It's quite heart warming to see real, hands-on work being planned for the Appalachian region of our country. It strikes me with special poignancy as my family is largely from this region. Spread the word, send money, or - if you're in the area - get involved.
(UOC-USA) - New Missionary Program of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA First Mission Trip – 6-11 August, 2012. More information and application process at the end of this article.
In response to our Lord’s command to “Love thy neighbor”, our Church is embarking this summer on a new charitable mission to the Appalachian region of the United States, establishing a new relationship with the people in Appalachian region - the backbone of the American homeland. At the Metropolitan Council meeting in November, 2011, our hierarchs, clergy and lay leaders decided to reach out in the name of Christ to the people of Appalachia. The decision was made to initiate a charitable ministry to Appalachia, utilizing existing funds in our mission accounts, which will be under the direction of V. Rev. Robert Holet, Parish Priest of St. Nicholas Parish, Charlottesville, VA and Metropolitan Council and Consistory Member, along with the Consistory Office of Christian Charity (Protodeacon Ihor Mahlay, Director).
Appalachia - In Brief
Appalachia is a term used to describe the area encompassing the Appalachian mountain region of the Eastern United States, running from Pennsylvania in the north, to Georgia in the south, and extending west as far as Arkansas. Much of the region is comprised of beautiful, but heavily forested, mountains traversed by swift rivers. It is a region rich with natural resources. The coal from Appalachia fueled the Industrial Revolution in America and continues to provide electrical power to the Eastern half of America. In colonial times the area was populated by west-looking pioneers and settled by the Scotch Irish and Germans immigrants, from whom a distinct ‘Appalachian culture’ emerged. In the early 20th century, the booming coal and timber industries served as a magnet for European immigrants seeking a better life, and hundreds of thousands (including Ukrainians primarily from Western Ukraine), migrated to this region for the opportunity to work and raise their families. A number of Eastern European communities existed in the mountains and some formed parishes. St. Mary’s Carpatho Rusyn parish of Bluefield, West Virginia today exists as a continuation of the parish that sprung up in the small town of Elkhorn, WV. The area is religiously diverse, from traditional Protestant churches dating to the 18th century, and the more recent Pentecostal and Baptist presence, as well as numerous small, but long established, Roman Catholic communities.
A Way of Life
The people of Appalachia are a proud and hardy people. Production from the bituminous coal mines has, for centuries, been the foundation of the economy of much of the region. While those who worked in the mines (when the mines were working) had relatively well-paying but difficult and dangerous work, it was work which led to many health problems (black lung), as well as environmental problems and even catastrophic events like mine explosions. The rivers which provide for water and commerce regularly bring devastating floods to the cities which lie at the foot of the mountain. The wealth of the coal industry has not, historically, trickled down to the way of life of the Appalachian population. Hence, there are widespread poverty and systemic health problems across the region, which stubbornly persist despite decades of well-intended, but often ineffective government programs. Provision of basic ‘needs’ of American life are not a given for families of this region. There are special social problems which afflict many - from the elderly (health care) to youth (joblessness, drug abuse). The people of this region have an ethic of hard work, and self-sufficiency. They often hunt, fish and garden to sustain their way of life. Historically the people have had a strong sense of community, faith and appreciation for local arts. These social bonds however, are stressed even more by the forces of the modern world that tend to isolate and break down such values, community and family life.
UOC Parish Involvement
In 2009, an article in the Washington Post caught the attention of certain members of the Charitable Works service group at St. Nicholas parish in Charlottesville, Virginia. The article spoke about a Remote Area Medical (RAM) health fair held annually in Southwest Virginia. RAM is a weekend event which draws thousands of people who come from across the Appalachian region and adjoining states to address (in one visit) the most critical of health care needs. For many, this is the only health treatment opportunity they receive all year. (RAM is a volunteer coordinating charitable organization which offers approximately twenty such clinics in Appalachia and in other states.)
Based on information in the article, parish members contacted the ‘Health Wagon’ coordinator, Frannie Minton, whose organization provides health services in the region, to determine what might be done by an Orthodox Christian parish from afar. A group from St. Nicholas parish traveled to Grundy to meet Frannie and other leaders from local ministries who outlined a variety of needs in the region. (See list below). The gathering was truly inspiring, as the hospitality and sacrificial love of those ministry leaders was representative of a spirit of giving quite consistent with our Orthodox vision of love of neighbor. Thus began a dialogue and course of action undertaken by the parish, to gather needed blankets, school supplies, clothing, shoes and other items for shipment to Grundy. St. Demetrius parish in Carteret, NJ, enthusiastically joined this initial effort.
In 2011, additional visits to Grundy were made and relationships deepened. Joe and Debbie Sneed, coordinators of the Backpack Blessing ministry, traveled to Charlottesville for the annual St. Nicholas parish celebration in December. The Sneeds spoke simply and powerfully of the needs of children in Appalachia for nutrition, beyond the school-provided programs. In response, the parish decided to continue support both the Backpack Blessing and the Sunrise Center, which serves as a resource for women who have had limited educational opportunities. A universal observation made by those who have visited these Appalachian ministries is a palpable awareness of the loving presence of Christ in this work, and the receptivity and love of the people in the region, experiencing the Lord’s teaching, “Blessed are the poor.”
Ministry of the Metropolia
In conjunction with the Metropolitan Council’s decision, His Eminence Archbishop Antony and the Consistory have tasked St. Nicholas parish to work with Deacon Ihor to see how this fledgling work might mature and engage the charitable resources of our Church - her parishes and faithful. The vision, based upon the successful mission trips to the Ukrainian Orphanages, is to lay the groundwork for UOC participation in this outreach to Appalachia by building relationships with local ministries, providing immediate financial assistance and sending mission teams to the region. Initial plans are being formed to send a team of volunteers to travel to Southwest Virginia in August 2012 - joining with Buchanon Neighbors United teams to do hands-on construction and repairs to homes of the poor. There are many possibilities for future work - including youth mission trips, and a more permanent presence (even a monastic presence) in the area to address not only material needs, but to share spiritual treasures as well.
Are You Interested?
While this ministry is just forming, we invite you to get involved personally as well as in your parish, your UOL chapter or in your Youth Group:
Pray for all who are in need in our land, especially those in the Appalachian region and for the growth of this ministry.
Consider a financial offering to this UOC ministry. (See below)
Discern whether or not you may be called to a more active involvement in this work - making a visit to the region as part of a mission team.
Spread the Word - about this ministry with others in your faith circle, to encourage them to creatively find ways to help our neighbors in need.
For more information, contact Fr. Robert Holet, 434-973-2500. If you wish to support this work financially, kindly send your contribution to the Consistory of the UOC, P.O. Box 495, South Bound Brook, NJ 08880 and make the notation “Appalachian Mission” on your contribution.
OUR FIRST CHURCH-WIDE APPALACHIA MISSION TEAM WILL VISIT THE REGION FROM 6-11 AUGUST OF THIS YEAR. HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP ANTONY AND V. REV. FR. ROBERT HOLET WILL LEAD THE TEAM. APPLICATIONS WILL BE AVAILABLE BY MAIL AND FOR DOWNLOAD ON LINE VERY SHORTLY. THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION OF APPLICATIONS IS 6 JULY. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT FR. HOLET (AT EMAIL OR TELEPHONE SHOWN ABOVE) TO ADVISE HIM OF A TRUE INTEREST YOU MAY HAVE IN PARTICIPATING IN THE MISSION TRIP. THE CONSISTORY WILL SPONSOR THE FIRST MISSION TRIP FINANCIALLY WITH THE HOPE THAT SUCCESS WILL ENABLE US TO CONDUCT OUR FUTURE MISSIONS IN A MANNER SIMILAR TO OUR ORPHANAGE PROGRAM IN UKRAINE. YOUR ONLY FINANCIEL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS FIRST MISSION TEAM EFFORT WILL BE FOR YOUR OWN TRANSPORTATION TO OUR DEPARTURE POINT.
Participating Ministries in Grundy, Virginia Area (Appalachia) – 2012:
Backpack Blessings - provides healthy take-home foods to children in poverty over the weekends and holidays when food may be in shortage.
Sunrise Center - provides support and training for women who have not received completed their high school education due to family need. After completing their program a number have gone on to community college and secured good employment with their new skills.
Buchanon Neighbors United - coordinates visiting teams from outside the area who wish to provide construction assistance to repair and winterize homes for the elderly and the sick, who lack the resources to do so.
Gift of Love - a ministry that provides basic needs to people including clothing and household goods.
RAM Health Fair - an annual weekend long, intensive health fair in Grundy, VA, which provides basic and advanced care to local residents.