“My insurance is gonna run out soon. Truman promised to take care of us.”
When you’re immersed in Appalachia, this statement translates quite easily: I used to work in the mines.
But the coal industry that sustained life in West Virginia – and, if we’re honest, the rest of America – is now idle. Caught in the political crosshairs, tens of thousands of men and women are now without work.
The local pastor with whom our mission team recently served was quick to redirect our sympathy: “I can’t even go through a metal detector – I got metal in my knees and hip!”
It was a light moment before the grim reality of the region intensified: There is no money.
The scene, of course, is one I have encountered before. Men – young and old – don’t have jobs. But the scale is truly unfathomable.
Imagine everyone you meet has very few, if any, teeth.
Imagine your community cannot afford clothes to keep themselves warm.
Imagine your meals each month must come from a food pantry.
This is a snapshot of life post-coal. One of the outspoken church members, a former miner, took me aside and filled me in: “It’s no wonder Trump won. The EPA closed every mine.”
It seems, with the exception of one small region in the state, coal is in decline – perhaps even permanently.
To offer a little more insight, it is believed that for every one mining job, at least three others are created in supporting industries.
Quite simply, without coal, the infrastructure crumbles. The remaining mines in Central West Virginia have all closed within the last couple of years.
“Miners made good money,” my insider shared, “as much as $80,000-$100,000.”
But, really, who is to blame? Obama? The EPA? Coal mine owners?
To be honest, the unemployed miners don’t care. They just want their livelihood back.
And this is the population we served for two days – the chronically ill, the addicted, the broken. Given the political climate and loud media bias, I suppose I had prepared myself to meet Trump’s “deplorables”.
But, you know, the men and women had a hunger for something beyond a charismatic president, and their longing convicted me. I think – right there in that endless pantry line – their hearts were waiting for Jesus.
In the watching, conversing, and shivering, I could see the raw faith and humility that their circumstances require.
To wake up. To venture into the cold November rain. To take donations from strangers.
And, in this reflection, it is I who became the deplorable.
But their pastor simply called me “Sissy” with an unwavering smile. He may have escaped the mines, but he couldn’t escape the call.
And deep in the unseen holler, Jesus still shines in the darkness.
One Year Ago: Dear Single Parent Student