Delivering Hope and Encouragement Through Relationships

Story & photos by Erika Kraus, Intern

In this imperfect world, many people face loss and hardships. For Mary Johnson and her family in Belington, West Virginia, the struggles seemed insurmountable.

Over the years, Mary experienced serious health problems and underwent more than a dozen surgeries. She uses a wheelchair to move about now. This poses another challenge to Mary, who helps her son, Anthony, raise her three grandsons: Ivan, 10; Owen, 8, and Jase, 3.

Sharing her husband's love of plants, Mary created and cared for a beautiful flower garden. Bursts of color consumed the entire yard, marveling all who visited.

"Everything was perfect," Mary says with fondness..

Then their family suffered a heartbreaking loss when Mary's husband, Brad, died in late 2014. Mary lost interest in her garden, especially after her surgeries continued. A memory of happy times spent with her husband, the abandoned garden became overgrown.

When a social worker told her about World Vision's mission program and wanted to nominate her as a candidate to receive home repairs, Mary was apprehensive at first.


She had not been around many people in a long time. Though her house needed repairs, she was nervous about opening her heart and home to complete strangers. Even after being selected as a recipient, Mary thought about canceling the project.

Once the group of mission volunteers from Conway Alliance Church in Pennsylvania arrived, Mary's barriers began to break down. She initially denied that she wanted a wheelchair ramp to the front door. But after Mary wheeled down it by herself, says volunteer Carol Flanigan, "You could just see the joy on her face."

Mary then ventured into the garden for the first time in five years to sit with the volunteers and weed her flower beds. Amidst the flowers she and her husband had planted, her countenance changed.

Ivan, Mary's oldest grandson, worked alongside the volunteers. Without being asked, he helped build a gravel sidewalk from the driveway to the front porch. Working through the breaks, he nearly accomplished half the job by himself.

Mission team members also replaced the back roof, fixed structural problems, weeded Mary's flower beds, and replaced the wood bordering them. Volunteers even threw a birthday party for the boys and gave them gifts, since the family was not able to celebrate before.

Earlier in her struggles, "I lost all hope. Nothing good happened to us," Mary says.

That changed with the mission experience. "People don't do stuff like this," she says, overcome by emotion.

Broken relationships and faith can be restored. No struggle or broken heart is beyond reconciliation.


Learn more about World Vision's mission trips in Appalachia and other parts of the U.S.