More than painting by the numbers
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — It’s been a tough year for Elizabeth Carro. After losing her husband and her mother, she didn’t worry much about the state of her home in this West Virginia river town on the Ohio border.
But then, one summer morning, James and Esther Brooks rolled into her driveway in a van loaded with cans of paint, ladders, cases of water and teenagers with plenty of energy.
Carro“It is a miracle,” said Carro, 55, whose home got a fresh coat of paint courtesy of the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp.
For nearly two decades, the camp has brought together young Christians from across the region to help people in West Virginia’s Wood County who are unable to paint their homes due to age, infirmity or lack of finances.
Including the 32 homes painted by 350 volunteers at this year’s camp, the total number of houses refurbished in the past 19 years reached 600, said David Muller, who co-directs the nonprofit with Ryan Ice.
But the camp is about more than painting by the numbers.
“We hope that God sent us to these 32 homes for a reason,” Muller said. “We try to be good examples so that we will be able to bring Jesus into their lives by our friendship, our good attitudes and our camaraderie.
A participant in the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp paints Elizabeth Carro’s home. (PHOTOS BY HAMIL R. HARRIS)
“Our goal,” he added, “is to teach these young folks how to serve the Lord with a positive attitude.”
Muller’s words were reflected in the hearts of the teenagers who, despite working hard all day, had plenty of energy left over for evenings of praise songs and devotionals. They also participated in a flurry of baptisms in the fountain of nearby Ohio Valley University.
WORKING TO SHOW CHRISTThe camp began in 1999 when about 100 teens from Churches of Christ and their youth ministers painted six homes in the Parkersburg area.
The campus of Ohio Valley University in Vienna, W.Va., a 550-student school associated with the fellowship, houses the participants, who this year came from West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Maryland.
Among them were:
At night, the campers gather at Ohio Valley University to sing hymns and pray.• Tori Cannon, 16, from the St. Clairsville Church of Christ in Ohio, about 100 miles northeast of Parkersburg. For her, the camp has become an annual mission trip.
“I think that it’s a real good opportunity to do missions in your own community,” Cannon said as she painted Carro’s house.
• A team of 12 from the University Park Church of Christ in Hyattsville, Md., a few miles from the U.S. Capitol.
“I was blessed to work with an incredible group of young people — and I’m learning from them as well,” said Esther Brooks, a federal employee who led the University Park group along with her husband, James.
Ryan Mbuashu-Ndip, 14, and his sister, Katherine, accompanied the University Park group.
“I hope that people see what we are doing and are inspired — and take a look at Christ,” he said.
Garrison Jolly, another member of the University Park youth group, added, “This trip has taught me family because it is all working together to glorify God. We are helping people and bringing them to God.”
• Angela Orozco, 16, one of 62 teenagers who came from the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn.
“It’s hard,” she said, “but we are doing something good. It’s a long tradition of our church’s youth group.”
Cathy Joe Connley of Nashville said she was awestruck when her daughter, C.J., asked her to join her for this year’s camp.
C.J. Connley said, “It is such a blessing to have your family be part of it.”
• Michelle Lightle, a youth leader who accompanied fellow members of the Xenia Church of Christ in Ohio, 160 miles west of Parkersburg.
“In the Bible we are told to go out and take care of our people — take care of widows, orphans,” Lightle said of the motivation for their church’s involvement.
‘I LOVE THESE CHILDREN’In addition to helping those in need, the work camp helps shape the image of Christians in the Parkersburg community, said Joe Spivy, minister for the 300-member Grand Central Church of Christ in Vienna.
“This program has changed the way people see the Church of Christ,” he said, “because they see that people are actively involved in the community and are actually trying to help people.”
Members of the Lynn Street Church of Christ in Parkersburg fed the camp participants during their four-day stay. Ron Laughery, minister for the 350-member congregation, echoed Spivy’s words.
During the day, young Christians participating in the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp paint the home of Elizabeth Carro.
“This is not just about painting houses,” Laughery said. “It is about reaching out and sharing with people the good news of the Gospel.
“One man whose house was painted said, ‘I love those children’ — and he is here having lunch.”
David Blair Couch, president of the Wood County Commission, came to Ohio Valley University on the last night of the work camp. The county provided the camp with $11,000 for supplies. Although its budget is limited, “we are not going cut this program back,” he said. “We are going to increase.
“This school,” he added, speaking of Ohio Valley University, “is the best-kept secret of Wood County.”
Beyond the benefits to the community, the work camp provides a chance for families to bond and grow as they follow Christ’s example, said James Brooks, of the University Park church, who helped paint Carro’s home along with his wife and daughter.
“I’m glad that I can change this lady’s life for the better,” he said.