Monday, August 28, 2006

In order

Our mission trip is now nearly a month gone, but still there are visitors here each day, so I am putting in this one last entry, with links to each day, in order, so you won't have to start at the end and move forward, but can read about our trip as it happened.

Thanks to all of you who read this, and who write!,


Friday, August 04, 2006


The center picture below, the one of the rope, has for me become a metaphor for the whole trip this week. When we first arrived, Tim and Joe looked over what needed to be done at the church. There was so much. Rotten wood, flashing for the roof, work on the porch, gutters. Too much for the few days we were here, so they would have to pick and choose what they could do.

There is a small bell tower on the church, and the bell was still there, but there was no rope or way to ring it. Tim and Joe didn’t have the tools to get up to the tower and work safely, but they really wanted to fix the bell in the tower. Each night at supper it would come up. They would talk about what they had done, but the idea of that bell in the tower just nagged at them.

Yesterday, as Martha and I arrived at the church to bring lunch to our crew, I heard a bell ringing across the hollow. As I walked in the foyer, there was Ernie, the pastor at Darbyville, pulling the new rope, ringing the church bell. Somehow they had figured a way to do it. Everyone was smiling – Pastor Ernie, the kids, Tim and Joe and our own people.

There have been a lot of challenges here this week. A lot of plans we had to change as we went. A lot of preconceptions of why we were coming that had to change. Each day we found ourselves scrambling to adjust our resources and our food and our materials and our time to meet some new need that had come up through the day. For most of us, we lived outside our comfort zone much of the week.

You parents who sent your kids – be very proud. Your kids didn’t just show up – they put their heart into this week, into the kids here and into being a part of the work. They saw some very different things here than back home. I suspect they will come back changed, and more appreciative of the blessings they have at home. And I suspect they will want to do this again. Because they have seen first hand that while none of us can do everything, any of us can make a real, tangible difference. These kids certainly have, and they have done it with joy and enthusiasm. I can tell you that every one of us here have a deeper appreciation and love for your kids than we had before.

If you liked the pictures, they were taken by Pat Rhodes, Drewry and myself through the week. You’ll see more of them on August 20, when we have a special mission report during Sunday School.

You read and hear about how when you give, you get back tenfold. Too often, we think of that phrase in dollars and cents. But anyone who goes on a trip like this one can tell you that the payback is not in dollars, it’s in a coin of the heart that we are repaid, and that it’s worth far more than coin of the realm. We’ve been touched by the people we came to serve, by the people we came to serve with, and by the people who have supported and loved us through this week – you.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Our last day

It amazes me how many of you are looking in to see what we are doing here in Jonesville. 89 yesterday. 85 the day before. 65 the day before that. Your comments and prayers are a daily encouragement. Every morning now, people here ask how many of their church family looked in yesterday? Who left comments? Who sent e-mails?

Last night we went to the revival in Darbyville. It was very different from how we do church, with a far more Pentecostal feel to it than we are accustomed to. The praying and preaching was more intense, and there are many more people sharing their own personal testimony, sharing their trials and triumphs with each other, publicly. In fact, the service ended with all of us holding hands in a big circle that encompassed the whole sanctuary, while a half dozen or so church members shared something intensely personal. Some of the music was different too, but much of it you would recognize. The hymn we began with would be familiar to all of us at Troutville Baptist, as would the rousing version of “I’ll Fly Away” by a group of very young girls. No, I don’t think they know it is Carol’s favorite hymn, but as soon as they started, nearly all our people began smiling and singing softly along. We also recognized several of the songs that the older youth there sang – music you’ve heard the praise team sing.

The kids here love to sing, and it shows. At all ages, it seems, there is a love for old time gospel hymns, as well as some of the newer praise music. The pastor her not only pastors and preaches – he plays the guitar and has clearly worked with the kids. There is a clear affection of the kids for him.

The kids here seem to be almost starved for affection. Certainly our people feel as loved by the kids here as we do when we do bible school at our own church with our own kids. When we came into the sanctuary, several of the kids went up to their teachers, and hugged them and in a couple of cases, opted to sit with their teacher instead of a parent.

This afternoon (Thursday) the kids left VBS slowly. There was excitement at the new book bags full of school supplies we filled, and the bags of gifts we made up for each of the kids. But there was also a hint of sadness. These children found their way into our hearts all week, and some of them bonded with our teachers. David O’Dell said to me after lunch – “You know, we were probably only here for eight or ten hours total, and in that time those kids get so deep into your heart.” And it was Sarah who watching some of her kids get into the car to leave for the last time, “I think I am the one with separation anxiety today!”

David just left the Powel Valley Center, his truck full of gifts for the kids in the trailer park and one last day of games, bible study and crafts. Carol has left for the nursing home to teach her last lesson of the week. There’s a storm outside, pouring rain while the sun shines, and yes, a rainbow – the perfect metaphor for the day.

Thursday night we will be taking some R&R time. We’ll eat together as we have every night. Then the kids are going bowling, I think. Some of us will just hang around and relax. (I plan a long swim.). Then Friday we pack to leave. I’ll probably post one last entry when I get him Friday, telling about the events of later in the day (I generally write these entries just after lunch, when I have a few minutes, but they do not get posted until late in the evening, when I get back to the hotel and phone (internet) service.

I was talking to Shirley earlier today, and we both noticed that one of the joys of this week has been the new bonds of friendship inside our church family that we have grown. There has been, despite all the hard work of the week, the luxury of time together getting to know each other at a deeper level. We’ve lived and worked in close quarters, and all of us have seen each other in a new light. We’ve seen gifts in each other, and learned things about each other that we never suspected, and may well have never known were it not for an experience like this one. I have to tell you that everyone here has a depth to them, a rich fabric of experiences and thoughts of emotions that is far deeper than most of us realize. And it takes an experience like this week for us to look past the veneer to what lies beneath.

We’re going to miss this place and the spirit of the week. Yes, we will be glad to be going home to family and loved ones. We’ll be glad to sleep in our own beds again. But a special spirit has grown here all week, and we are, to a person I believe, glad we were privileged to be a part.

I’ll post one more post Friday night, after I arrive home. I plan to turn this blog into a small booklet in PDF format for those of us who came, or those of you who would like to have it. When I finish it, it will be available from the church website for download.

More tomorrow,


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

That kind of week

Last night after dinner, “Miss Alma” spoke to our group. Miss Alma has grown the programs here at the Powell Valley association almost entirely on her faith. The shoes for children program (over 500 pairs of new shoes for kids, three times a year.). The book bag program, and the other programs here grew out of a special conviction that God laid on her heart.

She began with no resources, no big name backer, just the insistent call that God wanted her to do something for children here in Lee County. What began as her story of how the shoe ministry began, turned into a very personal testimony of the power of how God works in our lives.

For Alma has had a hard life the last few years. She lost her husband. Her daughter was shot and killed in New Orleans. She has virtually no family left and many of us in the same situation might fall into an inconsolable sadness and despair.

But Alma has learned another lesson – that God will comfort, and in the midst of tragedy and loss, he will give us a renewed purpose and joy in life, if only we will let him. At the end of her talk to us, we felt not like we had heard a story, but that we had worshiped.

That sense of inspiration seems to have filled our day today so far. The group at Darbyville was smaller than before, but as the morning wore on there was a growing energy. You could see the connection between the kids there and our own church family growing. Projects started by Tim and Joe began to come together and you could see the progress of their work and the real improvement that they will leave behind. Martha and I finished the cross garden. And then, as the morning wore down, David O’Dell came in, even more enthusiastic than normal, announced that a boy in his class had come to the decision to give his life to Christ.

This afternoon will be a busy one. There is a sense of urgency because our week is running out and there is so much we want to do. One group, made up with (David O’Dell, Belinda, Drewry, Emily, Shannon, Lacey and Sarah) will be at the trailer park again, and another will go to Carol and Shirley to teach at the nursing home. Another (Pam, Lucy, Martha and Barbara are here as I write this, packing book bags and preparing the farewell gifts for tomorrow. And in one of those opportunities that God sends your way, the association had a truckload of squash delivered (You read that right, a TRUCKLOAD), and David O’Dell and several of the teenagers will be delivering squash to people in the trailer park and in Chapelle Gardens, a subsidized housing community in Jonesville.

Like so often happens on mission trips, we are all finding that while we thought we were coming here to do for others, we’ve gotten as much from this trip as the people who we came to serve. New friendships. Having the opportunity to be part of the children’s lives, making a dozen small differences in the life of the church. One by one the blessings to US have been piling up. You can sense it in the smiles of people here. We’re tired, but there is a sense of joy among us. The teenagers arrived for lunch today singing, and before long, we were all singing with them. It’s been that kind of week.

One last thing before I close today. All week long Darbyville Baptist, besides our daytime bible school, is holding a revival each night.. All week we have heard some of the kids in VBS talk about the revival and tonight, we are planning to go and join them. None of us know what to expect, certainly a different worship experience than we are accustomed to, but it will be good to join our new new friends in worship. More on that tomorrow.


PS - as always, you can click on the small image for a larger version.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


This morning, several of us met for Breakfast and the conversation turned to seeds. Not the kind you plant in the garden, but the kind you plant in people’s hearts. For Carol and several of the other people who came here to Jonesville last year, this year’s mission trip has been a lesson in seeds.

Last year, of course, was our first time here, and at first the people were a little skeptical, wondering, no doubt who we were and what we were about. By the end of the week last year however, several people had made real connections. Miss Thelma and Shannon connected. Little Brianna and several of the people from our church connected. So much so in fact, that they have been looking forward to our coming back with real anticipation.

A lot of times, a church goes on a mission trip somewhere and plants seeds of love and faith, but the next year they go somewhere else, and never really get to see any of those seeds start to grow. But for the group from Troutville that went last year, they see real, concrete changes in people – their seeds of love from last year growing, making a difference.

Of course this year we not only were continuing the work at Jonesville, but also began to plant new seeds of love in Darbyville. This morning, after only a couple of days there, I could already see some of those seeds bear fruit. How could you miss the hugs the children, who met us only yesterday, were giving to our members?

They particularly love the teenagers. Shannon and Sarah. Drewry, Emily and Lacey are all touching hearts with their joy and caring and joyful attitudes.

And our adults too are touching people. For instance, yesterday one lone teenager showed up in Darbyville for bible school, but Pam, and others touched him enough that he called several of his friends, from school and from his high school ROTC unit and today we had five teenagers. You should see how the kids are responding to Shirley and Drewry’s crafts – they love them. This afternoon David O’Dell led a rousing game of kickball in the hundred degree heat and the kids all responded. Throughout the day I watched Carol talking to people there, encouraging them, lifting them up. Seeds of love at work.

Joe and Tim spent yesterday scouring the area to get the supplies they needed to do their work. Today they were hard at that work, fixing rot in the flooring of the church, fixing flashing, and more. Unlike the rest of us, their work is solitary, and they are not mixing with as many people in the area, but they are making a visible difference in this small church, and stabilizing it in ways it needs, in a way that only they could do. In the morning, before we began to fix lunch and dinner, Martha Murray and I began to weed and reclaim a faith garden in the churchyard that was overgrown with weeds.

In short, there is work for everyone here. It was Lucy Miller who said this morning that there is just so much to do here, that you can never do it all. But she said, we can make a difference, and we have, each in our own way, using our own gifts. We can plant seeds, and we have.

Last night, at our worship service after dinner. Several people shared their experiences from the day. They also shared that, for many of us here, there were real, valid, heartfelt reasons for them to not have come. Illness, Illness of loved one. Family issues. Grief. So many of us here came within a hairbreadth of not coming. And yet in the end, each took the leap of faith and came despite their doubts or worry or cares. And each has given so much of themselves and made a real impact, each on their own, special, God-given way. It seems that God simply meant for THIS mix of people to be here at THIS time, and we all certainly come to think that way about each other, and about ourselves.

Again, thank you all who are home for your prayers and comments. Dana – your tomatoes are a hit. Juanita – your goodies made dinner special last night. Linda and Joy – Drewry wears your crosses each day. I’ve seen several people here reading the cards and notes their prayer partners have sent them. I could go on and on, but every small kindness, every small prayer, every little gift and card from our prayer partners, everything you have done for us has touched far more people than perhaps you realize, both here in Jonesville and in our own small group.

Two full days of work ahead, and we begin to tire, so keep praying for us. Continue your comments and notes – they are all precious to us and everything you do is what makes a mission like this not our mission, but the church’s mission, God’s mission.


PS - click on the small pictures for larger versions.

Monday, July 31, 2006

About our work here.....

Even though I am posting this early Tuesday morning, I wrote most of it about 4 yesterday afternoon. Internet access is spotty and so my posting is as well.

I am going to write mostly about the area we have come to, and over the next couple of days we’ll show more of what our own people are doing.

When you drive to this part of Virginia. You are immediately struck by the beautiful scenery – tall mountains and lush green valleys. The towns you drive through seem prosperous and busy. But you don’t have to go far off the main highways to realize there is a tremendous amount of poverty here.

You first hint is the Powel Valley Baptist Association building itself. Unlike our associational building in Roanoke, which is mostly offices, the Powel Valley office is two metal buildings, one of which is largely dedicated for use as a clothes closet. They are sponsoring a free shoes day and free bookbag day for people at local churches. As Martha Murray and I were preparing meals today, the phone rang constantly and one after one they were calls from this church or that church asking for 20, 30, more bookbags or shoes for their kids. Simply taking care of day to day needs is a large part of their ministry here.

Jonesville, where we are doing a backyard bible school, and a bible study at the nursing home, is an old town, founded in the 1760’s. Walk through the town and you’ll find about half of the buildings are vacant. Saint Charles, the town near Darbyville First Baptist Church, where we are doing the Vacation Bible School, is an old train switching town. They still switch trains late into the night there, but it’s far from it’s once bustling self. Walk the streets here and you see there are only a couple of real businesses – all the other buildings are being used by various social services, or lie empty.

I parked at the church, where we are doing the VBS, and where Tim and Joe are working on the roof and other projects. A boy who had attended the bible school that morning and a young man who was his friend were there. We walked up the road and they told me about their neighbors. Nearly every third house had adults of working age sitting on the porch or standing outside, with nothing to do. “No Jobs.” the young man told me. “Nothing to do anywhere.”

A lot of times, when we think of missions, we think of going to non-christian places, but that is not always the case. There is a lot of faith here and people are not afraid to proclaim it. In the hotels, gas stations, restaurants, and everywhere you go, there are faith reminders. On our hotel tables, there are bibles, open, not hidden away in a drawer someplace, and a note asking for God’s blessings on the guests. At a store where I stopped to take a picture, there were hand written prayers framed on the walls.

Consider this, a week of VBS is like getting an entire quarter of Sunday School in just a few days. Many of the small churches do not have the people or the resources to provide a VBS for their kids and the kids in their neighborhood. And our coming here allows them to do that, providing not just good teaching for their own members, but an outreach.

Every one here is working hard. As I type this, the teens from our church are finishing up working with David O’Dell on the backyard bible school in the blistering heat of the day. Our adults have finished up teaching in the nursing home and are now packing bookbags and gifts for the kids in the local church. Tim and Joe are probably on a roof at the church. We’ll meet here again about 6 and eat, then worship together.

Thank you all for your encouragements. You comments here and to individual members hold us up and remind us that there are many who are praying for us. Each of you who pray; each of you who gave food or drinks, have made a profound difference for us, and for people here in Powell Valley.


PS - don't forget, you can click on the small pictures for larger versions.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

We arrive in Jonesville

It's about 11:30 PM as I write this. For most of us, today started about 8 this morning as we arrived at church to begin loading the trailer and the cars and trucks. If you have been at church this week you know how the halls and basement have been filling up with supplies, food, craft materials and gifts for the trip. Those who went last year say we had nearly twice what we had to take last year.

Tim Craft's trailer is a lot larger than the trailer than we used last year, and it was a good thing. We stuffed it from floor to ceiling and also stuffed two pickup trucks, a very large SUV, and some cars.

Besides the group from Troutville Baptist, we were blessed with two unexpected but very welcome people joining us. Joe, a friend of Tim's came and will be helping Tim on some of the construction work. And Shannon asked a friend of her's, Sarah, to come.

We made the drive fine, and got here about 6, unloaded in the hotel, and then went to the Powel Valley associational office. Pam Rhodes gave us an overview of what we would be doing.

In the mornings there will be Bible School at Darbyville Baptist, a small church on the outskirts of Jonesville. How small? Well this Sunday, when Pat and Pam visited they had 19 people. But they have a heart for children there, and have been out in the area giving out flyers advertising the VBS and told us to expect perhaps 40 kids.

In the afternoon there will be a backyard bible school for kids in a nearby trailer park, and special lessons for a local nursing home. And Tim and Joe will be doing work on the church, and on people's homes. We'll also be building book bags of school supplies for a lot of kids while we are here. We're going to be very, very busy.

We ate, and then went to the church about 8 to begin getting the rooms ready. Rooms were redecorated, as was the sanctuary. The moose had to be blown up. (that's Drewry blowing the moose up). All the crafts had to be laid out and made ready. All the things that were done for our own VBS we did there, and in just a few hours. But 11 we were done, and back to the hotel for the night. Most of us adult types were pretty bushed, but the teenagers, Shannon, Emily, Lacey, Drewry and Sarah were all dancing to Jessie McCartney as we closed up for the night.

So we are tired, but very excited. Keep us in your prayers - the real work begins tomorrow.

PS - for those of you new to blogs, you can click on the small pictures to get a larger version!