Christmas in Appalachia: Loving people who struggle in poverty

During the Christmas season and beyond, to truly love those in need is to receive the divine gift that allows us to work together and find lasting solutions to poverty.

Have you ever had a day when nothing seemed to go right or make sense for you or the people you love? It didn’t matter how hard you worked or planned, how tired you were, or if you had the best of intentions; it felt the world was against you in every way and at every turn.

For most of us, these days are few and far between. We might have a bad day every now and then, but we know tomorrow will be better.

Over the last 13 years, I have had the privilege of working alongside many wonderful families in the Appalachian region that experience these feelings of despair every day of their lives. Poverty in all its forms is rampant, infiltrating every part of the culture here. It invades every nook and cranny of our schools, churches, and communities, stealing the hopes and dreams of so many of the children that God calls us to serve.

It is heartbreaking to see a child you know is hungry or feels that the world has said to them in no uncertain terms that they don’t matter. On those days, when I see a mother who is working multiple jobs to put food on the table, but cannot seem to get ahead, I am overwhelmed with the complexity of the problems here in West Virginia. And I wonder if I, World Vision, or anyone else can truly make a difference.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.—John 13:34

Then I remember: Through this sense of helplessness, God calls each of us to do one thing above all else — to love one another. During the Christmas season and beyond, to truly love the people we serve is to receive the divine gift that allows us to work together, providing the resources and action necessary for lasting solutions.

Shelby (second from left) with volunteers from a church participating in World Vision’s summer missions program.
(©2008 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

In Mary and Joseph, God gives us a wonderful portrait of the working poor. They were always one step from the abyss, with little support and few resources. Life was fragile and very dependent on steady work and extended family ties. Any deviance from this balance could bring their entire lives crashing down around them.

In the Christmas story, we see a developing crisis as Mary and Joseph are far from their families, with little food, no shelter, and Jesus’ birth imminent. This story could describe many of the families that I have known during my time at World Vision — parents who love their children more than life itself and pray for a better life than what they have, parents who are going the distance in the face of hardship because of the promises God has made.

My prayer for this Christmas season is to embrace the gift God has given each of us to love people who struggle in poverty. Through this kind of love, I have seen miraculous acts of compassion and generosity. In this love and through God’s power, we are able to do mighty things for families who suffer.

Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season!


Shelby Dettinger oversees all of World Vision’s community outreach programs in West Virginia.

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