by Eva Gordon
For many years, if not centuries, the church has and still is one of the stable support systems that rural and urban communities have depended upon to fulfill their basic needs. Food pantries, child care, education, political leadership, and other needs, is what the church has and is doing for people that society and government has forgotten about. World Vision Appalachia in Philippi, West Virginia has built a community center in the middle of Chestnut Ridge. Chestnut Ridge is a low income community nestled in the wood hills of Philippi. The World Vision is a result of Rev. Ruston Seaman, pastor of People’s Chapel, who is the host church of the program. World Vision Appalachia provides after-school tutoring, provide home building materials and vocational training for young adults.
From my observation, Rev. Seaman has a vision for the people of Chestnut Ridge: to release the captives, free the oppressed and bring sight to the blind. The question is how does Rev. Seaman include the community of Chestnut Ridge in forming the vision of their community? One solution is to hire people from the community. Candy Adams, a native of Chestnut Ridge, has been volunteering at World Vision and will begin full-time work in the Time Bank on January 15. Time Banking is a bartering system, where folks can exchange free piano lessons for free gardening work. Candy partners with Chris Mullet, who is also a native West Virginian, but from an upper middle class community 40 miles from Chestnut Ridge. Chris and Candy are hired to interview people to see what gifts they can put into this social capital bank. Candy has known Rev. Seaman for 25 years and is willing to work with him and the organization.
Chris has only met with people that are not in Chestnut Ridge and this is where Candy comes in. Candy stated that in order to understand how World Vision operates, she decided to put her skepticism to the test and volunteer with them. As a full-time employee, she will now be able to see if the international organization of World Vision can fulfill its mission to help her people. Candy is able to speak with the folks of World Vision, as well as speak with the people of Chestnut Ridge. Not only is she able to speak with them, she lives among the people who World Vision wants to help. Candy’s goal is to get her people working at World Vision and not just as kitchen help or janitors, but as coordinators and other jobs of influence. Who are Candy’s people? Natives of the Appalachian Mountain region, where many outsiders have stripped them of their natural resources, such as coal and minerals, leaving the region to struggle with economic development. These people are not just poor, many natives are also of mixed heritage: European, African-American and Native American. Candy admits to having this mixed heritage. This means that they are not only poor but not pure white and/or European heritage. Candy feels that privilege belongs to pure white people, whom she calls the outsiders of the Appalachia.
Chris, who admits to being an outsider, envisioned himself in Appalachia many years ago. When he first got married, Chris told his wife to not be surprised if he does ministry work in Appalachia. That was many years ago and he moved to Philippi about two months ago to work with World Vision, after being a pastor in Baptist churches for 18 years. Chris said that his goal is to have Candy eventually coordinate all of Barbour County, which includes Chestnut Ridge, so he could do the Time Bank for Braxton County, a neighboring county of Barbour.
I know I’ve said many facts about Candy and Chris. My take on Chris and Candy is the coming together of the have and have nots, trying to find their common ground, in order to reach the have nots. There are many religious organizations or individuals who use the name of Jesus to abuse and rob the forgotten. However, there are some organizations that do try to use the name of Jesus to work with the forgotten and neglected. I do believe that World Vision is one of them. Chris said that many social agencies focus on people’s deficiencies, but Time Bank focuses on people’s assets. If more organizations would focus on what each person can provide for their community, we might see a change in how church and community work is done.