Nada. In Spanish it means “nothing”. “A quantity of no importance” according to one online dictionary. In Kentucky there is a poor Appalachian community called Nada. Many would also associate Nada, the community, with “nothing”. No shopping, restaurants, theaters. Nothing to do. More importantly no jobs and no sign of improvement. Little or no hope for improvement. In the early 1900′s the largest sawmill in the eastern US was here. The community grew from that and then as the business died, so did the community. Many stay and live in poverty as there are no jobs close by and there is no desire to leave. Our church, Colonial Avenue Baptist, left on Father’s Day for a mission trip there. Did we find “nothing” there as well? We chose Nada for our trip after seeing it in an ABC news special on poverty in Appalachia. Nada is in one of the 20 poorest counties in the entire country.The kind of place we thought we could help.One thing is true. There is nothing nice about the living conditions. Most homes are trailers badly in need of repair. Many had broken windows and holes to the outside.We added a ramp and porch to one trailer where a handicapped person’s only steps were stacked concrete blocks. Church groups come and work in the area but the effort is more of a patch than a fix.The apathy extends down to the school kids as many drop out. But the area is blessed with much to do and see. The Red River Gorge offers spectacular scenery and views. Caves and cliffs,natural arches, trails, state parks and a sky lift offer enjoyable outdoor fun. A hand carved 900 foot,one-lane tunnel through the mountain, made for transporting logs, is a sight to experience and travel.There is a lodge nearby and some tourism but not as much as you would expect from a place blessed by nature like this. Nothing to do here? Hardly!
Would our Roanoke church group have nothing in common with these people? This area isn’t far from the Hatfields and McCoys of feuding fame though they have now made up. Near Nada they hold a Wooly Worm festival with yes, wooly worm races. While we went to do some of the usual mission trip work- painting,landscaping, repairing trailers, visiting nursing homes, power washing-our main goal on this trip was to build relations. Paint might look good for a while but making friends can last longer with these people.Their lives do not revolve around material things.
Our youth went on two day-trips with the youth there as many never experience the world like ours do. Even going to a movie or restaurant for many is an extremely rare treat. We visited Lincoln’s birthplace, the Toyota factory in Georgetown and toured two colleges in hopes that this might spark some incentive for the kids of Nada to further their education or go elsewhere for a job. While our kids and the Nada kids are from different worlds, the laughing and joking in the car or on the volleyball court was common to all. New friendships. Ladies of the community joined our ladies for lunch and a movie in Lexington, our treat. Paula Williams gave free haircuts and our kids gave manicures and nail-polishing. One lady said it was the best haircut she’d had in her life.
The Nada mission center which is already a place for the people of Nada to hang out was much busier last week. Our people and theirs played outdoor games together such as volleyball, whiffle ball, basketball, ladder golf (hillbilly golf) and cornhole in the large field. There was no them or us, we all played together. I think the fun was enjoyed equally.I saw myself as a kid in one of the boys there playing whiffle ball as I could tell by the way he played he was really dreaming of being in the major leagues instead. When I found out he was a Cincinnati Reds fan as I was when I was a kid I knew some of our guys would have to return soon and take some of these boys to Cincinnati to experience a big league game. And to see the awe in their eyes as I had in mine the first time I went there 30 years ago. There was such an innocence in him that I knew he had probably not even heard of the way steroids had been ruining the game lately. To him it was still about throwing,hitting and running and not the money.
One evening we all mingled outside then enjoyed an outdoor movie on a big screen with popcorn and sno-cones. Another night we played bingo with prizes and another night had a jewelry-making class with the ladies.All week long we were hooked on Ale-8-1, the local ginger ale soft drink, which made us feel more like we belonged there as well.The local animals hung out at the mission center as well, night and day. Dogs,big and small were always with us outside but our kids especially fell in love with them. When one of the dogs, Bobo, was tragically hit and killed by a truck in front of the mission center where we stayed we all felt the loss as if it were our own. Nothing in common with these people? Again, hardly!
So while most people would equate Nada, the community, with “nothing”, the 27 people in our group would argue that. We were all enriched by the experience. Haley Reed was on her first mission trip and asked “when can we come back?” For us there was much to do and experience in Nada and for one week we had much in common with them as well, despite our differences. Friendship breaks down the material world boundaries we create.
Missionary and Kentucky native Paula Settle works for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the area we came to. She organized the various projects that we came to work on. She helps the people in many ways to be more self-supportive such as by holding GED classes and encouraging the local women to make jewelry to sell. She also encourages churches like ours to come and interact with the people and share experiences, not just to come and fix a trailer. We saw in person how money sent to a mission organization is spent and used effectively directly on the people it is intended for. There is a big need but with people like Paula Settle, there is hope. For more information check out these sites:
Our mission team from Colonial Avenue Baptist included Melinda, Grace and Maggie Ruble; Jim and Parker Rhodes; Dianne and Jeffrey Hawley; Alva, Alex and Tucker Coleman; Haley Reed; Julianna Abbott; Elaine and Dawson Crews; Linda Miles; Kala Bridgers; Emily Oliver; Elizabeth Hatcher; Debbie and Brennan Scott; Paula, Haley and Bryce Williams; Melissa Scott; Renee, Eric and Tim Thornhill.
Submitted by Tim Thornhill