Mission Trip to West Virginia – Day One – July 17/18, 2016

Day one (and a half), by Caitlin and Patrick Osborne

24 hours ago, the St. Andrew’s mission group had its orientation meeting at “Lovecraft,” the new volunteer center for Habitat for Humanity in Franklin, WV.

When I say “new,” I mean NEW!  We are the first group to stay here, and our lodging is still under construction.  We arrived yesterday as stoves were being hooked up, air conditioning was “almost” functioning, and the new shower rooms were still sporting wet drywall.  It’s exciting to be here, to see the organization come together, and we pitched in immediately, mopping floors and helping wherever we could.

The building was formerly a medical center, a warren of confusing hallways, and our bedrooms still bear some marks of former use, such as the individual sinks clearly intended for washing up before an exam.   We are sharing our space with a group from Philadelphia, and we are managing our challenges together (make sure not to leave the bathroom door locked when you exit, or it will stay that way, taking a valuable resource “off line” until the locksmith arrives).

We were oriented by Michelle Conner, who has been the director in this area for many years, joining the organization shortly after becoming a Habitat family.  She told us her journey (House fire!  Nine kids!  Experimental hay bale construction!) and encouraged us to look for, and tell our own HFH stories.

Today’s work was mostly at a community site.  Anyone else heard of this?  I thought that HFH only worked on housing, but this is something different:  We are helping rehab a drive-in movie theater!

Our hosts have told us its amazing story.  Built in 1952, it is (to their knowledge) the only drive-in to have its screen constructed as an exterior wall of a house.  The idea was that the manager of the theater would live on-site and be able to keep an eye on things just by looking out his window.  The owner intended his son to take the job, but for some reason the house was never finished on the inside.  However, the theater was a hit.  Families came to the theater up to an hour before the show to socialize, eat at the snack bar (best burgers in town, apparently), and let their children play on the playground at the base of the screen.  It was a community gathering place until it closed, only a few years ago.  And, the closure wasn’t due to a lack of business, but to the insurmountable cost of upgrading the projector screens to from reel-to-reel to digital.

Fortunately, community activists are working to bring the theater back to life, and we are helping.  Today our crew worked on painting the projection booth exterior (teal and bubblegum pink – RETRO!) and interior (boring white, but out of the sun.  yay!), cleaning the countertops and foodservice area of the snack bar (Anne Thomas is Our Sainted Lady of De-Greaser), and cutting brush (led by – you guessed it – Frank Barksdale).  Our contribution of labor helps by allowing them to save their money for technological upgrades.

Franklin is a tiny town.  Of its 800 residents, 287 signed a book dedicated to gathering interest in reopening the theater.  Not only is that statistically significant, but also of amazing human interest to think that this poll was gathered not on Survey Monkey, but by leaving a notebook in a corner store.

I feel incredibly lucky to be on a unique project, with both historic and community roots.  I hope to be there again tomorrow, to paint the trim on a building that I love after only knowing it for one day.  However, the group is rotating through a number of projects here in eastern West Virginia, so who knows what tomorrow will bring.

  • Caitlin

After cleaning up for the day at the drive-in, we returned to Lovecraft to shower and relax.  Us kids decided to go for a quick dip in the river, which runs just a few blocks down from the center.  After wading for a while, some of us stuck around to build cairns in the rivers while others returned to home base.  After a good half and hour of building, Zach went back to grab a fishing rod and tube.  In the mean time I had an unexpected visitor.  A small dog had appeared out of nowhere.  With a collar with no tag, this dog followed us around.  After Zach’s return, we waited 20 to 30 minutes before the rain began to fall, and we returned to the center with a new friend.  There was much excitement all around before there was an executive decision to let the little guy go back by the river and let him find his own way home.

  • Patrick


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Anne and Patrick hard at work, preparing woodwork on the snack bar for new paint.

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Fr. Doug and Caitlin – part of the painting crew

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Harrison and Steven attacking the junipers!

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Frank and Zach – Directors of Juniper Removal!

Day 6: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon

Just photographs and captions for the blog for Friday.  Everyone (except the leaders) have written a blog, so we’ll just go with photos this time…

We visited The Grotto in Portland.  A beautiful experience, with a visit to the Stations of the Cross surrounded by northwest forest.  Each person took a turn reading scripture at a station, and the reader then shared some personal thoughts about the station/scripture…


Then, “The Peculiarium” in Portland…

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Lunch at Pioneer Square…


Then a variety of things…

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After a celebration dinner, we shared memories and kind words about each other in a celebration with candles around our campfire.  A beautiful ending to an amazing time in Oregon!

Day 5: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon

The first activity that we participated in today was a trip to Salem where we visited Willamette University. We met up with a professor named Karen who is a friend of Ted’s. She is a dendrochronologist who taught us about the meaning of tree rings and how you can relate them to history. It was very fascinating to see how the trees that we are so used to seeing everyday could be thousands of years old. She opened our minds to concepts that we don’t usually consider on a daily basis. After taking core samples from trees on campus, we were taken on a tour of the campus which was very helpful for us to visualize what the world can offer us.

Another eye-opening experience was our visit to Mount Angel Abbey, where we met a very friendly monk named Brother Christopher. He graciously invited us into the monastery and gave us an insight into the monastic lifestyle. It is very rare that a brother offers to give such an in-depth tour into their lifestyle.

We were lucky enough to view several historical artifacts which have been locked away in a secret vault. Brother Christopher showed us artifacts from ancient ages that helped us to fully grasp the concept of our religious and secular history. It was no longer just a matter of stories that we had heard or books that we had read about the past, Brother Christopher showed us the importance of the reality of Jesus and his impact on christian beliefs.

We then attended a vesper service where we were able to listen to the monks pray through song. It was a very calm and other worldly experience where we could see how other people can connect to God. It was interesting to imagine the lifestyle of a monk, and to experience the realization that these followers devote their entire lives to following the word of Christ.

-Gillian Dash and Katrina Wanner

Looking skyward through Redwood trees at Willamette University…

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Dendrochronology at Williamette University, including close observation of core samples, then outside to take our own.  Many of us collected core samples from trees on campus (samples to be used for ongoing research)…

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Salem, Oregon’s Riverfront Carousel.   …Reaching to snag the “golden ring”…

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Mt. Angel Abbey

Greeting inside one of the monastery’s buildings…


The Abbey…


Ancient, rare books stored in a special climate-controlled room or in the vault…



Zach holding wood used in ancient woodblock printing.  The wood is carved (reverse image, reverse relief) to create an entire printed page. Predates the printing press…


A coin marked with the emblem of Pontius Pilate.  Brother Christopher (our guide) speculated this coin could have been at the table, with the money changers, at the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus visited! (The coin is wrapped in plastic, within a cardboard card)…


PS:  An amazing day!!   Lots of fun, lots of information, amazing experiences!!  We are grateful to Wonder Voyage (Shawn Small, who made the arrangements) and Mr. Angel Abbey (Brother Christopher) for providing a special, personalized tour of the Abbey for us.  The sights we saw and access we had were much more extensive than that normally provided to visitors — an extremely special gift to us!!

…Incidentally, if anyone who didn’t drive for our departure from Baltimore is available Saturday night to transport a few people back to State College, we could really use the help!  This would save us from using a rental car (which is reserved at the moment, but can be cancelled).  Thank you for your consideration!  If you’re available, please contact Amy, Ted, Sharon, or Paul!

Day 4: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon

Waking up at a later time was a blessing. We had more time to get ready and eat breakfast before we left. The activity today, whitewater rafting, revolved around teamwork, overcoming fears, and finding God in the most unlikely places. We drove about an hour to Mill City, where we met our guides, Justin and Carlos, who made sure we knew what to do and how to avoid injury while rafting.

We split into two groups and started down the river. It was calm at first with a few bumps to wake us up, and then the real challenge began. The further we went, the more aggressive the waters became, and it would not have been possible if we had not rowed in unison. Many of us saw God in the people around us in the boats, working as one, and especially when one boat got stuck on the rocks. It took a full force hit from one boat to release the other, but then that boat got stuck. Everyone then worked as one to get the boat back on track, another example of teamwork.

Overall, we had an amazing time rafting; it being a new experience for some and an old experience for others.

After a breakfast for dinner, we drove to some poppy fields, and took pictures of the beautiful flowers that ranged from light pink to red, appreciating such beautiful things God created. Later we sat around a bonfire, talked about our experiences and thoughts about the day, and ended with a prayer.

We then all realized in the end how much we will miss Oregon as the final days of our trip draw near.

By: Anna Kwasnica and Ryan Couch

Our white water rafting river…  (More photos to follow, once we receive them)


Fields of flowers!



Breakfast for dinner!





The campfire & our discussion of a truly wonderful day!



PS:  Like every evening during our pilgrimage, we talked about “wonder moments”…those instances in which we felt a connection to God, or experienced an insight to share.  We talked about instances in which we saw God working in each other during the day.  A beautiful, meaningful day for which we are truly thankful!

Day 3: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon

We woke up a little tired and groggy in contrast to yesterday, but Sharon was quick to fix that with a trip to Starbucks, which made the two hour ride much less painful. We soon arrived at our first destination in Newport, the Oregon Coast Aquarium. We were amazed by the diversity of God’s wildlife, and were especially impressed by the otters. We spent a few hours wandering through the aquarium until the hunger became too much to bear.

After a quick break for lunch on the beach, we quickly continued onto our service project on the beach. We met two wildlife biologists, Vanessa and Dani, who guided us in our cleanup of invasive species. European shore grass was crowding out the native kinnikinnick bushes, which are vital to the survival of an endangered species of butterfly- so endangered in fact, that there are only twenty or so individuals in existence. We were reminded of our role in nature and how we can impact God’s world around us.

Getting back in our cars, we made our way to Cobble Beach, a beach made up of cobblestones accented by an overlooking lighthouse. We took an hour to enjoy the natural beauty, which included whales, seals, mussels, birds, and large and small rocks, not to mention the ocean. As we made our way to the lighthouse, the rock in front of us seemed very strange. Apparently, birds enjoy standing on rocks, and thousands of birds were on the rocks ahead. Their odd congregation reminded us of God’s creation. We noticed a buffet restaurant on top of the hill, and it turned out excellent- a happy miracle. It was a pretty full day, all in all, filled with moments of wonder.

Connor Shea and Patrick Osbourne

Oregon Coast Aquarium…




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Lunch at a picnic area overlooking the Oregon Coast, then some time down at the beach…




Our restoration and beach clean up project…





Cobble Beach and Yaquina Head Lighthouse…









PS: As we’ve done each evening, we discussed our day and thought about some moments where we may have felt close to God.  We talked about the invasive plant species we had worked to remove from an important area of the Oregon Coast – an invasive species threatening the biodiversity of the area and the habitat of an endangered butterfly, and expanded that discussion to think about things in our own lives one might consider to be “invasive” or barriers to feeling connected to God’s presence. Today was an amazing day, full of whale sightings, harbor seals playing in the water very near to us as we stood on the beach, much laughter, and great appreciation for this week so far – a true, life-enriching pilgrimage!

Day 2: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon


Today we woke up bright and early with an idea of the day before us.  However, we couldn’t have imagined at that time what we would truly experience throughout the day.  First, was the short drive to Silver Falls State Park.  Here we saw new types of farms that expanded our thoughts about our life in State College and our current existence in Oregon.

As we started our hike, we were talkative and excited for the journey awaiting us.  Entering the forest, everything seemed new and surreal.  From the humongous trees to the roaring falls, many of us found the beauty of God’s creations.  Seven miles in, we stopped at an impressive waterfall for a talk. Shawn (a retreat leader) told us the story of Thomas Becket.  He emphasized how each individual is God’s masterpiece and we are worth more than anything to him.

With one waterfall remaining, we walked in silence and were left alone to our thoughts.  His story truly inspired us and helped us connect with God during our silent time.  When we left the park, we were filled with new thoughts and ideas about our spirituality.

Becky Van Kirk and Leah Patzkowsky

Our amazing journey today…


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Walking behind a waterfall (this happened several times today!)…

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Listening to an important story told by the Wonder Voyage Executive Director, Shawn Small…


Building community, based on the “Stone Soup” story.  Team “A” prepared dinner tonight; team “B” on Wednesday…  (A lovely chicken stir-fry dinner with rice, french bread, and watermelon for dessert).


PS:  Other Wonder Voyage pilgrimage groups, from various locations in the past, have visited Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.  We are the first group, I believe Shawn said in 17 years, to have wanted to hike the entire route at Silver Falls State Park.  We completed the hike to visit all ten waterfalls…hiked over nine miles today – with lots of breaks, shady hiking, and water to drink!

Day 1: J2A Pilgrimage to Oregon

With waking up at 4:45 and having to pick up Ted, and arriving at church for prayers, we were all ready worn out before we even left. The trip to Oregon was long, slow, and boring at times when we had nothing to do on the plane. Some of us passed time playing cards, watching movies, or catching up on sleep. However, we realized that we would make it on the long and bumpy ride to Oregon because we were in the hands of God.

When we met our voyage guide, Brittany, we saw that we would be accepted by the good people of Oregon, and enjoy ourselves in this lovely state. When we were walking through the stone labyrinth we saw the light of God for the first time in Oregon, through our thoughts and journals. All-in-all it was a great day despite the long travel.

Jake Hall and Zach Paulsen




PS from all of us:  Special thanks to Father Doug for being present at our departure, to guide us through prayer and to bless our prayer beads for the journey; and to Darlene for the nice send-off!