I spent last week in Colcord, WV with 27 high school students, 4 college students and 4 other adults. In the 90+ degree heat we worked repairing floors, building and repairing handicapped ramps and repairing and building two porches. In addition to the work, on most evenings we gathered in the small Presbyterian Church next to where we were staying to talk about the work we were doing and about what we were learning. All this is a familiar summer pattern for me. Except for four years, every summer since 1979 I have traveled to Appalachia – first from Illinois and then from Wisconsin and now from New York – and spent a week with high school students and other adults living in a community and part of the country very different from where we lived and repairing homes of those who could no longer do the work themselves. These trips have shaped who I am both as a person and as a pastor and given me the opportunity to form relationships with many who have been and are role models for me. That legion of everyday saints who do what they can to make the world in which you and I live a better place.
Last Sunday evening, which was our first evening there, as we sat on the floor and in the pews of the Colcord Presbyterian Church, we asked the question of the young adults who were with us:
“Why are you here? Why did you come on this trip?”
The answers were honest and what you might expect.
I like helping other people.
I like making a difference.
The friendships and the relationships I make on trips like this are so important.
As a part of our conversation I added my response, but I can’t remember what I said, but the question stuck with me all week. Why am I here?
On our last evening in Colcord, we gathered again in the front of that small church. Each person was asked to bring something which represented the week to add to the collage we create in the center of our circle. One by one items were added and stories told.
A piece of wood from the first time he used a circular saw.
A stone from the creek.
A coke can which a neighbor gave them while they were working.
A screw representing the hundreds of screws used to hold porch or ramp together.
My contribution was a piece of paper with a question mark on it.
As I thought about the question of Why am I here? I realized that each of the trips I have been on over the years have been my effort to answer the question which the lawyer asked Jesus 2000 years ago: Who is my neighbor? which I think is the most important religious question of our time.
I answer that question better today than I did in 1979.
But, truth be told…
I still have a long way to go as I do my best to figure out the answer.