This year I had the opportunity to offer my students a new service trip to Glenmary Farms in Rutledge, Tennessee. For those who do know where that is located, it is about an hour east of Knoxville, on a mountain, in which seems to be the middle of nowhere. Now, I’ve been to Tennessee before, Nashville to be exact, but never to the countryside of Tennessee. Needless to say, I did not know what to expect.
Glenmary Farms is a service retreat program for high school and college students. Throughout the year they hold weeks where students can come and live in community. They not only do service in the community but they also come together for prayer and reflection. There are also opportunities for immersion. You might be thinking, what do they have to be immersed in, you are in the United States, aren’t you? Although we were still in the United States the culture in Rutdlege is far different than the culture, of say, the Northeast.
Each day was always a surprise. There weren’t any clocks and there was never a set schedule. We were woken up at about 8am each morning, told where our work site would be so we can dress accordingly, pray and eat our breakfast, and then be on our way. It is important to note that we did not refer to time in minutes or hours, but rather, clicks (minutes) and units (hours)…it’s a Glenmary thing.
It usually took about half a unit or so to get to our worksite. We had four different worksites throughout the week with occasional night sites where we went to either a Baptist church or a Catholic Mass. One of the worksites we volunteered at was a trailer home that belonged to a woman named Barbara. Barbara’s home was falling apart. When I first walked in I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle the smell of cigarettes and dog pee. I will be honest and say that there were a few times that I had to walk out. Barbara was a wonderful older woman who loved her dogs, loved to talk, and above all, loved Jesus Christ. The times we weren’t working on the floors or demolishing walls (I got to demolish a wall, I felt like I was on an episode of Property Brothers), we were chatting with Barbara. She didn’t hesitate to share her life story.
Barbara was only one of the many people that we met through Glenmary. Ann and MacDonald, Brother Craig, the DeWitt family, John and Pam Fox, were some of the other people we met. Each had their own unique and inspiring story to share with us. Ann and MacDonald own a pottery business known as Toppa Joppa Pottery, Brother Craig is a Glenmary Missioner Brother, and John and Pam Fox were from the Baptist church we visited. They all live such different, yet very similar lives. They all had the same thing in common, their love for God and their love for their community.
Southern hospitality is a true thing. There was not a moment that I did not feel welcomed. There were times where I felt like I was in a different country. These people opened up their homes to us, shared their stories with us, offered us some southern sweet tea, and genuinely wanted to get to know us. No matter the economic status (most of the people in Grainger County lived below poverty level), people welcomed us with open arms. In the end, I noticed that no matter where you are in the world, God is always present.
Michelle K. of New Jersey | Michelle is one of the creators of Traveling saints. While she is passionate about her job as a campus minister, she also loves to read, cook Pinterest recipes, and wonder about what part of the world God will take her to next.