Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Give us your eyes and your heart

Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

October 2010
Harlan, Kentucky

Harlan County, Kentucky. Coal is still king here. And while coal still provides a lot of jobs in this community, the unemployment rate is more than 20%. More than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Just over half graduate from high school.

When I was in this town for the MCC Great Lakes board meeting, I got to meet with several homeowners that have been assisted by the SWAP program (Sharing With Appalachian People). During a typical summer, 1200 youth and adults spend a week working on dozens of home repair projects and learning to know the folks who live here and in three other communities.

Most of the homeowners are white, but coal has brought a rainbow of people of other colors into this community, too. Though some folks are critical of the current strip mining practices, they're also grateful for meaningful work and are quick to point out that almost 50% of electricity in the United States is still provided by coal.

Mennonites came to this valley after the floods of 1977. MDS organized disaster relief, but some of the volunteers realized challenges were much deeper than the floods and stayed to help. Other churches in the community are also trying to respond to the widespread economic poverty in this community.

"Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God," the prophet Micah reminds us. One of the SWAP coordinators says she puts it this way to the volunteers who come to work and learn - Give us your eyes and your heart.

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