Last week I joined the Pine Mountain UMC Mission Team on our annual summer work week at Henderson Settlement. Henderson Settlement is the center of a wonderful community in Frakes, Kentucky and is a part of the Red Bird Missionary Conference. The Conference, created to assist the poor and elderly of this coal mining area of Kentucky and Tennessee, has been around for almost 100 years. Over the years is has grown and matured and made itself so much a part of the community it’s hard to imagine a Clay or Bell or Harlan County without it.
What always strikes me when I visit this area of America where the mountains have names and are a part of the family, but where the employment is almost non-existent, especially with the lessening of need for coal and the shutting down of many mines, is the strength and heart of the people. There is poverty here. There is need here. There is even hopelessness here at times. But there is a beauty here, a depth of life, a common core of community that makes me catch my breath every time I experience it.
How does that happen? That beauty? That trust? That assurance that in the midst of pain, hope perches like a feather on the soul as Emily Dickenson says? The psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Perhaps it is the mountains. The ancient earth bubbled up from the depths, carpeted with green, home to bear and elk and rabbit and cardinal. Perhaps it is the assurance of being surrounded by these great friends who will never abandon them, that reminds the people there that God is indeed in their midst and will provide.
I don’t know. I only know that I have a sense of peace when I am there. I sleep so good at night! When I feel so poor, so needy, so hopeless – which, if the truth be known, is more often than I care to admit – I am comforted when I remember Red Bird and all that goes on there day in and day out. We painted and hammered and measured and roofed. A good, good thing to do.
Yet, their gentle greetings – “how are youins doing today?” rings in my mind like a sweet mountain breeze. God takes you and me, rich and poor, kind and hateful, educated in knowledge and educated in life, and shakes us up all together. I believe God’s desire is for us to bubble up like a mountain and bring the comfort of which Christ taught to this land. That’s all. To do no harm. To do good. To simply and authentically stay in love with the God who created us.
If you would like to know more about Henderson Settlement or Red Bird Missionary Conference, go to their web pages. Maybe a summer mission trip will be in the future for you. You will be richly blessed.
Grace and Peace,