“Isn’t that scary?”
Greg, white hair fringing his face, turned to look. “What’s that?”
Jimbo, smiling crookedly, chin tilted in thought, his hands waving expressively through the early morning air, elaborated.
“What he said back there. Think about it: if Father Beiting had been content to just do his job and nothing else, none of us would be here! I would never have met you! Or Elizabeth!”
“That’s true.” Greg nodded slowly. ” Life would be very different.”
We were climbing the blacktopped hill from Camp Andrew Jackson’s Old Hickory (a multi-purpose room) to the dining hall after attending an early morning church service. We were all from different places, all different ages, but we had come together once again for Workfest, the Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP’s) alternative spring break program…a yearly event where volunteers gather together for a home repair blitz.
Jimbo’s ponderings had been inspired by the words of the sermon we had just heard, given by Father Jim from Montclair State University. Father Jim, mindful of the place where he stood and the work we all were doing, had chosen to focus a portion of his sermon on Rev. Ralph W. Beiting – CAP’s founder. He pointed out how Father Beiting, when asked to lead a parish in eastern Kentucky, could have done just that and nothing more…and there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that – dutifully carrying out the duties of a country pastor with a small but faith-filled congregation. But Father Beiting didn’t choose to just do his job – he chose to do more.
He was a pastor, he built churches, he preached the gospel in the streets…but he also took a good look around his community. There in the beautiful hills of eastern Kentucky, he saw the wounds of poverty – homes badly in need of repair, limited job opportunities, adults and children in need of hope – and he felt God calling him to do something about it. So he started the Christian Appalachian Project. He started adult education programs. He created job opportunities by starting a factory and a dairy farm. He started thrift stores where people could buy clothes at affordable prices. He started preschools and summer camps.
And he knew he couldn’t do all this alone. So he found volunteers to help him work. He looked through the phone book and called up people randomly to ask if they would be willing to make donations. When he felt that God was asking him to do something for the people of the mountains, he did it, even when it was hard and he faced opposition. Some people are born with the wonderful ability to bring people together and get things done…and he was one of them.
Father Beiting died several years ago, but his work still lives on. The Christian Appalachian Project has become one of the largest non-profit organizations in the region. They repair homes, run thrift stores and food banks, preschools, summer camps, provide assistance to the elderly and more. They get a lot of help from volunteers who come from all over the country to work and pray together.
I was one of those volunteers. I first came to CAP in 2011. I spent two and a half years of my life in the hills of southeastern Kentucky working with them…and have been back for at least a couple weeks every year since my first arrival.
So I suppose that’s why Jimbo’s words got me thinking…
Father Beiting not starting CAP…just doing his job…
it was a scary thought.
Never to have met Jimbo or Greg or Janean or Debbie or Clarence or Mike or Carrie or Anna or Nathaniel or Carlo or Priscilla or Larry and so, so many others…
Never to have helped David and Matthew with their reading, smiling at their sweetness. Never to have played kickball dodgeball with the kids at the afterschool program (I’m pretty sure my glasses are still crooked from when Mike hit me in the face…). Never to have explored the beauty of McCreary County with Kate and anyone else who decided to join us for a hike. Never to have laughed with Nathaniel over making ridiculous summer camp awards. Never to have blinked back tears of joy seeing the happiness in a camper’s eyes. Never to have folded laundry with Carlo. Never to have gone canoeing with Priscilla, singing hymns in the dark. Never to have laughed at life with Clarence and Carrie in the office every morning. Never to have sat and talked with Mary in the camper she was so tickled to have as a new home. Never to have joked with Danny at the hardware store. Never to have climbed to the top of Pretty House with Shelby and Anna, laughing as we went. Never to have listened to God whisper in the wind at the top of the Pinnacles with Debbie. Never to have had Larry explain how to build a wall, handing me a chocolate candy from his pocket as he talked. Never to have sang around a campfire with a guitar-toting Janean. Never to have experienced a lovingly awkward, face-smashing Jay hug.
Never to have come here for Workfest 2019. Never to have taught two wonderful girls how to put up siding one day, and then sat back and watch them killing it on their own the next. Never to have joked around with Heather while Fred the dog wandered around at our feet. Never to have seen the incredible gratitude of the Smith family whose house we were working on – making us angel-shaped sugar cookies “because we were angels”, helping us hammer in tricky upside-down nails, pulling their little girl with the golden curls in a wagon around the yard.
Without the Christian Appalachian Project, life would be very different…
and not just for me – for so many people who have been a part of it or touched by it over the years. Lives irrevocably changed for the better…
and all because of one man who decided to do more than he had to.
“For the first time, I ceased thinking of myself as the center of the universe. God was. He had the interest, the care, the longing. I was entering into His world, assisting in His work. He wanted a solution, a new beginning, more than I ever could. All I needed to do was follow the path He was trodding. I thanked Him that night because I had found a Father, a Guide, a Protector, a real Friend, as well as a Redeemer. I didn’t know where we were going or how we were going to get there, but I knew that all I had to do was hold His hand and keep walking.”
– Father Ralph W. Beiting