Spring Break is a time for college students to catch up on sleep and take trips to the beach, right? But eight women from Northwestern spent their R&R time in Moundsville, West Virginia helping victims of last month’s flooding disaster put their lives back together.
Nestled in the mountains along the Ohio River, this little Appalachian town was deluged with heavy rains in February causing mudslides and a partial dam break forcing dozens of people out of their homes and into shelters. Roads and schools were closed. Several counties were declared states of emergency.
Be Faithful in the Little Things
As we prepared for this trip, we didn’t have much of an idea of what we were going to be doing once we arrived in Appalachia. We knew we were going to work closely with Appalachian Outreach, Inc., as well as a local food shelf, and an afterschool program. All this was coordinated through Praying Pelican Missions, a ministry that prepares teams for short-term mission trips. Although we weren’t sure what to expect, we knew God had a plan for our time there.
Our student leaders, Victoria Downey and Rebekka Schoell, encouraged the team to be flexible and willing. With the guidance of those at Appalachian Outreach, we worked directly with people who had lost possessions or who were dealing with damage done from the flooding. We also had the opportunity to bring relief to others who were busy volunteering their time to help their neighbors.
We could see God working in big ways through little tasks. The slogan of Appalachian Outreach is, “A little means a lot” and that was very true for the people of Appalachia, as well as for us. The work we did may have seemed small at times but we know it led to big outcomes.
1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Take the brittle, rotted chips of linoleum, for example. We worked hard to repair the destroyed flooring of a home belonging to a woman named Charlotte. Each chip of ruined linoleum we scraped off the floor of Charlotte’s basement meant more to her than we will ever know, she said.
We also helped organize donations that came from all over the country. We spent hours and hours sorting all kinds of donations, including kitchen items, toys, and clothing. With each donation box we sorted, we could tell we were bringing relief to Rose, the Appalachian Outreach director. It was so nice to know that we could help someone who was helping others. The people of Appalachia— victims or relief workers—were thankful for everything we did, whether it was a lot or just a little.
Putting Faces to Tragedy
During this trip we saw first-hand what hurt, devastation, and suffering from natural disasters looks like. It’s easy to watch the news and see what is going on miles from home, but as soon as we turn the TV off we seem to forget as quickly as the time it took to learn about it.
We were able to put faces to those stories and see the heartache that natural disasters can cause. Moundsville is a small town with a large, elderly population—an especially vulnerable group that was hit hard by the flooding. They talked with us about their lives and what they’d lost. They were grateful for our help. The fact that a group of college students from Minnesota came to spend a week helping them and their community seemed to mean the world to them.
By the end of our trip the entire town knew who we were and what we were doing in Moundsville. Each person we came in contact with was thrilled to see young people who wanted to make a positive impact on others’ lives and share the hope they have in Jesus with everyone they meet.
This trip was also an incredible experience for us. During this time, friendships were made, hearts were changed, and lives were impacted. This group of eight women from Northwestern will be forever bonded together and with the friends we made in Appalachia.
Mark 16:15 “He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”