A community making a difference in the world

A community making a difference in the world

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sometimes it really is about the journey by Alison Weaver


I’m writing this with the advantage of having read the posts form most of the others and I whole heartedly agree with what has been typed already.  I am very proud of the work we did and of my contribution to it.  But realistically, I’m not that strong or that skilled.  This trip for me was not about me making an impact on WV but on allowing WV to make in impact on me.  And that definitely happened.  I met Margaret and Geneva and some of their neighbors, the performers at Riff Raff, Roger and Greg at the Folklife Center plus all the tour guides and counter clerks at our stops.  I had many adventures, learning new building skills, eating jerky, having s’mores at the bonfire etc.   The huge surprise to me was the space in between – the car rides.
The car rides were not the highlight per se.  There were 12 hours in the cars each way to get to the Folklife Center plus a minimum of an hour and a half each way to the work site.  It was a lot of time trapped in a vehicle with 4 or 5 or 6 people. Any peevishness on the worksite does not have time to dissipate.  None the less, this time was primarily filled with laughter and heartfelt sharing.   The time in the car was not about one or two shining moments but a constant and subtle time to learn to love each other in a deeper way. 

My coworkers have listed many of the amazing experiences we had.  Certainly the car rides were not nearly as glamorous as any of the individual adventures, but that time together has its own special value.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Do You Feel God's Presence? by Cheryl Pespisa

Reflection by Cheryl - Saturday, July 15th

Do You Feel God's Presence?             

It had been ten years since Bob and I participated in our last 'formal' mission trip, and after listening to those who have traveled to West Virginia during the previous two years, it was clear that we were long overdue for taking a risk and redirecting our focus to some spiritual development. Maybe it took so long because there wasn't the same sense of urgency or destruction that Katrina brought to the forefront. Maybe we were becoming accustomed to the disaster of the week. Maybe it was our own personal bias about this region that kept us from acting sooner. We decided we didn't want to let another year pass without venturing to this region that we so often have driven through or around to get to somewhere else.             

In our car on the way down, as the ride and hours grew longer, we grew more honest with each other in our discussions, especially the ones who were venturing down for the first time. “Did anyone  in the car feel the Spirit of God?” Did anyone hear God speaking to them?”“Is it okay to not feel or see God's presence yet?” People asked us if we felt it when we went to New Orleans, and I couldn't say for sure how I felt heading down there for the first time, but I will always remember the impact of seeing what I thought were built-in swimming pools by the thousands, as far as the eye could see as our plane approached the Louis Armstrong Airport. It was a few seconds more as the plane descended that I realized  the swimming pools were actually blue tarps covering roofs that had not yet been repaired or replaced a year later. As my plane left New Orleans at the end of our trip, I remember sobbing at the idea of leaving so much devastation behind me, feeling that even though we accomplished so much in a week's  time, at that moment, it seemed minuscule. I recalled the people that we were so fortunate to meet through visits to homes, churches, and work. It was at that moment that I felt the Spirit of God in me and knew that my work here was not done. When we all got home and debriefed, the others shared the same feelings and experience as our plane passed over Lake Pontchartrain.              

Leading up to this trip, I wondered if I would feel the powerful presence of the Lord's spirit like that again. I wondered if I could be moved by the people and their stories like I was ten years ago.             And that brings me back to this past week.             

It was difficult to feel the same sense of urgency taking two days to arrive at our destination, having so much fun, and laughing so much with companions during the side trips that were so lovingly planned by our travel leader-Allyson, and the efforts made by Pastor John to bond the group together through mixing up travel companions each time we stopped for a stretch break or “Allyson-inspired adventure.”When we finally arrived to the Appalachian South Folk Center, I still wasn't feeling it. The land and surroundings were breathtaking. The surrounding communities appeared intact as we passed through. What was the urgency? What was the problem? What was I missing? Early the first morning, I walked to the top of the hill to catch the sunrise. I talked to Pastor Gary, the minister from Good Shepherd in New Orleans, who is now in heaven making the angels laugh at the same horrible jokes that endeared him to us and had us coming back to Good Shepherd for many visits. I asked for his guidance, for a sign that I could have an impact, and that this trip could have an impact on me and my spirituality. Then the work began.             

Bob and I have a knack for being a bit 'ambitious', if not ridiculously over-confident in how much can be accomplished if the heart and soul desires it. The first moment we walked into that church and met Geneva, who came up to each individual member of our group and introduced herself, “What it your name? Nice to meet you. Geneva Pugh, “ I knew what would happen next. We were there to paint, but Bob surveyed the building, and quickly announced we would be refurbishing the two bathrooms and kitchen in addition to the painting. We began to rip things out before having a real plan, and before running it by the entire group. I could see a bit of panic on the face of Greg, the ASFC foreman who was overseeing the project. I got nervous, but I also know that when the Spirt it does speak to Bob, a little faith is a good companion to the admiration of his good intentions. I was worried that Greg wanted to escort us back to the Virginia border with a resounding, “No thanks!”I also wanted to be sure that everyone was on board, as this is a group project. I wasn't feeling the Spirit yet.              

Pastor John's morning devotionals set the groups focus for the day. The readings would remind me of the bigger picture and overall purpose behind our mission, but I have to admit that once the work started each day, it was challenging for me to keep the message in the forefront of my mind. I didn't want to leave this place in worse condition than we found it. I didn't want to leave a longer list of repairs for others to carry out. At the evening devotionals, people were sharing signs that the Spirit of God was present. Did I miss it? Why didn't I see that? I was there. I should have been able to share that! The Spirit was still eluding me.             

As the plans evolved and the week wore on, Bob would venture out a little bit earlier each day so we could get supplies on the way.  He would do the same at the end of each day. We both worried about the impact of a 3 hour round trip to and from WyCo each day on our ability to get everything finished by week's end.  But there were perks, too. The best part of each day was arriving to the church and seeing Geneva waiting for us with the church already opened, she dressed in her painter whites (“I am wearing white because of the heat,” she shared), and, after finding out on the first day she liked the coffee at Dairy Queen, Bob would present her with her morning coffee picked up on the way each morning We would listen to her share her stories with us while we finished our coffee, and Bob would lay out the plan for the day so she would know what would be happening, making sure she was okay with the proposals, and getting her input on options or preferences.  I think I began to feel the Spirit during these early morning moments before the craziness of the work day began.              

At some point at the end of our first work day on Monday, as I worried we were moving too fast and taking too many liberties, I was working behind the counter in the kitchen when the others left the basement, and only Geneva remained. She looked upward, raised her arms in the air, and began to dance in a circle. It was a “Praise God” moment, and I caught it. When I stood, she just looked at me, and said, “I didn't know anyone was still here.” She paused, smiled, and then began to dance again, “I am so happy you all are here with us! I can not believe this is happening!” Where I saw work and worry about getting it all done in time, she saw blessings. I think I felt the Spirit.             

We did this every day, and each of those days I saw sixteen others working so hard, each one working beyond or outside of their comfort zone. I felt a little guilty, not that we took on more than this group could handle, but that they were taking on more than they should have to handle. We were supposed to just paint the sanctuary. There was no complaining. Everyone worked so hard each day and all day. We were exhausted when we arrived back to camp at the end of each day, but still had to prepare dinner and  participate in evening devotions. We had a chore schedule to make sure everyone participated in the daily tasks, but everyone pitched in outside of the schedule to help each other out. I think I felt the Spirit again.             

On Tuesday, ninety-two year old Ms. Margaret Pugh arriving at the church to meet us and check out our work. She looked at Bob when he was introduced, and stated that he has 'dreamy eyes'. “Are you his wife? Did you know he has dreamy eyes?”“I know Ms. Margaret; that is what I fell for, too!” She announced she wanted to give him another hug. I thought I felt the spirit, but kept a closer eye on Ms. Margaret.              

Tuesday night we went to the Riff Raff; everyone was so physically and mentally exhausted.  We made an exit plan, deciding that maybe one car would go back early for those too tired to stay. Alas, it was such an inspirational and amazing night, watching and listening to these  young people take the stage to sing and share their own music with us, some for the very first time. No one wanted to leave. I think I felt the Spirit again.              

At the end of the long, hot day of work, Geneva lead the way to a 'waterfall' not too far from the church. Watching everyone walk through the waterfall and seeing them instantly transformed from an exhausted shell to a rejuvenated being. The hugging, dancing, and encouragement as each stepped
through the water. I thought I felt the Spirit.              

Wednesday night, Rick grilled burgers and dogs for us and we ate outside, followed by a basketball game of PIG, Most were exhausted and some selected to observe from the sidelines, initially. After observing for the first round, everyone wanted in.  We went in order of age, the ages ranging from ten years to, well, a lot older than ten. Some were athletic. Most were not. I remember laughing so hard I had to cross my legs so as not to pee. We played it out until Evan Majoros won and we were surrounded by darkness. The night ended with a beautiful bonfire built by Jacob and Phillip, with some help from Greg.  Lori came from the Riff Raff to share her musical talents with the group. We learned about drumming that night. Evan and Douglas solved the case of the missing shampoo. The stars were abundant; my husband was at my side; we were surrounded by God's gifts. I thought I felt the Spirit.             

By Wednesday night,Thursday morning, Bob was wearing down. He wasn't sleeping well, and the days were getting hotter. Some repairs weren't always going as smoothly as he had hoped. I could see it affecting him, and as a result affecting me. We had one more day to get through. It was difficult as there was  so much left to do. Margaret came back about midday on Thursday. When I took a water break and emerged from the basement, I heard singing. I came around to the church entrance and stood at the bottom of the steps. Connie pointed to the doors opening where I could see the backs of Pastor John and Margaret sitting in the back pew and sharing a hymnal, singing together. It was a beautiful moment and a memory I will certainly carry with me for a long time. I also remember smiling each time I looked out from downstairs and saw Ms. Margaret seated out back, and each time speaking with a different member of our group. I think everyone wanted their time with Ms. Margaret. Her reputation for storytelling and sharing her experiences as a black woman in this part of the country during the better part of a century had preceded her, and everyone wanted to listen to what she had to say. She was definitely someone special.  I most definitely felt the Spirit through Ms. Margaret. The plumbing was also completed not long after this, and once again, I felt the Spirit (and a lot of relief).             

Thursday evening after my shower, I ran into Greg outside. He came up to me and hugged me, telling me how he wasn't so sure about us at the start of the first day, but by the end of the day, he was assigning us stuff to do, and he could lay back a bit, not worrying about watching us every minute so we wouldn't mess up. He is used to dealing with teens and was surprised by the number of adults in our group, and even more surprised at their work ethic and willingness to do just about anything asked of them. He began to talk about his experience with ASFC over the past five years. He shared that at the beginning, it was just work, and didn't think much about the spiritual aspects of it. After working with so many different people from all over the country, his feelings and connections began to develop into something more spiritual. He teared up as he said this, and attributed his growing faith to  “people such yourselves and your group.” He said we could come back any time and he would be honored to work with our group again. I felt the Spirit growing within. The sunset seemed especially beautiful that night.             

It was challenging doing this trip as part of such a large group. It's also challenging being on this trip with a spouse. My first mission experience to NOLA was smaller and we had more independence in decision making and planning. I was sometimes more worried about the group than I was about Bob's feelings. I don't think it was a lack of confidence or not appreciating that he wanted to do this for Geneva and Margaret, as well as the Church's community, I just didn't feel comfortable pushing an agenda that wasn't a group decision. I also understood that there was more to this trip than just repairing things. Unlike our trip to NOLA, we had a spiritual leader with us this time, and, to me, the building of the spirit  equals the physical callings of the mission. I forgot how we were both changed spiritually by the people we  met, by their deep their faith in God, and their gratitude for those he sent to help them through the crisis caused by Katrina. I was struggling to find balance. At times I found myself struggling to hold onto the Spirit,  even when I knew it was present right in front of me.             

It wasn't until we left early ahead of the group and began our journey home that I finally had time to think and process the impact of this trip. Initially, as we drove away, I thought I might have missed my opportunity. I worried that I focused on the wrong thing, getting lost in the details rather than focusing on the big picture.  I spent too much energy on the physical tasks at the cost of spiritual growth.  I was disappointed with myself those initial hours as we made our way through the winding hairpin mountain roads that lead us out of West Virginia. As we drove on and it was turning into mid-morning, Bob would ask me to make calls so he could check in with various people back home. Each time, I would put the call on speakerphone, and, not paying attention initially, began to hear Bob's conversations with his friends, customers, and family. He would go into detail about all the group accomplished.  He would talk about the beautiful countryside, almost sounding as if he was defending it to the person on the other end of the phone, to correct myths and misconceptions. He talked about the side trips. He then began to talk about the people He talked about Geneva and Margaret. He talked about Greg and Roger. He talked about how hard the kids worked. He loved that Douglas enjoyed the jerky store as much has he and John. He spoke with such pride and admiration about how amazing it was to work with such a talented and hardworking group of individuals. He would share how everyone stepped up and out of their comfort level to do things never tried before, to care for and encourage each other as nerves got frayed, and bones and muscles fatigued. He thought it was highly unusual to be able to count on every individual in a group that large with such a large age range, but every single person came through in one way or another. Everyone found a niche where they could be productive or supportive. In between phone calls, he would talk to me about Roger's story, conversations with Greg, and, of course, Ms. Margaret and Geneva. We would also have long periods of quiet, when I knew we both were thinking about the days past, and then blurt out another memory or share a thought that hadn't yet been shared. We both had so many positive and special moments involving each and every person in our group and those we met throughout the week. We recalled all the beautiful scenery, the history we learned, and talked about how we can do more. We wondered who would finish painting the church's exterior. When we started talking about when we could return....... I am definitely feeling the Spirit.              

I know I need to work on how I approach these mission trips. I know I missed some great spiritual opportunities this week, or more accurately, maybe I trampled over them in my effort to get the job done. I need to slow down and enjoy the journey rather than focusing so much on the finish line.  I would like to acknowledge those moments as they happen, rather than on the trip home. If  I can master that during a week of mission work, then may there is hope for me yet to work on my life's journey, as well. It was such a pleasure and reward to joyfully serve with this amazing group of people. Thank you for accepting me as I am, a work in progress. Bless each and everyone one of you who were willing to take this journey of faith and service. 

Respectfully, filled with the Spirit of God, 

Cheryl Pespisa, "The Foreman"we y serve with this amazing group of people.
Thank you for accepting me as I am, a work in progress. Ble
ss each and everyone one of you who were
willing to take this journey of faith and service.
Respectfully, filled with the Spirit of God,
The Foreman

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mission Accomplished

We have finished our job at Mount Grove Baptist Church, and Miss Margaret and Geneva are thrilled.  Here are a few work pictures from today.

I've asked the members of the mission team to write their own reflections, so here are some thoughts from members of an awesome team.

Just got home from our last day on the job. Sat outside with a beautiful view of the mountains and ate leftovers. This has been a week of hard work but also lots of laughs and fun. Our project at Mt. Grove church was a perfect project for us. We were able to make a significant difference and accomplished more than we thought we could. We spent time talking with Geneva and Miss Margaret, who were fascinating and full of life. My goal is to be just like Miss Margaret when I am 93! She told us about life in a segregated coal mining camp and the challenges of integration during the 1950's and 1960's. She feels blessed in her life and she "always had a dollar." She still drives and her license plate says "foxy lady", with an Obama 2008 bumper sticker above it.
The team also had lots of interesting and fun side trips, especially with mother Allyson P. planning the fun. It was a wonderful week - now we need to recuperate!

Have you ever met someone with whom you have an instant rapport?  Meeting Geneva and Margaret was like that.  Geneva was often with us at the church either sweeping, talking or spreading drylok!  Margaret invited Mary, Deb and I into her home when we went to see her garden.  She and Geneva told us stories and how times have changed.  The stories were often about difficult times in their lives but Margaret kept saying, "I am blessed and I always have a dollar."  Isn't that the truth!  By the end of Thursday, we were kissing and hugging goodbye. (And they came to see us go in the human car wash!)

What a  wonderful final day we had at the Mt. Grove Church, listening to Margaret, John, and Allison  singing together in the back pew - surrounded by the newly painted walls and the finished sanctuary - their voices ringing down to the basement crew still feverishly working on the new bathroom and kitchen. A wonderful final moment at the pipe/water falls as Margaret and her wonderful daughter Geneva cheered the mission team on as we did a dance congo line through the  fountain of fun.

My first mission trip -What would it be like?? Upon arriving we were told that we were going to an all black church in Wyco country about 1:20 minutes away to do painting and cleaning. We were also told that they had three active members - Margaret (over 90) and her daughter Geneva. My thinking was that this church would be run down and in need of a lot of help. Boy was I wrong as we drove up the driveway I saw the most beautiful white country church. After meeting both Margaret and Geneva I could see why this church was as it was. It was hard work, hot but very satisfying. You ever have the opportunity to go on a mission trip and go outside your comfort zone - go for it!!!

Earlier in the week, John asked to be aware of the "Presence of God" as we went throughout the week. The question became, when did I not see the presence of God so I'll share just a few.  The first evening we went to the Riff Raff Arts Collective.  Not only did we hear Lori and her husband sing in their home environment(they performed at out Mission Fair) but saw and witnessed their mission at an open mike night.  I was wonderfully surprised at the quality of their music and faithfulness that the musicians and singers exhibited.  Another moment came when after a longggggg hot day of work at our project site, dinner and then a reflective time in the even as I headed back to my bed, I passed our Pastor John coming in with his laptop to begin is blog.  I am sure that he was just as tired as I was and as we exchanged a few words of good night, I again saw God's mission in Pastor John.  And on our first outing at the pipe/water fall adventure, Chris decided to just watch our crazy antics so we decided that he needed a wet hug.  Evan ran to his dad and gleefully embraced him and you could see God's presence in both Chris and Evan's eyes.  


Toward the end of our time, I walked into the sanctuary and found Margaret sitting alone in the back pew.  I sat with her, and, to make conversation, asked her what was her favorite hymn.  Of course, she said that there were many.  She then asked me to get the hymnal from the pew and then started looking through the hymnal.  She saw one she liked and asked if I knew it - and I didn't.  She started to sing it with a rich, soulful voice that touched my soul.  But then she asked me to join in.  She pointed to each word as we sung it, as if to make sure I got what we were singing about.  There were tears in my eyes.  I don't know what came over me, but just singing next to this remarkable woman touched me in a way I've never experienced before.  We sang many more hymns, and were joined by Alison, Chris, Allyson, Evan, Doug, Rick and others.  Most hymns Margaret selected were about how your faith guides you through the hard times in life.  I knew, from hearing her stories, that she lived these hymns out.  It was such a privilege.  A connection unlike any other.  Afterwards, she gave me the hymnal we sang out of, and inscribed it.  I'll treasure this hymnal forever.  I'll never forget that hymn sing.

Tomorrow morning, we will be leaving for the Wade Center, then onto the Beckley Mining Museum, the New River Gorge Visitor Center, then onto Chambersburg, PA, for our first let of our journey home.  It's really hard to leave this beautiful place, yet we can't wait to come home and talk about our experience, share stories and sleep in our own beds.  Thanks again for your prayers!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Another rich, full day is over - another great day.  Bob Pespisa and assistants installed 3 new toilets, a hot water heater both bathroom and kitchen sinks, a new kitchen table and more.  The outside painters finished their work, and are looking to do a final job which seemed out of reach only yesterday: paining the steeple.  The sanctuary painters finished the inside painting, doing second coats of walls, touching up and doing the window trim.

After that, we went to a place on the roadside that Geneva told us about, where mountain spring water comes through a pipe.  We had great fun going under the pipe and cooling off after a hot day.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of this group.  They are all hard workers - everyone takes a tasks and works on it with focus and care.  They work beautifully as a team, each helping one another.  Older and younger generations work together, the older giving encouragement, wisdom and support to the young.  There is a lot of laughing and joy.  There is also deep and thoughtful sharing as we gather together in a circle and reflect.

Living together, working together, eating together, praying together: this all can be a great experience.  It also can be a challenge.  This team has lived all this out faithfully.

We had a great cookout for dinner, with Rick Burke being the grillmeister.  After we had our fill of burgers, dogs, slaw, potato salad and watermelon, we had a game of "pig" - which is similar to the basketball game "horse."  We had great fun, trying to shoot baskets.  Congratulations to Evan for winning!

We then had a campfire under the stars.  We made smores and enjoyed the fire.  Laurie from the Riff Raff Center (she came up to the mission festival in January) came with her drums and explained them to us.  She played some drums and then recited a beautiful poem that she composed about Jesus choosing to be with the "riff raff" (hence the name of the center.

Tomorrow, we finish our work, and then join Margaret and Geneva in a service of singing hymns and praying in the newly renovated sanctuary.  We are looking forward to having the satisfaction of completing the job - a job that greatly exceeded everyone's expectations.

We are always grateful for your thoughts, prayers and all the love you send down to us.  We send it back to you.  We cant wait to come back Sunday and tell you in person!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Grinding It Out

The mission trip is at a the half way point and we can't believe it.  Four days have passed and four to go.  Today was both ordinary and extraodinary.  On one hand, it was a long, hard but productive work day.  We all knew our jobs and went to them with determination.  Bob Pespisa had gone to Lowe's to get toilets, sinks, tables and so much else to restore the kitchen and bathroom.  There was a lot a cleaning, scraping, painting, both inside and outside.  By 3:30, we were totally exhausted, but satisfied with what had happened at the worksite.  Things are taking shape and we can see the end of the project in sight.  There is something important about grinding it out, being pushed physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Great things are done with a lot of grunt work and often inspiring projects involve very ordinary times, when you cannot really feel the Spirit.  Just the ache of muscles.  That is what it's often like at the midpoint of mission trips.

Yet today was extraordinary.  We were blessed to meet Margaret, the 93-year-old woman who basically makes the church run.  She came to us in a yellow outfit, complete with yellow sneakers with smiley faces on top.  There is a gold star on one of her front teeth.  You would never know she was 93 - maybe she looks in her 70's.  She graciously greeted each one of us.  She talked a lot about the church and its history as well as her own life, which spanned amazing and frightening times.  If you haven't read Rick Burke's blog about her, please read it!

We came back to the Folklife Center, had dinner and reflected on the day. I continue to be impressed with the deep and open ways we talk and reflect.  There was a rich conversation about what happened last night at the Riff Raff Center.  One person said that she could clearly feel the presence of God in that place.  Another reflected about the decline of churches around here, simply because young people are not going to church anymore.  Churches die when the last parishioner dies.  Then we discussed the reasons why: how the church does not want to change and innovate and speak to a new generation.  This is also true for us in Massachusetts, the most unchurched area in the country.

Then we realized that the night at Riff Raff was a church event.  The music definitely had a spiritual dimmension.  The people coming were exactly the folks Jesus called: ordinary people, searching for something in life.  People who experienced bitter lives.  They find community, good messages and acceptance there.

The scripture of the day was the parable of the talents, where a master gives three servants money to invest.  The first two invest the money and get the same amount in return.  The third hides the money in the ground, fearing what would happen if he lost the money.  His fear and caution is condemned by the master.  This parable has a lot to do with risk.  Risk is essential to the life of faith.  Churches that risk receive reward.  Oddly enough, the people who are really risking are Robert and Laurie, the founders of Riff Raff.  Go figure!

Of course, there was much discussion about Margaret, her life, and what meeting her meant to us.  She is truly a blessing to all of us.  Again, please read Rick's blog.

We will go back to do more grunt work tomorrow, and we are hoping to complete our projects on Thursday and then have a brief worship time with Margaret and her daughter, Geneva at the church.  Perhaps on Friday morning, we will visit the Wade Center, then go the coal mining museum and start our trek back to Bedford.

We thanks you all for all your messages, your prayers, your love coming down to us.  It means so much!

The moon is now rising up over the far mountains and has an amazing red/orange color that I've never seen before.  It is time for sleep, and another long day at the worksite.