I write from a drafty seat on an overnight Greyhound bus somewhere between Indianapolis and St. Louis. Before I continue on to my next stop, let me extol the events of the past week and share them with you.
I have just closed a week-long introduction to a unique educational institution in the Appalachian mountains of Grundy, Virginia. Deep within the heart of coal country pocked with refineries and laced with railroads, a compact campus bustles year-round. It is inhabited by approximately 250 students ranging from ages ~1-21 and hailing from probably more than 60 countries (if I were to issue an uneducated guess). In addition, the school homes perhaps 60 staff in almost as wide a range of ages, employment arrangements, and roles. The microcosm is unlike many others I have ever seen. Its name? Mountain Mission School.
Mountain Mission School has existed for almost 100 years, was originally instituted to harbor and educate Appalachian children and orphans, and stays true to the heart of the mission instigated so long ago – its scope and reach has merely widened over time.
Every student on campus has applied on the basis of some demonstrable need, been interviewed, and accepted as a member of the institution. Most live on campus in dorm-like housing and many have grown up there – some of which regard MMS as their only or primary home.
And how did I end up stumbling across this incredible nook of international ministry? A friend I met in Poland this summer mentioned the institution in one of our last conversations before I departed. She told of an amazing boarding school in Virginia and suggested I check it out.
The suggestion lay dormant for the summer and only around the beginning of October, just before my situation at Moody began to buck and convulse, did I find a chance to call the general office number and request the email address of the athletic director/girls’ basketball coach. I sent a quick email expressing my interest in learning more about the school.
I received a call back from the AD, Josh, the very week that I received the final word cancelling Moody’s season. We spoke for not more than 10 minutes on the phone before he asked, “So will you come out to visit?” Surprised, but recently freed of all schedule obligations and already having recently made plans to go to D.C., I agreed readily to come.
As I looked into travel arrangements over the following few days, however, public transportation proved almost impossible to utilize since the only bus and train stations were all more than two and a half hours from the school. However, God had ordained the trip because in a followup conversation with Josh a few days later in which I explained the difficulty, he realized that he and his family would not only be in D.C. and would have a spare seat in the car the weekend I hoped to travel from D.C. to the school, but would also be driving out to Columbus (that would allow me to get back to public transportation), again with a free seat, the day I needed to leave. The logistics were orchestrated by God to allow the visit.
My Time at Mountain Mission School
It would be impossible to describe all the activities, all the people, and all the experiences I’ve enjoyed over the past week. In a nutshell, however, here’s how the adventure transpired.
On Sunday morning of this past week I was dropped off at the hotel in D.C. where Josh and his family had been for a weekend trip, and from which point I would accompany them on their roadtrip back across the state to MMS. We met for the first time in the hotel lobby and they graciously allowed me, a total stranger at that point, to jump into their minivan. We visited friends and stayed in a hotel on a leisurely trip back, arriving in Grundy on Monday afternoon. I then took up residence in a spare room on the dorm floor they supervised (read: parented).
For the next four days, I assimilated into school life. I ate in a boisterous dining hall, met and conversed with staff members, and got to know a gaggle of students from tiny to high school age. I ran girls’ basketball practices, watched boys’ practices, sat in on classes and lectures, shared my testimony for a floor devotion, went hiking on a basketball team outing, and joined trips for coffee at the local gas station or evening walmart runs in town. Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, I climbed back into a vehicle with Josh and his family, this time into a minibus with half the girls’ basketball team, to accompany them on a weekend trip to Columbus and back out to civilization from which point I could catch a bus and continue on.
I hope what little I was able to contribute this week to such an amazing group of people was helpful – but it is far outshined by what I’ve gotten to witness and be a part of. MMS is truly a unique and God-honoring place. It was a privilege to experience and observe it.
Now, onward. My bus takes me toward Columbia, Missouri where I will spend the weekend with dear college friends before continuing on.