why?? Because I wanted to wait until the water got warm again haha. I learned that fast! Then after we have our dinner and clean up, we had our meeting and compline. After that, everyone usually went out to sit on the bunkhouse porch and talk, or we had a big fire in the fire pit out back. Sometimes, we stayed in the common room and talked or played checkers. Sometimes, I went inside the bunkhouse and read or wrote in my journal. Many nights, Anita would come out and play her guitar and we all sang. Whatever you did, lights were out at 11.
You do get one half day a week “off”. Usually on Wednesday. On Wednesday, everyone must be back at Grace House by 1. Then Paul and Anita and Jerry have fun things planned for us. You can go to the waterfall site in a state park. I did that last year. It is beautiful. You hike in and then you swim. Warning – the water is COLD! You can go visit a museum in Dante. I did that the second week since that is the area that I was working in. That was also wonderful. You learned how Dante used to be a thriving coal town with a theater, store, bank, etc. Believe me, it is not like that anymore. No store, no theater, no bank. Just homes close together. It made me sad at first and I had to get used to it. Especially since we would walk by this one house and everyday an older couple would ask when we were going to help them. Believe me, we would have if we could. We did tell Anita about it and she went down to talk to them. I found out a few weeks later that someone did go down and help them. It made me happy!
I highly suggest that you google EAM or Grace House. Check it out! If you feel compelled you can send them a donation. All money given to EAM is for building supplies. We are not paid to go down there. As a matter of fact, we pay to do this trip. Not a problem! Read my earlier blog entry on some of the things I did to raise the money. By the way I did finally meet my goal! I am starting to work on next years funds!
Have you been on any mission trips? If so, please let me know! I would love to hear about it! I have had this feeling lately that I want to go on another mission trip. I am not sure where yet. I am still doing lots of thinking on that one. I am torn between staying in the US where there are some great missions. Or, do I want to really take a leap and go to another country? I know that I want to do something, I just need to figure that out. Be still and wait! Yes, I am trying to! I want to see what this year’s trip with EAM holds for me. I know it is going to be a great adventure!