It’s Workcamp sign up season again and it has me thinking of all the incredible experiences I’ve had while serving. One that really stands out is the summer of 2016 in Pennsylvania. After an early morning of devotions, gathering supplies, and loading vans we drove off to discover our work for the week. We knew we were serving an older woman in need of a new ramp on her home but when we arrived, we discovered that both entries had rotten porches and stairs so we’d need to demo the porches and rebuild adding a large ramp to the front deck. We had work to do.
When I first started youth ministry, our church had already begun attending Workcamp each summer. It’s a setting with the fun and spiritual elements of camp while each day is spent serving. I love all kinds of camps for the different things they offer students, but for me there is something special about workcamp. Students and adults are placed in teams that go into a community to serve those in need. The blessings are two-fold: students have the opportunity to learn new skills and make a difference in a life while diving deeper into spiritual conversations, and someone that is need receives help in a way that improves their physical and spiritual situation.
On this particular Monday morning in July, we were in Gettysburg as our group of five high schoolers and two adults piled out of the van. With our clean gloves, hammers and shovels, we lined up to meet our resident. As we entered her home, the scene was a bit overwhelming. A hospital bed in the living room, medical supplies strewn all over, and a slightly grumpy woman looking at us with wide eyes. She was gravely ill, felt trapped in her home, and was overwhelmed by all the people in her house.
Seeing the need so clearly, we dove into the work. Demo took a morning, it’s usually pretty quick, and by lunch we were ready make a plan and rebuild. Porches begin with post holes so we measured for the post holes and began to dig, and dig, and dig. So. Many. Holes. (Seriously, so many!) Early in the process, our team learned the value of a level.
Levels are great tools. When placed on a board, the nice little bubbles tell you if your board is level. With a post, it tells you if the post is straight. If you’re in a hurry, it can be easy to skip the level and just look at the post and think that the wood is straight, when in reality it’s just a bit off. A small bit off at the bottom creates a pretty slanted post by the top.
It’s important to take the time to use the tool that helps us find level. As we placed the post in the hole, we’d attach the post level. Once the bubbles were right, it was time for the cement. As the cement filled the whole, we kept a close eye on the level making sure we kept it straight. By being diligent with the posts, the whole porch was ready to be built.
Sometimes, in life or in ministry demo is easy, too easy. The next new program, a new idea, a new process and it’s out with the old and in with new. But when it comes to rebuilding, it’s critical to remember the level. Whenever it’s time for something new, our level – the Word of God – reminds us to keep ourselves on his path. If we veer off, just a little, down the road the chasm will be wide. New change takes work. Lots. Of. Work. Yet, if we remain level, the work will smooth out and the curves made straight.
The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth.
During our week in Pennsylvania, the older woman we were serving was hospitalized. We arrived on Thursday to discover she had passed away in the night. As we looked at our work, the new wood, the level posts, the almost finished ramp she would never use, the students began to wonder if what we had done mattered. It was a God moment, a time to step back and see what God had orchestrated.
During the week, the older couple next door took care of us, especially Mabel. She checked on us, gave us water, let us use their restroom, and even stored our tools in their shed. This opened the opportunity to share why we were there and our hope in Jesus. Upon hearing of her friend’s death, the relationship we had built allowed us to pray with Mabel and share in her tears. A valley filled.
Mabel shared with us that our resident had a daughter with a handicapped child and was in need of a home where her wheelchair could navigate entry. Our resident’s daughter would inherit the home. A hill made level and a rough place made smooth. As we left on Friday afternoon, the new beautiful ramp complete, Mabel told us we had helped renew her faith in God and teenagers. I’ll never forget that week and the lessons learned there.
I’m reminded that sometimes change is for those we didn’t expect or haven’t even met yet – thus the need for level, solid work.
If you are contemplating change, check your level many times and then check it again. When we maintain our course with his Word, we’re able to navigate the mountains in such a way that they feel level and rough places smooth.