She opened the door only slightly but it was enough to get a quick glance into the apartment. It was sparsely decorated. A mattress lay on the floor. Small children scurried around while one was held on her hip. She was young, hesitantly open, and looked at me through tired eyes of discouragement.
Earlier that day I had decided to randomly pick a low incoming housing unit to survey. I wanted to discover a place to become actively involved with the marginalized of Beckley. As she stood in the doorway I asked, “Do people in these apartments attend a worship gathering anywhere?” “No,” was her simple reply. “Why do you think that is?” I continued. “Because they judge you for what you have to wear,” came her regrettable response.
That was the fall of 2014 and the beginning of what would become the Green Leaf Community of Appalachia. I had no idea that three years later it would also become a certified non-profit ministry.
A few weeks later we were meeting with our Sunday evening young adult group. Though unplanned, I shared the story of this young woman and her response. It seemed to strike a chord with everyone and it most certainly did with Scott. He approached me afterward and said he would like to go with me once a week in this outreach. I agreed, but the fact was I had not returned in weeks and didn’t have any plans to do so. Now I was committed.
So, Scott would come to our house on Saturday mornings for breakfast, and then we would head out for the apartments. The first week we took small bags of food, went door to door, and asked if anyone could use extra food to get through the month. One week we provided green donuts along with an information sheet that included trivia about St. Patrick and one of his prayers. Some weeks we would simply take a prayerwalk around the facility or pray in the car during the coldest days of winter.
By summer Scott had moved out of town, but Zach and Abi had joined our efforts. They had been doing similar outreach in the nearby town of Mt. Hope during their college years and had recently returned to continue. About the same time someone gave us a financial gift, along with the encouragement, “We believe in what your are doing.” Their gift was used to purchase 500 children’s books from a used book sale.
We decided to announce a book reading a week in advance and give each child a stack of 10 age appropriate books. It was the first time we had asked the residents to come outside the building to a meeting area and I felt the need to call the owner and ask permission. I called but with a good bit of trepidation. I thought, “What if he says ‘no’? What if he puts an end to this altogether?”
My fear turned to surprise, and my surprise to astonishment. Not only did he give his permission, but he gave his blessing as well. I discovered he was a Christian and that I had been his nieces’ Youth Pastor. It did seem like a “God moment.”
We continued to build friendships at the apartments and at two other low income housing units as well (There are in fact over 55 such units in our area). We also provided resource guides, celebration suggestions, food, advent readings, ice cream events, online Bible Studies, local support group listings, prayer opportunities, nutrition information, helps for moms, and reminders of why we love our town. We have been intentional in ministering to the whole person: physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually.
One activity that fall was a highlight. Zach, Abi, Diana and I along with two musicians and the Young Adults Group packed up tables, chairs and a grill for an “everyone is invited” cookout. We grilled and served while the musicians played the guitar and Djembe. Some played bocce ball with the children while others carried on conversations. We gave a prize of a bouquet of flowers with the intention of bringing beauty to the place. It was meaningful time and an indicator of what could be. It helped us to imagine among other things a community garden, after school tutoring, seminars, a women’s tea, a Bible Study, and a room from which to stay close and connected.
In the summer of 2016, we decided to offer a Sunday gathering for worship since few attended a church and many did not have transportation. It would be short, simple, and say words of hope. We would discover who Christ is, who we are in Him, and what He is doing in our lives. The Gathering would only take thirty minutes and end with an opportunity for any who needed personal prayer. Along the way we recruited various worship leaders and had a small but steady stream of participation.
In the beginning of 2017 after a good deal of prayer, I began the process of certifying the Green Leaf Community of Appalachia (from Jeremiah 17:7-8) as a nonprofit ministry. That took us months of work with a Christian lawyer, but on September 29, 2017, we received our State Certification. It was very encouraging and satisfying to hear the lawyer say, “I am very glad to have a small part in what I believe will make a big difference for God’s Kingdom.”
Of course our story is still being written, and while most of our focus has been with those in low income housing that is not the extent of our vision. A list of the marginalized of society is long and many, from the homeless to racial minorities, substance abusers to international students, prisoners to persons with all disabilities. It will take a community of individuals discovering the opportunity that fits their passion, giftedness, and interest for it to be realized. To see where you might fit into this story check out our “Get Involved” page.
-Ken, Staff Pastor