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Turning Houses Into Homes, God in Innocence
While on a mission trip in the mountains of Kentucky, I found God in the strangest places. Never have I found a place more inviting and beautiful. But behind all beauty is secret pain.
These stories are about my mission trip with my church in the mountains of Kentucky (away from modern society and most electronics), and how I found God in innocence.
I went to church about once every two months and I never “found” God, I would even go as far to say that I didn’t believe in him. I volunteered to go on a mission trip with my church to the mountains of Kentucky. I believed the usual stereo-types, hillbillies and rednecks. I was there to help these people, but in the end, they helped me more.
There were three families that my team of four youths and three adults worked for. The first was a digging job. In the small holler (a group of houses in a small valley) there was a small wooden house with a tin roof surrounded by thick brush and mountain forest.
We dug up coal, rocks and dirt for a week straight. After the first day, the young woman we worked for offered us popsicles because of the strange, blistering heat. While the rest of my group enjoyed their scrumptious treat, I lingered by our water cooler.
“Hey, my name’s Aerolin,” I told her along with my age and what school I recently attended. Her silence wasn’t bad, no, she listened to each letter I spoke.
“Name’s Kate,” she told me with such a heavy accent that it was difficult to understand, “I’ma eighteen yers ole.”
We got talking as my team started working. No one bothered us; it was part of our job to mingle with the people we worked for too. Eventually she told me that her mother died when she was twelve, her older sister committed suicide soon afterwards, and her father died of black lung from the coal mines a year ago.
As I listened, a blue-eyed baby cooed through the screen door of the trailer. Kate opened the door and picked up her darling babe. “This is Evan,” she explained. Her face showed nothing but happiness and joy. “His daddy is up in them coal mines. He sends us checks. But he don’t love me no more.”
Evan giggled in her arms. “Things must be hard for you,” I guessed, but her effortless smile couldn’t’ve grown any bigger.
“Nahh, Errrlin. Aint you learned nuthn?” She said to me, “As long as you have'em ones ya love, nuthn can be hard.”
On the second week we worked under a hot, disgusting trailer. We never saw the parents, but we often encounter Tall Rob, Talkative Rob and Liz. Tall Rob was the second oldest reaching the amazing age of seven. He was chubby, like all the kids, and had dark, buzzed hair. He liked to watch us crawl under his house to replace the insulation.
Talkative Rob was four and very, well, talkative, though we couldn’t understand a word he said. And Liz was three and a half, which I didn’t really understand, but we learned not to question things there.
Our job was dirty and tiresome, but it was worth it to know that these kids won’t be cold this coming winter. We went inside for lunch, and it was now confirmed that it was my duty to get to know these families. There was one boy, Big Rob, who was the oldest of the four kids, and the only one who hid away from us. He’d be on Facebook or doing something while we were there.
Throughout the week he slowly came out, and on the last day he invited me to come and look at something in his room. I sat on his bed that he shared with his brother and he picked up a baseball.
“You like baseball?” I asked him. He nodded fiercely with a grin.
“I LOVE it! Nome went to college in my family,” he explained to me, “but I wanna! And I’m gonna through baseball. I play every day an I wanna try to make the high school team. I wanna play for college; I wanna be famous!”
I felt sorry for this boy, who would tell him that he’d end up in the coal mines like every other man in that town?
“Ya see this?” He asked as he gently handed me the baseball. It had two signatures on it. “Mama and Pa agreed not to buy food for a week to send me an Pa to a pro game. This ball was signed by the pitcher and the batter who hit them win’n home runs. I used to play with it out yonder 'till it got a scuff mark an I haven’t touched it since.”
He was silent for a moment before he spoke up again, “I want you to have it.”
There were many protests against it from me, but he said, “You better not forget on purpose.”
For the rest of the day I worked with my team and finished our job. We packed our white van ready to leave as the rain poured down. Big Rob busted through his door and ran tords me with something white in his small, childish hands.
“You promised you wouldn’t forget!” He yelled over the roar of the storm. I smiled, “Thanks,” I whispered though he couldn’t hear me. He smiled, hugged me, and then ran inside his now insulated house.
The last house wasn’t as special as the rest. No one told me a lesson I would remember for the rest of my life, but the face of an innocent child told me more than anyone I would ever meet.
The temperature hit about a hundred and five but it felt more like two hundred up on a tin roof. Me and my other youths, Kate, Kristen, and Danielle, worked together to put a new roof on an old, sick lady’s house that was spoiled from flood damage. We put up the USB then some plastic stuff over the board and then the tin. This process took up the whole week.
On the first day we met David whose Aunt was the old lady whose house we worked on. He lived next door on her land in the same holler. He was tall and lanky and had a large southern accent. He told us that he had worked in the coal mines until he broke a part of his back, now he’s a carpenter.
David helped us out a lot on the work site by giving us popsicles and his house to sit in during lunch. He showed nothing but kindness and thanks.
One day in the middle of the long week, his grand-baby came out to meet us. Her name was Alisha. She said she was three while using four of her fingers, and her short, banana curled, blond hair bounced on her shoulders as she jumped up and down with excitement. She never wore shoes and always had a dress on, especially a pink one.
The aunt lady was sick almost every day, and when we did see her it was only for a few minutes. She was likely around the age of eighty with thinning white hair, and stiff, wrinkly fingers. Her skin seemed bronzed with many dark splotches that permanently hung off her sagging, loose skin. Her smile was true and pure, and her eyes held many wisdoms.
She picked up Alisha and swung her back and forth in her arms. Alisha giggled and squirmed. My team watched with questionable eyes. All their families were torn apart from the coal mines, slaughtered and injured, yet they still managed to live happily together. I’ve never seen a family this close, especially not in the large city I now live in.
My family lives very far, definitely not in the same holler. I have an uncle in Afghanistan, cousins in Cali, even my own sister moved to Kentucky. Seventeen people lived in three houses in that holler while we fixed the fourth. “Almost ever’one in this her town is kin.” David once told me.
On the last day, when the roof was now shinny with tin, and the sky darkened, Alisha scurried towards us. In her hands were common white wild flowers. She had made a bracelet for each of us, all seven. Then the leader of our work team keeled down to her, touched her shoulders, and carefully turned her away from us and toward her home.
“Go back to your perfect little world, where the earth’s only enemies are on TV and money has nothing to do with you.” Mr. Steve, our team leader, nudged her away. She turned with huge blue eyes pure from innocence, scared from fear, hurt from the mines, loved from her families, and thankful. She turned, then left into her perfect world.