Youth leader sends thank-you letter to Gatlinburg, remembering trip that almost wasn't

Youth leader sends thank-you letter to Gatlinburg, remembering trip that almost wasn't


As the youth of Mount Hope United Methodist Church prepare to attend this year's Resurrection event on July 24-26, leader Kathy Jackson felt a strong need to send a letter to the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce. 

"You read so many negative things now. I love to let people know that there are good Christian adults and young people who do care and will try to help others," Jackson told The Call

The letter shares the story of a youth group from Fries, Va., that almost didn't get to attend the retreat they had worked for all year long. However, both community and church stepped up to bless teenagers and adults from the southwest Virginia mountain town in early 2012.

Two years later, Jackson and her youth group are returning to Resurrection, Holston Conference's annual spiritual event in the Great Smoky Mountains, with a mixture of excitement and gratitude.

"We have truly been blessed by the people of Gatlinburg's kindness and have experienced God's work in our youth group," Jackson said.

January 13, 2014

To the Town of Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas,

It is that time of year again when our youth are preparing to make our yearly trip to Gatlinburg for the Resurrection event which is sponsored by the Holston Conference. While working on last minute details for this event, which we will attend once again on Jan. 24th, I began thinking back to a couple of years ago at pretty much about this same time. I just had to write this letter to say something that has been on my mind and in my heart for quite a while now.

I am one of the leaders of a church youth group in the rural mountains of Southwest Virginia. The story that follows is what happened to us a couple of years ago. I guess if you think about it, it is a story of how two mountain towns and one God can truly make a difference.

It was a time much like now. We had made our first night’s deposit for our lodging and had just finished raising the money needed for our second night and for food. One of the first things you have to do before you can register for Resurrection is to fill out a registration form and on that form you must tell them where you will be staying. This has to be done by July 1st to get in on the early registration. This for our church and many of the churches in our area is no easy task. Our church is very small and we are part of a six point charge in the Holston Conference. That means we all share the same pastor.  Although the Lord always provides us with the opportunities to raise the money we need for this trip, it still takes quite a bit of time and lots of hard work to be able to pay for our lodging and the food while on this trip. Some of our youth would not be able to go if we did not raise the money to pay for this weekend. 

On this particular trip to Resurrection, the youth decided that they liked the idea of staying in a cabin again. We had done so for the first time a couple of years ago. The other times we had stayed in hotel rooms. They really liked the cabins because they could all be together and experience the fellowship.

About three weeks before we were to make our journey to Resurrection, I received a letter from a lawyer, telling us that the cabin company we had sent our first night’s deposit to had declared bankruptcy. We would not be getting any of our deposit back.

My heart just broke. How could I tell our young people who had worked so hard that we did not have a place to stay and that we may not have the money we need to make this event? It was then that I called the other youth leader to tell her what had happened. After the initial shock was over, she then reminded me that we would be able to go, that we just needed to pray about it.

It then came to me to call the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce. I did not know what they could do but I guess God was leading me to do something. The events that followed were truly a work from God. After talking with a nice lady at the Chamber of Commerce, I began receiving emails from hotels and restaurants in Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas. They were offering us a place to stay or inviting us to dine with them and most were offering us a discount.

On Sunday when I told our youth what had happened, they could not believe it. The news I had dreaded telling them had become a blessing. The people of Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas cared about them and they were offering to help them.

In the days that followed even more blessings began happening which showed us that God truly had a hand in all this. Other youth groups on our circuit, which had to raise money for their own trip, had started raising money for our youth. I had told my brother, who is a Methodist minister in the North Carolina conference, what had happened. When he told his congregation about us, we received a donation from one of his church members. Then other churches and individuals started making donations to us as well.

It was all so moving that I can hardly put it into words. We were able to make our trip and as always we had youth to either dedicate or rededicate their lives to Christ. We had this particular year been blessed in so many ways, and we were able to receive the spiritual boost we needed to help us to make it through all of life’s challenges for another year. This year was really special because we saw God’s work though others in two mountain towns. We knew that no matter what the challenge was that God was there for us and that even though we see and hear so many bad things going on in this world, that there are truly good people out there that are willing to go the extra mile in some cases, even for people they do not know.

So Gatlinburg and the people of the surrounding area, we would like to say thank you for doing God’s work and for showing our young people that there are good, caring people in this world. Thank you for making a difference. Please pray for us this year as we again make our journey to Gatlinburg and Resurrection.

Fries Circuit Youth
Mt. Hope United Methodist Church
Fries, Virginia

Youth leaders – Kathy Jackson and Donna Iroler