As city folk, our notion of a “lifeline” upon entering into our service in Wyoming County was a narrow one, to put it kindly. A week, or two, or seven without what we would consider basic amenities would provide for us an entirely different lifestyle, one that we were both unfamiliar with. College consists of traffic, packed schedules, coffee shops, restaurants, textbooks, family, and friends. Little did we know that this so-called reality was simply a slice, even a sliver, of the whole. The West Virginia experience challenged all of our ideas about what a “normal” life was. To come to realize those true lifelines, like the Itmann Food Bank, The Way community center, Mullen’s Manor, UGWA, the refurbished homes of those displaced by floods and circumstance, and the PV’s was to encounter Christ’s love here on earth.
We had experienced different forms of service numerous times before. As regular volunteers at food pantries and soup kitchens, we were not strangers to the hardships that the poor and marginalized faced every day. But service in a big city offered something completely different than service in Wyoming County, West Virginia. When serving in Kansas City, Missouri or Lawrence, Kansas, we knew of resources that could provide shelter, food, and love to those who needed it. There are multiple food pantries, domestic violence shelters, social workers, free health clinics and people who make it their job to provide for the poor in our towns. There are never enough of these resources, but they are at least present. If someone in Kansas City told us they were in need, we could simply direct them to St. Francis Xavier food pantry where they could get food, St. James Place where they could get assistance paying their electric bill, JayDoc clinic where the uninsured could receive free care, and Holy Family Catholic Worker House where they could take shelter from the cold and enjoy the company of others. West Virginia did not seem to have these luxuries. Our time spent in West Virginia was time spent in community, service, and maybe most importantly, reflection. The reflections about our time this summer led to a personal campaign that told of our stories and of the insights we gained. We gave a voice to the voiceless of West Virginia. We told our friends back home not only about the injustice we saw, but all about the homemade biscuits, the hikes in the mountains, and the friendships formed with the PV’s and those we served. Our experience would not have been complete without every component.
West Virginia beautifully demonstrated how clarity is most often found in simplicity. One highlight of the PV experience was the opportunity to construct guitars out of little more than string, rocks and cigar boxes. PV’s as diverse and unique as the coffee mugs they held in their hands circled around to listen to Tom and Fred as they strummed these simple instruments, each in tacit agreement that the music was as rich and beautiful as anything they had previously heard. We couldn’t help but think about the work that was being done. The PV’s, for all we lacked in the way of resources and time, made up for it through our love and generosity. In those moments we realized how paramount the human element was, not only with regards to the service at hand, but to our lives as a whole. This was demonstrated in perhaps the biggest project of the summer, one in which the majority of the PV’s played a role. Jesse, a devoted preacher displaced by a flood, was in need of easy access for a home that had been raised onto cinder blocks in hopes that flooding would no longer be a concern. With a stockpile of wood, nails, tools, and a little (actually, a lot) of ingenuity, everyone set out to construct a ramp that would serve this purpose. Each individual contribution came together, and eventually this work of art we all called a ramp was created. All of the lunch making, water carrying, designing, nailing, sawing, and laughing had come together to make something that was larger than the sum of its parts, but for all of the significance of this ramp, perhaps the most meaningful element of the experience was the opportunity to talk to the man that we had all been working so diligently for. His gracious and cheerful nature was a reassuring reminder of the reason we had all come together in the first place, and the most gratifying part of the experience.
We are so grateful for our experience in West Virginia. It has altered our world view in the best way possible. We learned how to play Hearts, put up drywall, win at knockout, and how to cherish the PV’s who loved, encouraged, and kept us company. The PV’s have taught us so much about what it means to be men and women for others, and ultimately gave us hope that God has graced this planet with servants of all ages and backgrounds to make a heaven on earth. West Virginia and the PV Program is a haven for those who believe that we all have something to offer, and by putting faith in God and one another, we can accomplish great things. We pray that the PV’s continue to bring the spirit of service, simplicity, and reflection back to their homes and make a haven in New Jersey, Iowa, Florida, and everywhere else that PV’s are working for change. The PV’s continue to inspire us and give us strength even in the coldest of Kansas winters. Know that we are thinking and praying for PV’s everywhere and cannot wait to see you this summer!
Peace & Prayers,
Rebecca Hinman & Rob McKnight
Rebecca and Rob spent their first summer as PVs in 2011. Rebecca was there as a summer long Americorp Volunteer and Rob surprised her by coming to volunteer over her birthday week. They came back again the following summer together for two weeks and while they were in West Virginia got engaged! A first for the PVs.