Yesterday morning I was blessed to attend a committee hearing addressing two issues very near and dear to my heart – Appalachian ministry and gun violence.
Resolution D024 moved to express support and recommend continued funding for EAM -Episcopal Appalachian Ministries. My dear friend Rev. Gordon Brewer of East Tennessee, the Executive Director of EAM, spoke eloquently about the extreme poverty and breadth of the Appalachian region, and of the truly remarkable work that they do for the people of that region. But I didn’t need to hear Gordon’s testimony to know the importance of continuing to minister effectively in this region – I’ve been fortunate to know for many years about the amazing work of EAM first-hand.
In 2006 and 2010 I was blessed to participate in three weeks of incredible mission service at Grace House on the Mountain in Southwest Virginia ( http://gracehouse.dioswva.org/ ) . Listening to Gordon’s words before the committee immediately brought be back to the life-changing experiences that had marked my several weeks at Grace House. With four other volunteers (including 1 carpenter), I was assigned to level the floor of a five-foot wide bathroom that slanted more than 3 inches from side to side. The homeowner, an aging widow of a former coal miner, lived in a house that the coal companies quickly threw up during a construction boom decades ago, and had fallen swiftly to disrepair. The following week, our group built a reenforced the deck and built a railing for a retired miner who easily could have fallen from the structure held up by only a smattering of 2×4’s. This sort of home repair is desperately needed in that extremely remote region, where access to assistance is severely limited by geography, poverty, and many other factors.
As the majority of the questions yesterday about this EAM resolution focused on the important technicalities of the means by which the bill might be funded, I was reminded that this issue of Appalachian ministry is about much more than broken houses and scenic mountain views. It’s also about violence. In extremely impoverished regions like this one, where jobs are few and opportunities are slim, domestic violence rates remain consistently high. The coal industry has done violence not only to the beautiful land with mountaintop removal and other brutal methods, but also to the people of that land, who suffer from unimaginable rates of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses because of the rampant pollution. Through menial wages, lack of insurance and other means, the Appalachian people have been often denied healthcare and been essentially left to gradually suffocate in crumbling houses across the rural mountain landscape.
As we continue to seek peace and an end to violence in every form, it is essential to remember that sometimes we must look where we wouldn’t otherwise expect it.