A slow, holy week in Appalachia

It’s been a slow week in Appalachia. And that’s saying something. In a place where going to the store for groceries requires 30-mile round trip drive, rain interrupts the Internet, and chatting for at least 15 minutes about who knows whom precedes all work meetings…slow really means something.

Photo: Christina Amenta, CAP Volunteer '07-'08

Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. day and though the kids had no school (and thus the Child and Family Development Center where I serve had no kids), there I was at work, 8 a.m. ready for whatever the day would bring. Days like this are slow, but you learn to appreciate them as a chance to plan and clean up or do the minor work for your program that can get missed in the mess of seeing kids all day. There is always a motivation for the day: the next day will bring smiling faces and loud voices and messy hands, and it will be suddenly clear why I left home, my friends, my own sky behind.

Then an announcement: automated phone messages, school website messages, gossip – NO SCHOOL TUESDAY DUE TO FLU; CLASSES RESUME ON WEDNESDAY. Ugh, fine! I was not pleased; a few days last week were canceled because of weather, and it’d been days since I’d seen these kids who I’ve come to love. I used the day to handle some personal health business, seeing the day off as an opportunity from God to engage in some vital self-care. That’s the thing about volunteer life: you get so attached to your program, and you feel so responsible for house duties and rituals, that finding time for self-care without feeling selfish can be a big task.

I’m resting on the couch when my housemate breaks the bad news. School will stay closed tomorrow because of flu. Sigh. Another day spent sitting, cleaning, organizing, thinking, waiting, sighing. When I get home, I realize I should just check the school webpage myself. Nothing seems to be going as planned, and right now, this week seems a total wash. And there is it: SCHOOL WILL BE CLOSED THE REST OF THE WEEK. There is ice coming in on Friday, too, and my coworkers already express that they likely won’t be coming to work on Friday. So there’ll be no kids, and no co-workers. More cleaning, organizing. More thinking, sighing. This, my friends, is service work.

What does it mean to serve? When you make the commitment to volunteer, usually you are focused on DOING, on RESULTS, on EFFECTS. You can build a porch and make a kid smile and visit the elderly. That’s service, right? A long-term service experience definitely knocks that notion of service out of your head. Service is so. much. more. Service is being present. It is saying, Yes, Lord, I trust You. Yes, Jesus, I’ll do this in Your name. Service requires we let go of the end result and instead learn to focus on our presence, along with God’s presence, in the very present moment – even if that moment is sitting quietly in an office on an icy Friday. It is a sacrifice, and one that only you and God might see. No one else might get it. People back home might wonder what good you’re doing (and heck, you probably will wonder the same).

But there’s a reason why service is extolled as an ideal path toward God: it mirrors faith. You cannot see the results. The tangible stuff ends up not being the vital stuff. Service requires trust and hope in a big way. “The poor you will always have with you,” says Jesus. Where is the end? Will I see good come of this? Maybe. Maybe not. But acting in true service means we humble ourselves, with great trust in our hearts, knowing that every moment is an opportunity to build the kingdom of God. So it’s been a slow week in Appalachia, but a very holy one indeed.

Kate B. is a long-term CAP Volunteer in CAP's Child and Family Development program. She is a member of the McCreary Volunteer Community.

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