We first spoke in the late fall or early winter of 1979.
She was (and is!) a Roman Catholic sister who had just moved to the small community of Hurley, Virginia located in the heart of Appalachia. At that time I was on the staff of church in suburban Chicago doing youth ministry. We were looking for a new location for one of our summer work trips that the congregation where I was working did each summer. She had heard about us from another organization. Without ever meeting only talking on the phone, we decided that we would take a chance on each other. So, in the summer of 1980 I, along with 3 other adults and a dozen high school youth wound our way through the Appalachian mountains to Hurley and spent the next two weeks repairing homes. Tomorrow I leave to do it all again. This time leaving from New York with six other adults and 20 high school youth. We will spend the next week working on three homes doing what we can to make them safer and stronger for the families who live there.
I used to think what was most important was the work we did.
Now I am not so sure.
Yes, roofs that do not leak;
And, floors without holes;
And, safe front porches;
And, windows that are secure;
Are all vitally important.
But, what is just as important is the hope that is renewed.
The reminder that someone cares;
That in the midst of the work, someone will stop for a moment and listen to the stories that need to be told;
That we learn each other’s names:
And that at the end of the week we leave with a hug good-bye and with tears in our eyes.
One of the quotes that I will ask the group to this about this week is this:
“Poverty is slow death.”
That is true in a physical sense.
Being poor is crushingly hard physically.
But, it is also true emotionally and spiritually as hope fades and despair closes in. Next week I hope that while we rebuild portions of three homes, we will do an even better job of building hope. A hope that will linger long after we have returned home.