When I was a kid, in the cold of winter, we heated our home through a wood stove – a fireplace. One of our chores during those cold months was to bring firewood up to the house so that there would be wood near by in the cold of the night.
The firewood chores, however, started well before winter. Sometimes as early as the summer, but always during the fall. Any trees that had fallen during a summer storm, or that just needed to come down, were fair game. Dad would cut the trees with a chain saw, and then the splitting would happen with an ax. We would be responsible for hauling the split wood to the wood pile and stack it just right.
It was sometime in 2008, while working at Lebanon United Methodist, I got a phone call about firewood. There was someone in our community without firewood to heat their home in the cold winter days. In the county over there was a church who had a firewood ministry, and as such they had a stock pile. They allowed us to use their wood. I called the United Methodist Men‘s president, Claude, and we rode out to load up a trailer full of wood and deliver it to the home in need.
Eventually, we noticed that this was a greater need in our community than we realized. There were houses about a mile from the county courthouse without indoor plumbing or heat. The residents of these cinderblock homes would cook and heat their humble abodes with firewood.
Firewood, however, is expensive.
Church members from middle school students on up got involved. There were days when a group would split donated wood. It would be stacked behind one of the buildings on the church property, waiting to be sent out to warm someone’s home. Others would respond to a phone call or text by heading up to the church, loading up some wood, and delivering to a family in the cold, winter snow.
I had the opportunity, recently, through a retreat for high school students hosted by Randolph-Macon College to revisit this ministry. The 2 Days 2 Serve retreat was designed to be a vocational exploration through mission work. Rev. Kendra Grimes, the chaplain at Randolph-Macon organized a host of projects to show the students the diversity of need in the community.
When I pulled the college van onto the church property, I was surprised at what I saw. When I moved away from the area there were a few humble stacks of wood behind the back building. Now, there is a mass of wood scattered across the lawn.
There are now a number of churches involved in what is the Hanover Christian Wood Ministry. They receive donations from various sources. Volunteers work year round to maintain their supply by splitting, stacking, and delivering firewood.
Last year alone they delivered 170-180 cords. To give you an idea of what that means, a pickup truck load of firewood is about a quarter of a cord. Overall, that’s a lot of wood.
As we worked in the heat of July, I was blown away. What had started as a humble little ministry meeting the needs of a few, had grown into an operation meeting the needs of many.
But it’s about more than firewood.
These men and women who dedicate themselves to this hard work, are building relationships with their neighbors. These are people they would not otherwise have met or thought twice about. They now know them by name. It has led to recognizing other needs beyond the firewood.
When hearing about the people who receive the firewood, some church members organized a Christmas food box program. They collect donated food, place them in wrapped boxes, and deliver them to the same homes that receive firewood.
Then, there are the people who split and deliver the wood. One of the members of the group we met during 2 Days 2 Serve is not a church goer. After her husband died, she was searching for a passion. She was searching for something to be committed to; to use her gifts; to be part of a community.
The firewood ministry provided that opportunity.
She is now the maintainer and organizer of the snacks and drinks on the splitting site. She worked alongside our students as they served. And she told stories about the people she met through this ministry, grateful for the transformation that was occurring in her life.
This is church.
This is a beautiful picture of what church looks like. If you would have told me back in 2008 that this is what the result of that first firewood delivery would be, I would have said, “That’s a nice thought.” What it is today was no where on my radar.
When Jesus calls us to be in ministry to the least of these, he reminds us that when we do so, we are serving him (see Matthew 25). When we clothed the naked, we are clothing Jesus. As we offer a drink to the thirsty, we are offering a drink to Jesus. When we visit the imprisoned or the sick, we are visiting with Jesus.
For Jesus, it is always about more than firewood.
The bottom line is, it is about love. When we serve others, we are showing love. When we work to meet the needs in our community, we are building relationships out of love. In doing so, we see those in need as if we were peering into the eyes of Jesus. It all begins with love.
When we show authentic love to those we are serving, we begin to see more needs. We begin to see the root cause of the needs. It’s about more than firewood, a meal, canned goods, or socks. There is always more. When we ask the questions regarding how these conditions exist, it leads to advocacy to raise awareness of the needs we see.
It is not easy. Jesus never said it would be. This hard work of love will take more than a week-long mission trip or a day of serving. One, hot, nutritious meal will not be enough. A cord of firewood will not last through the winter. In order to warm the souls of our neighbors, we need to build community.