I spent a week this past summer in Northfork, West Virginia. Ever heard of it? I doubt it. Driving through, the town passes by you with the blink of an eye.
But not only is it small, McDowell County is one of the poorest counties in the United States. A trailer serves as the public library. A Dollar General is the only grocery store for miles, unless you want to drive half an hour to get to a Walmart. There’s one restaurant. Loads of abandoned, collapsed houses with poison ivy creeping up the brick walls line the deserted streets. Trains that carry coal whistle every hour through the night and shake the ground.
With the most prescription drug overdose deaths in the country and large amounts of teenage pregnancies and high school dropouts, I suppose it’s safe to say Northfork isn’t an ideal place to live. But it wasn’t always bad; in fact, not even 50 years ago, McDowell county was one of the richest places in the world with a flourishing coal industry. Somehow over the years, the economy plummeted and a town with a population of 120,000 plummeted to 20,000.
It’s easy to focus on the bad, but if you spend a week in an old house lacking air conditioning and cell service on a mission trip like I did and get to know the town, you would be surprised at what you might find.
Despite the challenges that Northfork faces, the locals are surprisingly optimistic. While passing a man on the street, rather than the traditional awkward eye contact and half smile I face in the hallways at school, the man shouted a greeting.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Can’t complain! I’m blessed, praise the Lord!” A smile had then erupted on my face and it warmed me to see that even in the roughest situations, you could make something positive.
I spent the blistering hot mid-July week alongside my parents and siblings, as well as another family who expressed a passion for mission trips. We painted the house in the of a woman called Angie. Angie watched over her young nieces, who were eager to help us paint the house and volunteer to get their hands dirty. Even the neighbor, a small boy whose mother had been addicted to drugs, offered to lend a hand.
At the age of 46, Angie seen Northfork in it’s glory days. She tearfully confided with us the challenges she’d faced in her past and how God had helped her through it all. The faith that the locals had was remarkable; even with so little, they gave all they had to God.
It got me thinking. If people with even so little can give so much, why can’t we, the people fortunate enough to call Mason our home, help others with what we have? I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but the Bible calls us to do so. Even if you aren’t a believer in Christ, it’s the right thing to do. You’re reading this on your smart phone or laptop, probably sitting in your favorite comfy chair. Think of how lucky you are. If you were in these people’s situation, wouldn’t you want the privileged to assist you?
I think it’s important to keep in mind what we have and be grateful for it every single day. We live in a bubble where we believe everyone is just like us. Once I returned to the world of air conditioning and cell phone service, I became engulfed by that bubble once again. It wasn’t until yesterday when my friend scrolled through my camera roll and found old pictures from the mission trip that I took a moment to remember. Remember all the heartfelt testimonies. Remember the smiles on the locals’ faces. Remember the faith.
Keep the people of Northfork, West Virginia, in your thoughts and prayers because I guarantee that with their faith and optimism, you’re in theirs.