Beyond the Shenandoah, a Land of Missions

After final exams, nearly 30 students from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia went to Crank’s Creek Survival Center in Harlan, Kentucky for a week-long service project. There, the students saw first-hand the needs of the rur
by Nicholas Sheehy, LC | Source:
Two hundred years of living the American dream has turned the United States into an economic superpower, where it seems that everyone has more than enough to live on. Yet, not everyone catches the train to success. Poverty still exists in the United States, and it is not just a problem of urban minorities or recent Hispanic and Asian immigrants, not everyone catches the train to success, as some Virgina college students recently discovered.

After final exams, nearly 30 students from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia went to Crank’s Creek Survival Center in Harlan, Kentucky for a week-long service project. There, the students saw first-hand the needs of the rural poor who scrape by day after day, subsisting on almost nothing.

Whereas public sympathy and government assistance is often funneled towards recent immigrants and other poor minorities, the mostly white rural poor in places like Harlan are often forgotten. That is, until the college students from the University of Mary Washington stepped in.

For seven days, the students laid plywood flooring, framed new rooms for aging seniors living in pitiable conditions, and built wheelchair ramps to allow some seniors to venture out of their homes again for the first time in half a year.
Spiritual care was also provided by Father Ron Escalante, Catholic chaplain at Mary Washington, who celebrated Mass daily.

Each evening, the students would gather together to share the experiences that most helped them spiritually and emotionally. The youths were inspired by a phrase of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.”

Various moments stood out for their impact on these young people’s lives; for some students, the deepest impressions were left by the simplest gestures, like eating lunch with the people they were helping. Isaac Kassock recognized the supernatural dimension of the service project: “We’re serving Christ in serving others.”

By offering their time and talents, the students learned the valuable lesson that it is truly better to give than to receive. They also discovered that poverty does not exist only in the third-world countries or among immigrants and urban minorities. Poverty can affect anyone. Several students said that their experience in Harlan encouraged them to have a different outlook on their dealings with poor Hispanics or Asians as well.

Some people think that caring for the poor means a vague feeling of sympathy and good will. The students of the University of Mary Washington, however, learned that true solidarity involves a firm commitment to work for the common good. The focus on the humanitarian development of the residents and the spiritual development of the missionaries changed the students’ perspective on social missions.

Making someone’s life better can be as easy as taking one week to help lay a plywood floor. Jesus Christ was a carpenter, and it seems fit to say that he would be well-pleased.


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