A LOAN TO GOD
By Bruce Mundell
Cecilia beamed with pride as she displayed her new floor to Mike and his
wife. She showed them the new wall and the new door, then she took them outside
and showed off the gravel and new guttering.
What a change since Monday when we arrived. The hillside had washed down
against the house in the back to such a degree that the wood had rotted away
the bottom of the wall and foundation, not to mention the floor inside. What
have we gotten ourselves into, I thought? Nine of us attacked that disaster
with the determination to correct as many problems as we possibly could. The
trip to West Virginia this year found us slicing the Smoky Mountains from our
home north of Atlanta through Asheville and Johnson City. The mountain tops
create a rolling horizon like the path of a bouncing ball nearing the end of
its momentum, broken by the occasional pointed peak that acts as a cloud
catcher, because you often see a cloud caught in its hook-like grasp. Ledges
stand out from the green covering like a scar on an unblemished face. I gazed
at the fog spotting the hillsides, realizing the "Great Foggy Mountains"
wouldn't have been a good name. Besides, the beauty before me did resemble
smoke. All of this beauty and balance confirm the knowledge that God sure must
know what He is doing.
Just a hint of autumn was in the air as we approached our destination from a
different entry point than last year. It's now closing out September and
launching into October. We crossed the border in Williamson and quickly turned
south on Route 52. I have often thought I should show a passport when entering
West Virginia, because in some ways it sure feels like a different country. It
may be because the mountains are jammed so tightly together, and the roads
twist through them allowing only a 20-30 mile per hour pace. These roads
connect together with the ever present river or creek like a committed
marriage, "never the two shall part." To say they weave together would be
somewhat of a misnomer because that would imply order. These seem almost
haphazard from above, I'm sure. Almost as if you were looking at an ant hill
with the top removed; roads and streams going every which way. It may feel like
a different country because of that ever present time warp that we penetrated
just south of Williamson which deposits you in a time 50 years prior. Whatever
the cause there are obvious needs for mission work here.
The switch-back curves that lead to, you guessed it, another switch-back
curve make you feel like a dog chasing his tail. I teasingly call this the
state of Dramamine after the famous motion sickness medicine. Occasionally you
would see a vertical pasture for the limited livestock. There was an almost
constant buzz of four wheelers going up and down the road. The sun peaked
through the golden leaves and danced off the ripples of the river. The thought
hits me, I've never seen the river this clean. Many people use wood or coal
burning stoves, and the mornings grip the warm smoke trying to escape upward as
the cold earth clings to it as if trying to suck every bit of heat out of it.
It's a beautiful country.
I reflected back to how we got here. I had contacted Mike, a missionary in
the area, to help keep track of Harry (a man we had helped last year) and also
to guide us with projects for this year. The flood recovery office we had been
dealing with was about to close with several cases open and nobody committed to
work them. These projects had funding available for the needed materials but no
volunteers to do the work. That's where we came in. We were able to catch them
in July before they closed and secure the materials for the projects. Although
there were times I wondered how we would get the work done, I knew these were
projects God had for us.
You know, faith is an interesting gift that God allows us to exercise.
Before the trip I could see the excitement in our team. God had given them an
assignment, and they chose to accept it. I knew there were questions - I had
plenty too. That's when faith kicks in. The book of Hebrews in the Bible says
that faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not
see." What a great opportunity to grow in faith. Confidence and excitement
comes from the memory of past experiences of faith. Isn't that what faith is? I
was given an opportunity to try faith and when I tried it, I saw what God did.
When I was given another opportunity to try it, maybe it was a little bigger
step but I took it, and I saw what God did. Now I'm given yet another even
bigger step - should I take it? How can I not take it? The Bible states it as
the evidence of things not seen. With all this evidence and confidence, the
floods in West Virginia were small in comparison to the floods coming from God
because of the steps of obedience. I couldn't wait to get started.
God put together a great team for this
trip. Jeff owns his own landscape business and is an expert on retaining walls,
back-fill and the like. This is just what the doctor ordered for our project.
Jeff attacks anything he does in one gear, high. A normal day would find him
wearing out three of our very capable able-bodied assistants. I don't know if
it was his morning energy drink or a compelling desire to accomplish everything
that could possibly be done in one day by an individual, but he worked non
Kevin is our built-in architect/engineer. He assessed the floor situation.
At the surface it looked like just rotten flooring and maybe a joist or two. He
approaches problems very logically and develops a relatively detailed solution.
What an asset he was to the whole project, and I tapped in to his expertise
many times throughout the week. Tom lent a helping hand to him and with his
computer background was able to analyze the intricate details of how all things
are put together. Tom loves to fix things and has a big heart for these people.
His desire is to identify the problem and make the necessary repairs. I'm sure
he wished he could just reboot the system. It isn't that easy.
These guys attacked the battle on the two
fronts and helped lead the rest of the team to success and victory. I had a
feeling it would not be an easy battle. Many people would look at these
flood-ravaged houses and just tear them down and start over or maybe pack up
and leave. But it isn't that simple.
Sammy and Cecelia (CC) have lived in their mountain home for many years.
Sammy was injured a few years back in a coal mining accident when a rock fell
on him. It has meant continual visits to the doctor and specialists. Their
lives are tied into this little piece of West Virginia and etched into this
notch in the cliff. They can't turn and leave it. The memories are strong with
everything from the first car that Sammy's momma gave him to various remnants
of anything mechanical they've ever owned down through the years. They just
can't give them up. Their children have been raised here and are all grown and
out on their own except for their youngest, Joshua. He has a West Virginia talk
that makes me check that passport again to be sure it hasn't been stamped. I
surrendered to the fact that I don't understand why they stay and also to the
fact that I probably never will, none-the-less, God led us to this place, and
how can I question God? I can't. They are just a square in the quilt that He is
designing to commemorate this time and event. My question is not "why don't
they just…," it is "God, what can I do to show these people Your love for
Sammy wasn't around much the first day because of a doctor's appointment.
When he was there, he and CC spent most of their time in front of the TV
watching us walk back and forth with tools and materials. CC was anxious to
help, but was limited in finding things she could do to contribute. By day two,
they were still a little hesitant about us, but they began to talk and ask
questions about the work. I invited them to eat lunch with us and encouraged
them to invite other family members who lived nearby.
They slowly began to open up. I think they were beginning to see our hearts
behind the work.
One of the ladies on the team, Debra, was
very attentive to CC's concerns and activities. I noticed her on several
occasions spending time and sharing concern with CC. Although Debra had a great
desire to learn all she could about building and the proper use of power tools,
she was not so engulfed in that to ignore the obvious ministry God had placed
in our path in the form of CC. She was careful to remind her that God loved
her. Debra was very quiet and didn't talk unless she had something to say, so I
know that what she said to CC were words carefully spoken.
I had an opportunity to speak with both Sammy and CC in their living room
the second afternoon. I asked them both about their faith and if they were sure
of their position in Christ. There was some hesitation and really some question
in the decision they both said they had made several years ago. I asked if they
had a Bible and they produced an old hard cover copy. I was able to share
several verses of the simple plan of salvation with them and asked them again
if they had accepted God's gift of salvation. They again said they had done
that, so I shared a couple of verses that proved assurance so they wouldn't
have to wonder. How thankful I was that they gave me the opportunity to share
God's love for them.
Throughout that afternoon I often saw
them studying our team as we went about our work. Were they amazed at the skill
of our work? Well, maybe. Were they drawn to the dedication of our team as we
carried out our responsibilities without complaint? I'm sure that was some of
it. Were they amazed at the cordless drills, air nailers, and reciprocating
saws…that's possible, to some extent. But I couldn't help the feeling that it
was something more than that. It reminded me of a thought I had just a week or
so before. I enjoy doing things with my hands, so I've often thought about what
Jesus did with His hands. Oh, I know about the healing the blind and picking up
children. I know about the tipping over tables and chasing out the
money-changers. I mean what did a carpenter do in those days? It couldn't have
been rebuilding floors and building drainage systems like we're doing. I do
know He used his hands to serve others though. I recall in the Upper Room how
Jesus got up and put a towel around His waist and went about washing the
disciples' feet. He used his hands to serve them as an example and that's
exactly what He was teaching us. The Bible doesn't go into detail about
carpentry and how to build with our hands. Jesus chose to show us what we
should do with our hands: serve others. With that in mind, I saw the hands of
Jesus that day, and they were attached to Jeff's arms. I saw the hands of Jesus
that day, and they were attached to Debra's arms. I saw the hands of Jesus that
day, and they were attached to John's arms and Sherrie's and Tom's and Mike's
and Kevin's and Glenn's and Joseph's. Jesus was rebuilding a fallen floor and
installing gutters. The thought hit me hard, it doesn't matter what Jesus did
as a carpenter - it matters what Jesus did as a servant, our example. This is a
way we show Jesus to the world. This is the way we were showing Sammy and CC
that Jesus loves them. Were they staring at Jesus loving them? Did they see
Jesus hands on my arms? What a challenge that became.
We arrived in West Virginia the previous
Saturday and were staying at Gilbert Creek Baptist Church while on our mission
trip. Preacher John was very hospitable and careful to show each of us that we
were welcome. He has a wonderful love for these mountain people and it consumes
10 to 16 hours of any given day. Sunday was a great example as he personally
drove his van and picked up nine children for church that morning. They joined
us and the other four adults in time to start church. Preacher John was known
to the children as "Preach" or "PJ" with a loving West Virginia short hand. He
asked me to share with them that morning from the Bible.
One of the adults there was to me the very picture of a mountain lady. Years
of mountain life etched grooves into her face. Each groove seemed to represent
another year. Like notches in the cowboy's pistol represented men killed, the
grooves in her face represented another year given to mountains. She looked
natural there in church. It was great to see her there.
Dillon was the only boy among all the children that Preacher John brought to
church. He was very distracted at first, so I decided to use him to represent
the gift of God. I called him up and proceeded to illustrate a gift. I gave him
an envelope that I'd picked up from the table and asked: "What do you have to
do to get this gift?" The answer, of course, is to receive it. "That's exactly
what you need to do with Jesus' gift of salvation." That said, I gave him the
envelope and gained a friend. His eyes never left me for the rest of the
After lunch that day, we started the
ascent up Coons Branch. The road was narrow at best and lost ground the further
we went. Jeff pulled our trailer with his dually truck, and I know he had just
an inch or so clearance in some of the close places. The road deteriorated
rapidly, and soon it became two muddy ruts. The landscape became cluttered with
old cars used as retaining walls and abandoned mobile homes. We managed to make
it up the mountain and ended up on top of West Virginia, or so it seemed. This
is where Vincel moved after being flooded out of his trailer down below. He
seemed to be a very sick man. When we arrived at his house, I had to wake him
from the couch where he was sleeping. It was hard to tell, but I think he was
glad to see us. He lived in a mobile home with no drinking water, septic or
electricity. We did what we could to help his situation. The story of flooded
homes and lives could be told countless times by countless victims.
Imagine seeing your home engulfed in water. Not just water but water from
the Tug River (not the cleanest river during this rain - it couldn't even be
mistaken as clean from any angle). If ever a man could walk on water apart from
Jesus Himself, I believe he might be able to do it on the Tug during a heavy
rain. You see, the Tug River, like all the rivers in this area of West
Virginia, gathers all the water that cleanses these mountains. This was not
just a summer rain; it was closer to a monsoon. As the rain drops hit the
peaks, they make their way down the funneled slopes and pick up coal dust left
from the ever present abandoned mines and soil loosened from years of equipment
ascending to and descending from these mines. Then there are the remains from
the logging concerns of continual harvesting of the native trees. Have you ever
noticed the forest after it has been stripped of its natural covering; it's
more or less exposed, indecent, if you will. Like that hidden baby picture we
all have of ourselves wearing our birthday suit, not really obscene but
certainly embarrassing. These drops grow as they filter down picking up
momentum as they hook up with their brother and sister drops. They join in
streams and creeks increasing in volume and erosive power carrying with them
the loose outcasts of limbs and rocks - anything not firmly attached or rooted.
As they splash down as far as they can go to the very foundation of the lofty
slopes, they become a consuming monster, digesting every road, bridge, house,
barn, car, anything it can move. Seemingly never getting its fill of man-made
imposition. You can't stop it. You can't divert it. All you can do is watch
That home may only be a mobile home worth just a few thousand dollars, but
that's the building. How do you put a value on your home? Of course you quickly
realize your home is crying next to you as you hug all the members of your
family. Even so, you can't help but grieve. This is not the time to think about
how things will be, all you can think is what do I do now. You've carved out
your existence in this hard land, and you've scraped together every resource
you could come up with. There it is… and there it goes. You feel part of
yourself taken away with the Tug Monster. It wasn't asked for nor was it freely
given; it was ripped from you, never even acknowledging your opposition. What
do you do now?
The rain only lasted a few hours, but the damage was done. You start to
gather the things that were ejected or discarded by the monster. Memories are
triggered with every item. There is also disappointment with what isn't there.
You'll make it. It has been said that the hardest part of a flood is not the
damage it does but the months and years it takes to get back to normal. This
flood took place 16 months ago.
The next morning we were off to Horse
Creek to Sammy and CC's home. Joseph got up early every morning to prepare
breakfast for us. When I walked through the door into the dining area, I could
smell the bacon. It smelled so good I could taste it. He did a great job with
Somewhere around noon every day we started looking forward to supper. My
mouth would water with anticipation. He enjoyed his hobby of cooking, and we
enjoyed his hobby as well by eating. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples in
His service to them. Joseph played Jesus to us and served us with great meals
and a genuine concern that we ate properly and stayed healthy. What a great
benefit to have him there, so we didn't have to worry about that part of the
The long driveway was actually a hill that
led to Sammy and CC's house. His brother's chickens roosted in the trees. You
could hear the echoes of neighbors' voices descending the valley. When you
approached the top, you were greeted by their doorbell, a 100-pound Rottweiler
named Pedro with a bark that not only got the attention of the homeowner but
was effective in getting your attention as well.
I like to surround myself with able bodied and capable thinkers as well as
the "I'll do whatever needs to be done" attitudes. Every team member possessed
the hands that could show the love of Jesus. It is hard to show feeling with
your hands, but with the proper heart your hands shout love. I prayed our hands
were showing it and by watching the onlookers, I think they were.
It was now the third day at Sammy and
CC's. We were busy trying to draw everything to a close. Sherrie was excited
about having helped get the guttering in place, because there was a light rain
this morning, she also liked the way that many of the men on the team took the
time to show her how to use particular tools properly and safely. She was our
animal lover. It didn't matter if it was a chipmunk or a stray dog; she would
love either. She adopted a few for the week and smuggled food into them. She
and Debra enjoyed using their hands to accomplish things. Both of them were
willing to jump in and lend a hand, whether it was caulking windows or mixing
We had to jack up the wall and roof to replace the floor under it. That was
tedious but going well. John was one that I felt could slip in on any part of
the project. He is a fast learner and possesses a healthy dose of common sense.
John is a photographer and that could account for his ability to study a given
task and develop a good strategy for accomplishing the intended goal. He jumped
in and helped with jacking up the walls enough to replace the flooring under
them.We installed a new rim joist as well as the block foundation. A drain pipe
was put in to carry the water out of harm's way.
Sammy and CC had observed us for two days,
and they were anxious to help all they could. I sensed a bit of pride well up
inside of them at their new floor and repairs. It's hard to tell how long that
floor had been messed up. Sammy had taken all he could take. He started
shoveling gravel and wheeling a wheel barrel. They had watched us all they
could and just had to join in and help. This was indeed a victory. We all
sensed the Lord working in their lives and noticed a giant change in just the
short time we were with them. We finished up that evening and set out to our
We had helped Harry recover from the
flood last year and he was so glad to see us. We were also able to introduce
him to the Lord then, and he couldn't wait to show us his trophy of God's
concern for him. He brought out the ball that he had found in the corner of his
house during the winter. Shortly after he found it, he had a stroke and the
doctor prescribed a ball for him to squeeze. That was a prescription that had
been filled years ago. There had never been any children in the house, and he
had no explanation as to how it got there. He concluded that God put it
Glenn is eager to learn about mission work. It's a part of him, and he feels
the tug of missions on his heart. He asks questions and absorbs all he can,
storing it in his memory for future use. He's also willing and capable of doing
what he's learned on previous trips and work he's done for himself. He tackled
the drywall finishing that he came prepared to do. We were able to spend a few
short hours there at Harry's, but I could see another trip already developing
before this one ended. That's the way it is, I guess.
We didn't have as much time as I had hoped, but we hung a door for him and
began finishing his drywall. As we got ready to leave, we hugged and talked
about the adventures of the last year together. We stared at the motel next
door that he hopes will be torn down so we can start a church there. It's on
the list to be taken down by the county. I reminded him we are just going to
pray that one in, and we will.
These people are poor according to most
comparisons and that kind of excites me. It puts me in line for a special
promise in Proverbs 19:17. "If you help the poor, you lend unto the Lord, and
He will repay you." What could I have that God needs to borrow? Could it be
these hands? I think what they've done this week. They carried rocks…they
shoveled gravel…they nailed flooring…they put in place underpinning. They shook
hands with new friends, gave a hug to encourage fellow workers, they rested on
Vince's shoulder to try and help him, they showed Dillon about the gift of God,
and they folded in prayer for all concerned. Could these hands have shown
others Jesus this week? I pray they have. Proverbs says I have given the Lord a
loan. I get excited thinking the Lord owes me. He has already started to repay,
and I know He pays great interest.
The promise goes deeper than that. How many people actually helped us help
the poor? There were nine involved directly with our team. Then there was
Preacher John, the missionary; Mike, who helped arrange everything; another
Mike who gave us a day of his time; and what about all those who were praying
for us. Lois's Sunday School Class gave me an envelope with $50 in it, mostly
one dollar bills; I know they had a part. Those from my church that give money
and support mission projects. They pray, provide vehicles and gas for them.
What about the ladies in the Flood Recovery Office who have given a year or two
of their lives to facilitate the funding and other logistics. It's easy to see
that it gets to be a God thing. There is no way we could keep up with all of
it. I'm sure glad He does.
What did we accomplish this week? Oh, we
built a French drain system, we rebuilt the floor and walls that had rotted, we
added guttering to the back of the house, we installed underpinning, caulked
windows, finished drywall, etc, etc. If that's all we did, we did not succeed.
That's no more than an unpaid contractor would do. It would be like Jesus
healing the lame or blind - fixing the problem, but not addressing the heart.
Healing was a tool Jesus used to get people to Him. Construction is a tool I
can use to minister to people's hearts. We saw a family drawn closer to the
Lord this week. Last year we saw Harry come to know the Lord personally, and he
will be with us in Heaven. Sometimes we don't see the immediate results or we
may never see them here on this earth. What report would we have gotten from
the disciples right after Jesus death - victory and success? I don't think so,
but now that we can look back, what a great triumph it was. We realize that we
aren't driving screws and shoveling gravel, we're representing Jesus.
Many Christians can allow Jesus to use their hands. I challenge others to
find ways to minister by using the skills they know or by going with someone
willing to show them how to develop skills that are useful on mission for
Jesus. God can speak through us using our hands - but especially our
heart. When you feel a tug toward a mission trip, surrender to go and watch
what God can do using your hands.
Editor's note: Click
HERE for Week 4 of Bruce's stories about being on mission in West
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