Avila Now

August 1, 2023

Avila Senior Morgan Pettlon Shares Her Summer of Service

Morgan Pettlon in her car arriving at Bethlehem Farm.
Morgan Pettlon.

Morgan Pettlon is a senior nursing student from Maryville, MO. She chose to spend two weeks at Bethlehem Farm this summer as a summer servant. Her experiences at the farm over the years, have inspired her to return again to the farm during Spring Break 2024, this time leading a group of Avila students in a week of “service to the dear neighbor”. This is her recent story.

It was an honor to spend the last two weeks at Bethlehem Farm as a summer servant. For those who don’t know, Bethlehem Farm is a faith-based intentional community focused on the cornerstones of prayer, simplicity, community, and service. The farm practices sustainable living while serving the community in Appalachia, WV. 

The farm has a low-income home repair program that heavily relies on volunteers and summer servants to help make surrounding homes safer, warmer, and accessible. 

Through conversations with homeowners, people from the community, volunteers, other summer servants, and caretakers, I built many new relationships, strengthened existing relationships, and grew in my faith. 

Some of the tasks I helped with in these two weeks were processing garlic, caring for chickens, cleaning and organizing a tool trailer (you’re welcome, Marcus), preparing meals, working in the garden, picking berries in the orchard, laundry, finishing a roof, hanging gutters, installing insulation and sheetrock on a ceiling, siding a house, lots of dishes, and many other tasks around the farm. 

Throughout my time on the farm (including my time as a volunteer from the past two spring breaks), I shared my own stories and experiences and listened to  many others share their own vulnerable stories.  We had many conversations with people from different walks of life and viewpoints. It is truly amazing to open up and have raw and vulnerable conversations with people you don’t think will understand-it turns out other people have had similar experiences.

Along with work, we also had lots of fun. We had a cookout at a waterhole to celebrate the busy season, jumped off a rock into the Greenbrier River, took a swim in the river on the way home from a worksite, hung out with the five donkeys, went to the gym that Caretaker Jack has been working on, listened to birds in the morning and frogs in the evening, watched and caught lightning bugs, watched a few storms roll in, read in the hammocks on the porch, went to a bluegrass festival, had a few late night conversations, learned to swing dance, played can jam, hiked in Virginia, had another cookout to celebrate Eric and Colleen’s 18th wedding anniversary, wore watermelon helmets, had a bonfire, celebrated Meg’s birthday, and had many jam out sessions where Molly, Jenna, and Jack (and some others) shared their musical talent.

I spent time meditating, reflecting, and praying next to the beautiful Appalachian Mountains and serving those in need. I am so grateful to the staff, Bethlehem Farm, and the other summer servants for making this a memorable trip. I cannot wait until I am back again.

To that end, I will be leading a group of students to Bethlehem Farm during spring break 2024. If you are ready to take the risk and have the best spring break experience, contact the Director of University Mission & Ministry Dave Armstrong, or me for more information. 

Three Avila students standing together with arms crossed in front of a blue house.
Avila student standing in chicken coop surrounded by chickens
Morgan Pettlon holding a brown chicken
Morgan Pettlon standing on the roof of a blue house
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