By Rev. John Castricum, Pastor of First Church of Christ Congregational in Bedford
“This is a third-world country in the middle of the richest nation on earth.” That is what John David, the director of the Southern Appalachian Labor School told the 2015 First Church of Christ, Bedford Mission Team last year when they traveled to Beards Fork, West Virginia. After witnessing the region’s poverty, decay and environmental degradation first-hand last year, the First Church Mission Team was committed to returning to West Virginia for a second time in 2016.
Five church members recently returned from a week-long mission trip to the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, W. Va. with stories of struggle, heartbreak and hope. The team traveled during April vacation, not only to help a community in need, but also hoping to develop a long-term relationship with an organization making a difference in people’s lives. It found an ideal partner.
The Folklife Center works with organizations all around the poorest counties in Appalachia to restore homes, lives and people’s dignity. Founded by a Don West, a Congregationalist minister, poet, and activist, the center’s mission is to restore the dignity and self-sufficiency of the poorest people in the area.
In addition to completing some much-needed restoration at the center itself, the team also had the privilege of meeting and working with the Wade Center, an after-school program for poor and at-risk children in the area. The Wade Center offers time for homework and crafts, play, a worship experience and dinner.
“Most of these kids live with their grandparents or one parent. Some parents have died, some are in jail, while others have abandoned the family,” said Terry Gerrish of Billerica, “They are beautiful children – it just breaks your heart to hear their stories.”
The team also met with the director of Open Heart Ministries, another organization collaborating with the Folklife Center. They toured several houses that are going to be restored as well as some completed projects. “I am amazed at the faith of these people,” said Pastor John Castricum. “They, with little to no resources, do incredible work.”
The First Church Mission Team came back with many more stories and pictures of their week in West Virginia. Plans are already underway for next year’s trip, with many more church members hoping to go down. They look forward to doing more direct work with home restoration and ministry to the poor and homeless.
To read the Mission Team’s blog of their experience in West Virginia, complete with pictures and videos, visit the First Church website: https://www.firstchurchbedford.org.