On June 8-14, 2019 the Epiphany UMC Junior High youth group went to Rainelle, WV. for our Summer missions trip. About once every 4 or 5 years I like to take our teens to a rural area to serve to give them a different experience from ministry in the urban areas. These are always eye-opening experiences as many of the people in rural areas are forgotten about in mainstream culture yet they need help and love just like anyone else. Rainelle was devastated by what was called the 1,000 year flood back in 2016. The town sits in a valley around several mountains. When the storms came the flooding happened from multiple directions. Many lives and homes were affected.
Once we arrived, we set up camp at a school building that is no longer being used as a school but instead as a mission facility for groups to come in and help. It used to be a Christian school called Rainelle Christian Academy. It was a nice facility with a gym for the teens to play around in with their endless energy whenever we were not out doing mission work.
On our first full day we went to church at a local Baptist church both in the morning and in the evening. We met many people and had a different church experience that we were used to. One thing that I thought came through loud and clear from hearing the preacher twice was that there is a lot of suffering within his congregation and community. A lot of hope was placed on the hope for the afterlife. Overall it was a classic conservative Baptist experience that reminded me of my own past from about 1979. Some genuine care, some fire and brimstone, some fear, some hope.
Monday through Wednesday were our community work days. Some of the projects we helped with were
- painting the fire escapes to Rainelle Christian Academy,
- helping with the community center in White Sulphur Springs, WV
- having a community cookout with the people of White Sulphur Springs
- helping the Rainelle Elementary School get ready for their summer reading programs
- meeting the mayor of Rainelle and helping her with some odd jobs
A majority of the jobs we did involved scraping and painting. In White Sulphur Springs we helped to take an old, abandoned school and help renovate it into a community center. We also had a cookout with the people that on our last evening there. The teens did a great job working hard, playing hard, and getting to know all the different people we interacted with in these West Virginia towns. It was hard to hear some of the stories about the floods but it was also amazing to hear and see how the towns have come back from such a devastating experience. It was awesome to hear their stories, see the renovations that have happened and continue to go on within the towns, and just appreciate and admire the beauty of these small country towns.
One funny thing that happened throughout the week was that we kept on telling the teens that there would be a talent show at some point. Some, not knowing any better, took us seriously so they began to develop acts for the show. On the last night we were there we decided to actually go through with it. It was a perfect way to end the week with a lot of laughs.
Another funny thing that occurred on our trip was the humming bird that continued to find its way into our cafeteria area. We discovered quickly how hard it was to get a hummingbird to exit the building.
Then another night I was just about to fall asleep when I heard what was a dog fight outside. I didn’t think much about it and went to sleep. The next morning we discovered that some local dogs cornered a skunk right buy one of our vans and tore it to pieces right there. For the remainder of the week that van had a strong odor to it. Thankfully the ride back to Ohio help to get ride of the smell. And I am especially grateful that I did not decide to go outside and see what was up with the dogs. It is a story that could have gotten a lot worse.
On Thursday we took the day off from mission work and went white water rafting with ACE Adventures in Oak Hill, WV. We had an awesome experience with them. The teens had a lot of fun as we rafted, ate lunch half way through, had a huge downpour at one point, pushed each other in the river, and had a great time overall. I would highly recommend ACE Adventures to anyone wanting to enjoy what West Virginia has to offer.
This was also the trip were we had our associate pastor with us and by Sunday we had to take him to the hospital because his heart was beating irregularly. Thankfully after three days at the hospital, he was let go with a strong heart beat. He is doing much better now.
If you would like to see our daily journal that the Praying Pelican Mission coordinators put together you can see it HERE
If you would like to see the photos of all the mission stuff we did you can go HERE
And if you would like to see some picture of the white water rafting activity go HERE
Overall, Praying Pelican Missions delivered a great experience yet again. The teens were taken out of their comfort zone and challenged to work hard and minister to the people we encountered. My hope is that the Holy Spirit uses these experiences to help the teens see outside of their cultural bubble and begin to love and care for people that are different than them socially, economically, and geographically. I hope to inspire the teens to apply all that they learned so that they look at their home life, school life, and extra-curricular life differently as an opportunity to be missional in all that they do. It is not just a one-week trip out of their summer but a way of life that helps us develop spiritual practices of service in any context we are in.
It is a privilege and honor to lead these teens to develop their spiritual lives. We also had a great adult team that went with us. They all assisted and helped the teens to do their best. I even had one adult brave enough to dispose of the skunk carcass before all the teens woke up! It would have been better if I would have done it because I don’t smell skunk but I appreciate the over-and-above attitude of the adults as well as many of the teens. May God bless the continuing efforts to restore Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs, WV.