By Kathy Leese
I had never been on a mission trip. I signed up to go after asking God for a sign about whether I should make the trip with members of our team from The Valley Church in Piqua, Ohio as part of a CSI Ministries sponsored trip. I am one of those people who has to be certain. God gave me the sign and I went ahead and signed up to go on the team that was traveling to Eastern Kentucky. I immediately began trying to find a way out. I even prayed that somehow God would block me from going – not by anything terrible happening – but simply by making it impossible for me to go. It didn’t happen. I was going.
Honestly, I was afraid. This was different than my many childhood and teenage trips to Kentucky. My Dad was from Somerset, Kentucky and I spent many happy days there. My sister lived in Paintsville, Kentucky. But this was way down in a holler. This was no cell phone service on my phone and the nearest town was about a 30-minute drive. I had no idea what I was getting into and all I could think about were the copperheads and rattlesnakes (a real fear in that part of the country), the bears (I really was okay with them, don’t ask why), and the brown recluse spiders and other wildlife that make the mountains their home. As someone with a lot of allergies and things, I was scared. I had also injured my knee and I added that to my list of “this might not be a good idea.”
But, a couple of friends talked to me and one sat with me and we searched the Bible looking for reassurance. I like The Message Bible and it was there that day that I read a verse that said, “Don’t panic!” I cried. I knew I had to do this. Go outside my box as others described it. I don’t trust easily and God and I are still working on that one. But I knew I had to go. During the trip, this same friend would tell me and others, “don’t fret!” It became a sort of theme for those of us feeling a little anxious.
The first night I was there, I was convinced I had lost my mind to be doing this. I barely slept all night, trying to figure out how I could get back to civilization as I thought of it and get back home. Like anyone on their first journey like this, the first night is an adjustment, getting used to your surroundings and getting to know the people you are going to be with for the week even more deeply than you already knew them. But while I was planning my escape, morning came and with it, God used one of the things I love to help me adjust. I have been a photographer since I was a child and have done so professionally along with being a professional writer, so when morning arrived, I went outside early, armed with my camera. I had spotted fog on the mountains and the sun’s struggle to break through the thick white blanket all around us. I took photos in quick succession, capturing every change as the sun won the battle. I captured some amazing scenes and felt a little more at home, except for the reminder I received to be careful and watch around my feet as I walked out the door. Yes, the copperheads and rattlesnakes sometimes liked to visit. But thankfully, they stayed away that day and the days that followed.
During those days at the Lend-A-Hand Center in Walker, Kentucky, we were busy. No-one turned on the television and what was happening in the world seemed a million miles away and there was no cell phone service for me except when I went into town and the familiar pings would go crazy again.
Before the trip, we had worked to gather donations for backpacks for school children and the supplies to include in those backpacks. We were also able to include Bibles for each of the children. Because of the generosity of Christians who care, we were able to prepare 62 backpacks for the children and excitedly waited to hand them out. But that was not all we did.
Charles and Diann Carnes who manage Lend-A-Hand needed help with many other things. Diann has serious vision issues and other health problems and Charles has some health issues and so anything we could do to help them made a real difference. Members of our team replaced nine doors and insulated them. It was no easy task. They worked hard and since I was sort of the unofficial photographer for the week, I noticed repeatedly that even when they were working hard and tired, there was still a smile on their faces.
But one of the things that Diann really wanted was an ice maker. A small thing that most people have and never pay attention to unless it is not working. But they did not have one hooked up. So some of the men worked to install that ice maker and it made her day. As she heard the first clinks of ice in her glass as she used it for the first time, Diann was thrilled. It would make her life a little easier. Our team painted ceilings and walls and installed backsplashes and cleaned the former clinic where Eastern Kentucky residents from that area came when they could not afford or get to care anywhere else.
On Thursday night of our trip, we held a one-night program and puppet show for the children and teens in the area at a small church there in the mountains. After hearing about Jesus, they went outside to play on a waterslide, soaked and smiling all the while. For many, they said it was the “best fun” they had ever had. There were hot dogs and potato chips and cool drinks for a hot summer day and then they got their backpacks. Pig-tailed little girls and smiling little boys were excited when they found out they were going to get a new backpack for school filled with the supplies that many of their parents would have struggled to provide. The grins on their faces told the story.
That Friday, we spent helping Charles and Diann obtain some help they needed and as a former news reporter and someone who had gone through things with my own parents, I understood the bureaucracy and the issues, but we knew that there had to be a way and while some prayed and I know they did and still are, we fought on, trying to help this wonderful Christian couple who want nothing more than to serve Jesus and share Him with the people of Eastern Kentucky.
As the week went on, we all found ourselves using our unique God-given gifts and everyone looked out for each other and encouraged each other. There is no doubt in any of our minds that each person on that trip was sent there for a purpose. We had team members who are experts in so many areas, all of whom happily shared their talents and helped wherever they were needed.
In the evening, there were devotions and testimonies from those on the team. Those who shared their story of what God was doing in their lives, where they had been, and where they are trying to go. There was laughter and tears and eating together around a huge handcrafted table and it was a place that brought everyone together at the end of a long day. There was time to pet horses and play with the dogs and scratch the ear of the resident cat.
On Friday, before some of us left, the rest to follow on Saturday, we all stood ironically, on top of a huge rock for a photo. How appropriate was that? We were standing on the rock. We had done that all week. For some of us, more tentatively than others who perhaps have a more mature faith. But that is okay. We were all standing. As we drove home on Friday night, we were actually caught between two tornadoes in the area as we drove down the interstate. At 8:30 in the evening, it was pitch black at a time that would normally still be full of light on a summer night. The car rocked a bit from the wind and as we entered the worst of the storm, I looked over and saw a huge statue of Jesus in front of a church and was reminded He is pretty familiar with bad storms. But like Peter, I was not so confident. But we got through. My friend driving the car and his wife, both persons of great faith, never blinked. He just drove on through the chaos happening around us. They knew we were safe in the storm. We made it home just fine.
But none of us were the same. We are still working to help Charles and Diann. We are still praying for them and their family. We hope you will join us in praying for their family and pray for CSI Ministries and their work as well.
Our team, Naomi and Jim Robinson, Andrea Myers, her son, Connor, Bonnie Marx, Ed Thomas, Paul Soliday, Blake Hansher and myself as well as Ron Becthold and Kip Worrel from CSI know that for that week, we had the honor of being Jesus’ hands and feet. Those grins we saw on the faces of the children? The gratitude of Charles and Diann? Those were the reflections of Jesus shining back at us, letting us know that we had made a difference.
If you’d like to join a SHORT-TERM Mission team, reach out to the CSI Ministries team and get started! email firstname.lastname@example.org