Planting a seed of hope in Eastern Kentucky

By Deacon David Montgomery

I got to know Deacon Steve when I was director of the diaconate for the Diocese of Davenport and the regional representative of the diaconate for this area of the United States. Deacon Steve was the director of the diaconate for his diocese and the regional representative of his area of the U.S. He is always friendly, having a positive view of life but still very aware of the problems and issues facing our world.

Contributed
Youths work on a shed during a mission trip to eastern Kentucky in June. Twenty-one adults and youths from Cosgrove, Oxford, Coralville and Melrose participated in the annual mission.

I call Deacon Steve or he calls me to exchange information and to keep in touch. Whenever I call him, I ask how it is going. He always responds, “I am blessed.” He has been through a lot. A few years ago, he had major surgery on his ankle — the surgeons had to rebuild the bones. He got through the procedure and long recovery. A few weeks ago, he called to say that he was diagnosed with cancer. I called him later, wondering how he was doing. He said, “I am blessed.”

I wondered without asking him, “How can you say that? You have cancer.” But I knew he was a deeply spiritual man who believed in what he preached — have faith, God will provide. I was reminded of this recently.

Last month, 21 youths and adults traveled with a truckload of tools and supplies to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to rebuild and repair homes of the poorest people in the U.S. We represented four parishes: St. Peter, Cosgrove; St. Mary, Oxford; St. Thomas More, Coralville; and St. Patrick, Melrose. We brought many different skills to the three job sites.

At the first site we helped to make a 12-foot by 36-foot wooden shed into a home for a woman who lost everything she had. We added an outside staircase, electrical wiring and insulation and beefed up the flooring that threatened to fall off the stack of concrete blocks it rested on. The second site involved refinishing a bathroom by stripping everything out — fixtures, wall and floors — and replacing with new. The third site involved repairing a ramp for an elderly couple. Another volunteer group had started the ramp. We made some corrections and finished the ramp.

We met challenges every day but all three homeowners were very appreciative of the work we did. Sometimes it rained so hard that it was difficult to see. Wednesday was a particularly hot day and the inside of the shed was hot. One of the neighbors noticed this and bought a case of water for us. We were very appreciative.

Knowing that power wasn’t available in the shed, we brought a portable generator for our power tools. But the generator wouldn’t keep running. Another neighbor ran a power line from his house to the shed for us to use.

Another challenge: we had not anticipated that our electric work would need to be inspected. We had not needed an inspection for jobs we completed in the past 15 years when we added a circuit or fixed an outlet. It turns out that the power company would not connect service lines to the shed without it. A neighbor knew the inspector and arranged for him to examine our electrical work. When the inspector came to our site, he asked about our volunteer group. The neighbor explained that we were a Christian group of volunteers helping out people in need in Floyd County. The inspector asked if we were being paid. The neighbor said no. The inspector said he normally charges $200 for an inspection but in our case he would do this for free.

On Sunday, before we began our building and repair projects, we went to church at the local parish, St. Martha in Prestonsburg. We saw the pastor we had come to know over the years, Father Bob Damron. He was born and raised high up in the mountain hollows where there was no electricity or stores and the only running water came from the streams. He is retiring this year after 35 years in the priesthood. One of his popular sayings is “The mountain provides.” Everything he needs to live is provided through nature, created by God. Fr. Bob said he will return to the mountain to live in closer communion with nature.

Jesus said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, it is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

There was so much to do for so many people in need, not only in the mountains of eastern Kentucky but also in our own communities everywhere. I would like to think that we planted a seed in Kentucky, a seed of hope; a seed of people helping people, neighbor helping neighbor, a seed of faith that God provides.

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