A community making a difference in the world

A community making a difference in the world

Monday, July 9, 2018

Surprise Summertime WV Article

Hi Everyone,
I'm back down at the Appalachian South Folklife Center.  I'm with my son Jacob this time.  He couldn't go during April, so he and I decided to do a combo college touring/mission trip vacation. We arrived here in Pipestem Knob this past Saturday evening.

We were able to join up with another church for this project, which amazingly, come from our neck of the woods.  We are working with the Hingham Congregational Church UCC this week.  The Pastor Peter Allen, his lovely wife Tracey and their Minister of Christian Education Sara Holland are here this week with about 15 wonderful teenagers who have already shown themselves worthy of some serious mission work.  Peter has been coming here for 14 years!

Our first day on the job was quite honestly a rough one.  I've been down here a lot, so I've been exposed to some pretty difficult living environments, but today was easily the worst I've ever seen.  We are helping a multi-generational family living in a cobbled together mobile home that is in bad shape.  Jacob and I counted about 4 adults and 5 children of various ages (with another one on the way), all living in the place below:

Our project for the week is to build an addition on to the back of this home that will serve as a new bedroom for Mom & Dad of the clan.  Here's a look at the back and some early work on the floor structure:

When I first looked at this place, a sense of deep sadness swept over me.  It made me wonder if we can ever even put a dent in "poverty".  But I've found that by just picking up a hammer and getting started, it puts that sadness into the rear view mirror, and moves hope into the foreground.  Every little bit does help.  It's all about getting past that first step. 

Peace and love to all of you.  I'll send along another round of pictures on Thursday so y'all can see what we've accomplished.

Joyfully Serve-ing,
Rick & Jacob Burke

Friday, April 20, 2018

Rain. Cold. Snow. Cold. Sun. Hot. Cold. Rain.

Our projects have been as varied this year as this weather.  Last year, we had consistently beautiful weather one large project.  This year, we have had a smorgasbord of weather and a buffet of projects.  It's sometimes difficult to think that we have accomplished as much.  I keep reminding myself that the projects add up and are one part of the total picture.  The driving time, devotional time, learning about the area, developing the relationships (with people here and with each other), reflecting, talking, talking, talking and eating together and sleeping in the dorms are all part of the mission.  There is a certain luxury in spending unhurried time together.  Breathe.
- Allyson

I'm happy to say that we Yankees felt right at home in the inconsistent and often frigid weather we experienced during our stay at the Folk Life Center. After our deceivingly pleasant trip down, we were met with freezing rain, that turned to snow, that turned to wind, that turned into a gorgeous sunny day (just long enough for me to get an awkward work-glove tan line), before returning to freezing wind for our final day. This meant that there was a lot of waiting for nicer weather -- "in just a few hours the snow will stop," or "it's supposed to be warmer this afternoon." Despite all the time spent indoors, I still leave with a sense of accomplishment. The "teen team" ripped up a stubborn tile floor, put in a new hardwood floor, stapled some screens, went up to a beautiful lookout point, befriended a very chill snake, painted a porch, cut out the paper lace decoration for Pentecost in one day, roasted marshmallows, and made a ton of fireball pompoms. For me, however, the best takeaway was that I got to know many people who had before been just faces I saw on Sundays.  
- Jillian  

Thursday, April 19, 2018

One Very Happy Lady

It was another cold and blustery day in Mercer County.  It had rained overnight, which meant there was no way we could finish off the painting work we started yesterday at Mrs Keenan's home in Bluefield (another mission team will be coming in next week and they will pick up the painting where we left off).  There was still a good bit of work to finish off the painting and installing new flooring in the Children's dorm at the folklife center, so a good number of the group opted to focus on completing this project.   Allyson P, Mary C, Chris M, Bobby our foreman and I all headed over to Bluefield to work on installing new handrails on the front porch.

On the way, we stopped at Lowes and picked up a whole bunch of supplies that we needed to complete the project - banisters, ballusters, exterior screws, wood glue.  thanks to everyone who donated Lowes cards.  It covered all these expenses.  Mrs. Keenan was expecting to pay, and we are quite sure she did not have a lot of disposable income.  When we told her our congregation was picking up the tab, and she could use her money to do something fun, she nearly started to cry.  Again, thanks to all of you.

While Chris, Bobby and I worked on the porch railings, Allyson and Mary took one for the team by going into the dirt cellar underneath the porch to clean out all kinds of junk that had accumulated over many years.  That was a tough job.  They also spent a good bit of time raking and cleaning up piles of leaves in the front lawn and street.  Here's a couple of pictures of Allyson and Mary going to town!

The porch railing project was no easy feat either.  Luckily, we had Chris to remind us of all our old geometry lessons from days in school long gone by.  Cutting and assembling the railings and ballusters was enough to drive us batty! It took us about 4-5 hours of non-stop work in the chilly weather to get the job done.

When the project was finally completed, Mrs. Keenan was simply over the moon happy.  Here's a couple of pictures of the finished product. Check the gigantic smile on her face!

Lots of hugs and thank yous were exchanged as we wrapped up our gear and got ready for the drive back to the folklife center.

Whenever anyone I know asks me why I do mission work in some backroad of West Virginia instead of going to Europe or down to some Carribbean island, I think about the smile on Mrs. Keenan's face and all the other folks we've worked with on these mission trips.  You couldn't pay me a million dollars to trade places for these types of experiences.

Tomorrow morning we will all get up and start our journey home.  We've got a couple of cool side trips on the way home, but for me, today was the highlight.

We made a struggling woman who we never met before happier than she has probably been in a long time.  I have to thank God for allowing me to be part of this profound experience.  Thanks also to everyone on our mission team - each and every one of you is an amazing person that filled this trip with laughter, happiness and completely embodied the spirit of "Joyfully Serve".  And thanks especially to our entire congregation for allowing us to represent you on this journey.

Peace and blessings.


ps.  John - we missed you terribly, and our prayers are with you and your family


Pictures of moments that had little to do with a specific mission project, but a lot to do with being part of a mission team...

Creativity:  brownie (from lovely First Church baker), vanilla ice cream, homemade hot fudge sauce, crumbled chocolate chip cookies (from another lovely First Church baker), Kit Kat stick.

It was finally warmer than 70 degrees, and folks got to enjoy a moment or two in the sun while waiting for everyone else to come for another group picture.

King-sized Kit Kat for the King of Kings...I'm just sayin'... Jesus would have loved these dark chocolate treats from Hershey, Pennsylvania!

Chris Costa, a friend of Tim and Maggie, shared his musical talents on the fiddle...and quizzed us with samples of hand-forged 18th century tools.

This is a lovely, unique pledge of stewardship to our home planet.  It's deep.one..even if it is posted on the back of the bathroom door.  One never knows where one will find inspiration.



Good Morning Blog Readers -  It is a drizzly overcast morning here in Pipestem, WV, but if today is anything like the past week, that will not stop this intrepid bunch of Church folk from Bedford.  Young and not so young will continue to gather to prepare a meal, eat together, share a devotional time, split for work completion, return to a full group and bid good night. 

The sharing and team work has been a sight to see. Sharing of chores as Allyson and Evan set up for breakfast this morning while Terry cooks pancakes. The coordination of Chris and Mark discussing painting in the rain. Throughout the week this sharing of responsibility has been in evidence:  Copilots Laura and Mary  with electronic GPS and a paper map guiding the driver through a rainy mountain road.  Alison and Jillian translating what Dairy Queen is Where some of us "might have stopped!!" on the way home from Miss Mary Claire's yesterday.  Nicholas and Douglas, among others, traded off long handled muts which they used to separate long glued flooring to the floor, and there were few complaints of sore shoulders the next day. Ah to be young.  Rick elected himself to the distastetful job of 'lattice scraper', and the paint that sticks to them will be better for it. Sarah has been a constant worker, filling in as asked and not stopping until the job is done. Karen painted a whole room by herself during a day holding down the fort at the Folklife Center, sharing in the completion of that room.

Sharing of responsibility, going with the flow, sharing a laugh, offering a hand, smiling in knowing, listening to God through others words, seeing God through other's deeds. These are the things of the Mission trip and if you can join the journey next July trip, you surely will be blessed to experience the grace of helping others and spending time with  your Church family.    

With Love from Pipestem, Laura

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sunshine On Our Shoulders, Makes Us Happy

The theme for today was Sunshine.  And we sure were happy.  Especially after yesterday, when most of us looked like Allyson below, it was so nice to bake in the warm sunshine.

Here's a nice overview of our work day today from Mary Criscione with lots of pictures below.
Lots of hard work today. We are tired but had a great day. Went to Miss Mary Claire's home in Bluefield. She is living in her grandmothers home that she inherited. It is difficult and costly for her maintain . She also really appreciated some companionship and friendship. Part of the group scrapped and painted the front porch and steps. Sarah, Alison and I worked on her backyard - raking leaves, trimming bushe, clearing brush etc. It was finally beautiful weather, sunny and hot. It felt great to be productive. At the end of the day everyone worked together to finish the first coat of paint. I am so impressed with the teens in our group - they are persistent and incredibly hard workers. I also enjoyed conversation with Mary Claire and others from the community; Bobby our terrific foreman for the project, dinner with members of the ASFC community - Lori, Tim, Maggie, Tiffany (an Americorp volunteer.) Lots of great conversation and hard work - a good day in all.  
Mary Criscione

After we finished the day's work, we were able to make a couple of stops on the way home.  The first one was to an incredible scenic outlook in Bluefield, WV - way up the side of a mountain road to view the beauty of the city below and the Blue Ridge mountains:in the background.

And of course, we had to make a stop at Dairy Queen on the way home:

All in all, another great day in West Virginia.

Peace to all of you back home.

Rick B.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


As the saying goes, life does throw you some curveballs, and I just got one.  Yesterday evening, while we were at Riff Raff, I got some bad new from my sister.  Her husband, Frank, got diagnosed with cancer last fall, and it has been managed with chemotherapy since them.  Unfortunately, they found out that it has spread to his liver and he has very little time left.  Maybe a week.

So, with a heavy heart, I am leaving the Mission Trip to be with my family.  I am now in Chambersburg, PA overnight and will be with them in Hartford CT tomorrow.  The moment I broke the news to the team last night, I got overwhelming support.  There was plenty of hugs and love and assurances that they will be fine.  It meant so much to me.  That means, among other things, next Sunday, the Mission Team will be leading worship, giving you some stories and reflections of how the week went.  I can't tell you how good it is to have such a good team, with strong, faithful souls contributing.  Each person has so much to give.  Even though I feel bad about leaving early, I also feel proud of so many good, accomplished people contributing to make the week a success.

I do ask you to pray for my brother-in-law in his final days.  He is a very generous soul, and has especially supported our mission trip, because he believes that this is what the gospel is all about.

At my core, I truly believe that when life throws you curveballs, something good can emerge out of it.  That is the message of Easter, and we are still in the Easter season.  It is our job to be patient and wait for new life, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Pray for all those walking through that valley.

Pastor John

Many Many

Last evening, after a solid first day of work here at the folk life center, we headed into downtown Princeton to meet with our mission partners at the RiffRaff Arts Collective and Stages Music School  It was such a joy to be able to see how things continue to change and improve with each visit.  Our work, your work, all coming together to help an entire town and community push forward towards a future that is more tolerant, more inclusive and more hopeful is a joy to behold.

As part of the evening, our friends Lori McKinney and Robert Blankenship invited me to join them onstage to perform what is one of my favorite songs that they have written.  It's called "Many Many".  It speaks to the mission of striving for peace and equality, even though there are so many different perspectives, cultural histories, living conditions, working conditions and opinions among us... 
  • many many voices,
  • many many songs,
  • many many journeys,
  • many many walks,
  • many many cry out
  • many many vistas,
  • many many views,
  • many many pathways,
  • many many truths,
  • many many colors make up a rainbow,
  • not one more important than the other,
  • can we sing with one voice?
This song lives at the heart of everything the RiffRaff team stands for - all of their community development efforts, all of their concerts, all of the outreach programs they run.  I also think it speaks to one of our own mission cornerstones as a church -- Welcome all.

Thanks to everyone at home for your support.  We are holding you all in our hearts everyday. We - the Many Many of First Church of Christ Congregational in Bedford are speaking with one voice.  The voice of God and fulfilling his mission here on earth - and this week, in Mercer County, West Virginia.

Time to get crackin'  There's work to be done.  Peace.

Rick B

Monday, April 16, 2018

Slow Start with a Big Finish... oh, and the WEATHER

We woke up excited and raring to go.  We ate breakfast, had our morning devotionals, and waited.  Mondays at the Folklife Center start later as the foreman needs a little time to get organized.  Part of his planning was to accommodate the SNOW.
Today our assignments kept us working at the Folklife Center.  One group put up scaffolding on the side of the dining hall. 
This was a non-trivial task as the ground slopes down steeply at the back and is (was) heavily overgrown with pricker bushes.  The second group was assigned to re-flooring the kids' dorm down the hill.  There is always a hitch.  One of the rooms had freshly installed vinyl tiles which were stuck down like crazy.  Kudos to the the teens for persevering to get their floor completely removed.  They accomplished a lot more than Supervisor Greg had hoped for. 
Almost all of us have taken extra ibuprofen to be ready for tomorrow after a lot of scraping, squatting, kneeling and other contortions.  Terry and Laura took a special adventure for more bread and a long list of stuff that we forgot to pack.

This evening (still SNOWING), we went to Princeton to shop at the Riff Raff Art Collective (ask to see Terry's table),
meet the musicians at Stages Music School and attend open mic night at The Room Upstairs.  We presented checks (proceeds from the Mission Festival) to Stages and The Riff Raff. 

They thanked us (you) repeatedly for the support.  As as special surprise, Rick made his djembe (drum) debut with Lori and Robert!  It was exciting to have one of our own sharing the stage with our WV friends.

Many thanks for the casseroles and the cookies.  We are eating and snacking well.  Hoping for better (warmer) weather tomorrow.

- Alison, Allyson and Mark
Good morning First Church!
A few of us early morning souls are in the common building that contains our kitchen, eating area, and sitting space.  The first pot of coffee has been brewed, and two of us have our first cup of tea for the day.  Kathy Konkle's breakfast sandwiches are heating in the oven, the watermelon has been sliced, and cold and hot cereals are put out for our friends.  Last night's dinner was delicious...two of our casseroles plus a fresh salad and corn bread...not to mention Chris' double chocolate birthday cake!
Yesterday Rick and I went grocery shopping for the gang - to the Krogers in Hinton, supporting the local economy.  At the checkout, a nice young man named Bryan asked me if I had a Krogers' card.  You know I didn't and must have looked appropriately pitiful, so he swiped his...saved us $43!  I told him he was my favorite, and that he had just saved us ice cream money for the week!
We probably won't go for ice cream today.  The weather here is much like home - it's all over the place.  Kourtney, the new director at the Wade Center, told us not to plan to visit the center today because she thought it might be a snow day.  No snow so far, but it poured rain most of the night - with a few booms of thunder for good measure.  It's not supposed to get much above 40 today, but it's predicted to be warmer the rest of the week.
I think our tea has brewed...time for some quiet reading before the crew arrives.    ~Terry