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by Abe Hartzler Abe served as a member of the EM Summer Staff leading short-term mission trips in McDowell County, West Virginia in Appalachia during the summer of 2017. This story is from one of those summer trips!

One of the things I love most about Experience Mission is how the entire organization strives to uphold the dignity of the individuals they are working with. They call it the Model for Mutual Influence. It’s mutual because what volunteers give in service to the community is equal in value to the relationship they build with those they are working with and what they receive in return from the community. This way of service is radical because it changes the power dynamic from a scenario where an outsider comes in and tells the locals their way of doing things is wrong or lesser, to one where both parties grow in understanding, love, and appreciation for one another.

Week after week, my team does our best to emphasize this to the volunteers before we send them out into the community, and most times the teams do a great job. Like this past week, which has been the most encouraging week for me, as we got to witness true friendships begin between people who were total strangers just a few days before.

The homeowners we worked with, Bobby and Carol, were so thankful for the help, as their health prevented them from working. Even still, they poured themselves out as they could. Since they couldn’t help physically with the work the mission team was doing, they did their best to befriend those who were working and, by the end of the first day, it was already evident how close of friends they were becoming with the volunteer team.

Appalachia Mission Trips

On the last day of the week, the workday began with a big hug between Carol and one of the team members named Cindy. They knew it would be their last day together and were already dreading the goodbye. Moments like these are precious and it was so cool to be able to witness.

Bobby and Carol also had a nephew named Bubba who came to help with the work. At only 17 years old, Bubba is already bigger than most guys will ever be, and he loved jumping in to help with the demolition of the old floor. When the team would hit a tough spot on some flooring they couldn’t get to come up, Bubba would jump in and rip out the wood with his bare hands. No shoes, shirt, gloves, or tools necessary. Bubba was there to help work every day, and he built a great relationship with the team, especially the team leader Tad. The two hit it off well, and Bubba learned everything he could from Tad. When the end of the week rolled around, the two made sure to stay in touch with Facebook, and were even messaging one another just a day after the work was done.

The relationships built between the teams and community each summer are so vital because they change the way we think about mission work.

Appalachia Mission Trips

Relationships help us see one another as people who have things to offer one another, instead of projects that need to be fixed or corrected. Tad’s group that worked with Bobby and Carol have a God-given gift of connecting with people, and it was beautiful to see it happen in front of my eyes.

Learn more about West Virginia mission trips!


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