A Youth Mission trip to Hamlin, W. Va., provided valuable perspective to a group of 20 students from Groton's Union Congregational Church. The students worked side-by-side with other volunteers and townspeople to complete home repairs and to run a Vacation Bible School for the children of the town.
Hamlin is a small, hilly town of .60 square miles with a population of about 1,100, located along the Mud River. According to the town's website, the date it was originally chartered is unknown, but thought to be about 1867. The only available record was destroyed by fire when the courthouse burned in 1909. Hamlin is the hometown of Brig. Gen. Charles E. (Chuck) Yeager, famous test pilot whose statue is located on the lawn of Hamlin Pre-K through 8 School. It has a volunteer fire department and elections every four years for mayor and town council.
Some of those who went on the trip gathered to talk about it. They spoke of small, rundown houses with a lot of the children coming from broken homes. "Some of the stories we heard were horrifying," said one student. The children were "beautiful and happy, but in great poverty."
An elderly woman sat outside and talked with the young people as they worked to scrape and paint her home; an elderly couple expressed excitement as they watched another group tear down a dilapidated deck on their home and build a new one. The appreciation was obvious.
The young people were entertained with tales of town history and they took part in a night of clogging, strange at first, but fun in the end.
Their workdays were long and hard but among the lessons learned were these two: Regardless of what a person has, everyone has a dream, and sometimes, "the smallest thing you can do goes the farthest."
Like soldiers sent to faraway, hostile lands, these young people, too, experienced lessons in perspective. Very often, the comforts we enjoy here are far removed from the lives lived by others.
Likely, the very lesson the UCC Youth Mission Trip sought to impart.