Earlier this month, I went on my third Restoration trip to Philippi, WV. Each year, it seems, when we cross the line into West Virginia, the John Denver song seems to erupt spontaneously from whoever is in the car. This year, the Brooks family and I belted it out with gusto.
West Virginia may not be home, but the fact that the town of Philippi and the little community of Chestnut Ridge feel so familiar is part of what I love about this trip and why I think it’s so valuable. Jeff and Lisa Sickler, who through the organization Appalachian Community CARE are our hosts on Chestnut Ridge, do a wonderful job of introducing us the the culture of rural West Virginia and emphasizing that building relationships is far and away the most important aspect of our time on the Ridge. They gently remind us that the construction skills we bring are, um, not exactly stellar — but we do bring lives that have been touched by God’s grace and love, and we have the opportunity to share that grace and love with others.
Of course, in the beauty of God’s economy, we ended up receiving as much grace and love as we were able to share. One of our work teams had the privilege of returning to the home of young family they’d worked with last year, seeing the pride they were taking in their modest home and getting to hear about their hopes, their dreams, and their faith. Another team got to visit folks from Ford’s Run Church who are now old friends and to help Jeff and Lisa on their farm. (Ask Lukas Hassell and Eric Wilcox about getting to ride in the bucket of a front-end loader!) The team I was on was blessed to meet a man named PeeWee, to hear about his love for his late wife and how, when he was 56 years old, he met his father for the first time… And all of this while dodging hornets and learning how to install vinyl siding!
The same storm that hit DC on June 29 hit Philippi, too, and we were without power for our last 36 hours there. God provided miraculous protection for our team, most of whom were out on a small gravel road, surrounded by falling trees, when the storm hit. And I was so proud of the way our team adapted to the challenges of life without power while working outside in high summer heat and sleeping in second-story bunkrooms at night. Definitely an example of the power of God’s grace and love — and patience!
God has been so good to Restoration in forging this connection between Arlington and Philippi. I’m grateful that Chestnut Ridge has come to feel a little bit like home. And I’m excited to see the ways that, through old and new relationships with folks there, God will continue to pour out his grace and his love.