A few weeks ago I left a beautiful group of people to come back home. My experience with Workfest was one that I won’t forget anytime soon. I was given the opportunity to serve for a week with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Hofstra University. My Campus Minister had spent a year serving with a group called Christian Appalachian Project, which works to better many communities in Eastern Kentucky. Our Campus Minister absolutely loves this program, and has been telling me about it for over a year. CAP, as its better known, runs short-term service opportunities over Spring Break like Workfest. During Workfest, college students from around the country go to Camp Andrew Jackson and travel each day to a home that CAP is currently serving. During the course of the week of Workfest, college student’s work on a variety of necessary repairs on the homes that the families can’t manage on their own.
When we left campus on the Saturday before Workfest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had been involved in different youth ministries, attended retreats as well as days of service but this was my first time on a real mission trip, and my first time working with students from all over the country. The car ride down was filled with laughter and music but come Monday morning we were divided into our crews. I was placed in the Brown Crew, and together we started to learn how to use different types of power tools. Some were more confident than others. The Brown Crew had students from Stevens Point Wisconsin, Cincinnati Ohio, Scranton Pennsylvania, Burlington Vermont, and Long Island.
It felt like we were in Kentucky for a long time before we finally began the work we were there to do. Our crew worked about 40 minutes from Camp AJ with the Smith Family. There we met Haley and her two daughters Kate and Anna. Haley’s husband, Joe was at work, and her son was at school. The Smith family needed a new roof, floors, as well as the front and back porch. The first few days were tough, I was a little homesick, tired, cold, and not quite used to the amount of mud we were working in. I can’t say that I was the most confident using some of tools, so I tried to help in any way I could. Even though our conditions weren’t ideal, we all tried to serve in ways that showed the love of Christ. The readings at mass each day were reminders that we were there because we love Jesus, and we love him by loving others. There were times that I moved debris, and held pieces of wood steady so that those I was working with could use a saw or a drill. But, each day we were called to come out of our comfort zones. And so each day, with the help of my crew, I contributed in new ways. We also were able to pray with our family several times a day. This was really a great part of how CAP operates. Getting to pray with and know Haley was a part of this trip that reminded us all why we were there. We were there to do Christ’s work and to love as he taught us. My crew’s experience with our family was one that allowed all of us to see how God works in the lives around us. Amanda shared with us that she had her son at a young age, and her life is not the way she had imagined. She wanted to work in a law firm, she hadn’t seen herself being a stay at home mom. She kept telling us that God had a different plan for her. Even though she was different from all of us who were working, she inspired us all with her faith. We were there to improve her life, but she was there feeding our faith.
Each night we were able to reflect with our school on the events of the day. We would start each discussion with roses and thorns, the good and bad parts of each day. On our free night our group decided to go on Night Hike, and do our reflections outside on the top of a rock. Seeing the stars in Kentucky and sharing in conversation and prayer with some of the best people I know was truly a blessing. It was also incredibly humbling to hear the stories of those who I had come with., and to see how God was using them. This was probably the turning point of this trip for me. Before our Night Hike, my trip was good, but after this experience, my trip became extraordinary. It opened my eyes to the world around us, the community we were serving, and the extraordinary people I was sharing it with. Although none of us would see the end result of our work, we were still becoming a part of these families in a great way. We were able to be a small part of God’s great plan for this family, all because we made the choice to follow him. .
My trip with CAP to Kentucky is one that was extraordinary and that I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced. Serving others is something that, when done with Christ, is not a burden but rather a blessing.
This post was first given as a reflection at a Lenten Prayer Service in 2014. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of each individual.