I remember, as a little girl of maybe 10 or 12, excitedly sitting in the pews of my normally boring church, hanging on every word of the lady at the pulpit as they spilled out of her mouth. I remember thinking how interesting her life must be and being so intrigued with her passion, as she spoke about her life. She was a missionary. She had just returned from Africa and she was trying to raise money for another trip. She said she had left her heart in Africa and felt the urge to go back again. She was showing pictures and telling us of her adventures. She was an older lady with salt and pepper hair, tied up in a loose bun, with warm, deep brown chocolaty eyes, and sun-baked, wrinkly, leather skin. But to me, she was so beautiful! I wondered if I would one day be brave enough to do anything like what she was describing. Would God ever choose me? And if He did, would I be brave enough to go, or would I be like Jonah, and run away, only to end up in the belly of a whale?
That day was long ago, and that memory had long been forgotten, stored away with so many others. But recently, God reminded me of that day. I awoke from a dream, and the memory was fresh in my mind, as if it had just happened. I remembered my necklace that my step mother had bought from her, to help support her. I remembered wearing it for a long time afterwards. Where had that necklace gone? It had been made by her African friends. I wish I could reach back into my memories and pluck it out so I could wear it again. So I could feel her passion again. But God had a reason for reminding me.
I had just heard about a missionary trip that the ladies were doing at my church. This one not far away, just over 3 hours to the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. The cost was minimal, merely $90. But, as all humans do, I wanted a sign that I was supposed to go on this trip. I wanted to know without a doubt, that God wanted me there. So, just as Gideon laid out his fleece, I made my own bargain. I told God that if He made a way for me to be there, if He could just make it free for me, I would go. Of course, that didn’t mean that I was just going to sit back and do nothing. So, I joined the ladies for a bake sale and we raised money to help pay our way. We also collected purses and supplies to put into them to take with us and hand out while we were there. One lady even donated a bunch of beautiful jewelry to sell at our bake sale, and some to add to the purses! We raised $500 in just one day! I’d say that was a loud and clear message from God, not only for me, but for some other ladies as well. So, we were on our way, with packed purses in tow.
We started out early on a Friday, meeting at our church at 6:30, before the sun even decided it was time to roll out of bed! We packed our belongings into four cars and we were on our way. There were ten of us, and one more to join us the next day. We were all so excited that we never, even once the whole trip, turned on the radio! We chattered the whole way down. I was with several ladies that I attend church with regularly. I considered them to be good friends because we talked when we saw each other, and prayed for each other when we needed it. But I had longed for a closer relationship with them. Life gets busy and it’s hard to sometimes get together outside of church, but this was our chance, and I was loving every second of it!
We stopped at Denny’s Restaurant half way down for a rest and a breather and to fill our tummies before moving on. The food was wonderful and the service was slow. It was definitely a Southern atmosphere! With full bellies and happy hearts, we continued on to our destination.
About four hours after leaving our church, we finally arrived to the old school house that would be our home for the weekend. Big Creek Mission is an organization that helps serve the needs of the community. They also help people like me, who have a longing to help others, but don’t know where to start. They have a list of people with various needs, who apply for that help, and receive it freely. Then volunteers come from all over and stay at the mission and build porches, repair roofs, fixes homes, or just hold a hand and chat with a lonely heart. Whatever is needed, that is what we are called to do. But we are told adamantly that every service we provide, no matter how big or small, circles around the person’s needs and their heart. If we are building a roof or just cleaning up a yard, and we see the person needs a little one on one time, THAT is what is more important! It’s not about the service that is being provided, even if we think it’s important to get it done. It’s about making sure that person knows that THEY are the most important part of that service and they are loved.
When we got there, we were introduced to the gentleman that runs the place, Kevin. He was a tall man with an athletic build, a genuinely warm smile, and an eagerness to help others, including making sure that our trip didn’t just help those in need, but that we were happy and satisfied with whatever it was we did. He would be the one to connect us with whomever we helped and explain the details of each mission. He was also the one who would be cooking our delicious food for the weekend! He showed us to our room and then left to get the details for our first mission.
Our room was a large, brightly lit old classroom. There were 18 bunk beds along the walls. I was amazed at the size and roominess of it, having imagined a small, dark room with uncomfortably thin mattresses and an odor I was sure would be left behind from previous inhabitants. I, of course, dropped my belongings in a chair with glee and promptly crawled to the very top bunk next to the window, proclaiming it Rapunzel’s tower and telling my friends that if they wanted to visit me, they could forgo the ladder and simply climb up my long blond hair! Of course, my hair actually only goes to the middle of my back, so they better be good jumpers, too!
Kevin returned and had several missions we could choose from. I should pause here and tell you that I had made a second bargain with God. I had told Him that if He allowed me to go on this trip for free, then I would freely offer my services, wherever they were needed. I wouldn’t speak up and jump at something that I wanted to do, but only do whatever was assigned to me, with a happy heart. Anyone that knows me, knows how hard it is for me to be silent! But that was what I did. Kevin had three assignments. There was a lady who had recently lost her husband and needed to get out of the house. There was another lady that just needed someone to come and visit with her. And there was a nursing home that had a bunch of people who needed some love. I sat, waiting for others to choose their missions, knowing which one I would like to choose. My girlfriend, Jackie, had come down with an intent to cut people’s hair for them. She’s an amazing hair stylist. So, she chose to go to the nursing home to see when she could come back and cut their hair, and maybe paint a few nails while she was there. Another friend of mine, Tiffany, and her mother, Linda, had recently lost a close family member, so they chose to go visit with the first lady. Everyone quickly decided their paths, and I was assigned to the first lady. I was over the moon! That was exactly who I had wanted to help! God had taken care of me! I don’t want to start naming these people, just to protect their privacy, so, we’ll call her Mona.
Mona lived the farthest away, up in a mountain with a gravel road. June loaned me her Jeep and off we went, Tiffany, Linda, and I. The country roads were beautiful, with trickling creeks and breathtaking views. Kevin had hooked me up with Google maps and the location of Mrs. Mona. It lead us right to her, no problems! The only problem we had once we got there was that there was a mountain on one side of us, and a straight down cliff on the other! I literally prayed for safety and stability as I wound down Mona’s drive way! The first thing we saw, as we pulled up in front of her house, was the grave of her husband, complete with funeral flowers, right in her front yard! City girl that I am, I couldn’t believe why anyone would want that reminder right in her front yard! To me, it would be like a knife, stabbing me every time I walked past it. But it was her yard, and we had to respect whatever it was she did or wanted.
We had chatted on the way about the person we would find here. What would she be like? Was she older? Was she quiet or would she be spunky? What could we possibly do that could fill that terrible hole in her heart? We’d decided, from the minimal things Kevin had told us, that she was spunky and she’d be fun to be around, after we lifted her spirits. But as we walked up her porch ramp to meet her, I began to get nervous. What if she didn’t like us? What if losing her husband had made her crabby and mean? How could we help her then? But the moment she opened her front door, even before we got to the top of her ramp, all of that nervousness went away! There stood an older lady with shoulder length salt and pepper hair and a big beautiful smile on her face! She welcomed each of us with a warm hug and asked us to come in. As we sat, Tiffany and Linda on the couch, Mona in a chair, and me on the floor (my usual comfy spot), it began to rain. We listened to the music of the rain on the tin roof as it fell, and I, remembering she wanted to get out of the house, envisioned us sliding off the side of the cliff, pushed over by the rain and the mud. So, again, I said a little prayer for safety and stability, and maybe that the rain would stop.
We talked for a bit and got to know Mona. Tiffany and Linda told them of how their loved one had recently passed and that they could understand what she was going through. As Mona told us how her “Bo” had passed, it reminded me of my father in law’s passing and I understood why God had me there. My father in law had only been gone a year. He had been in the hospital and then come out. We thought he was in the clear, but then we’d found out that he had blood poisoning from bed sours that he’d had. We lost him, and it was hard on us all, with all of our “if only’s”. Mona’s husband Bo had been in the hospital as well, and she’d brought him home, thinking he was going to be ok, only to realize that wouldn’t be the case. My heart ached for her. She told us that they had a conversation before he’d died about where to bury him.
He’d said, “Bury my over yonder.” Mona pointed out, beyond her front yard to where the creek was.
Mona replied, in her sweet Appalachian accent, “But there’s rocks over there. Ain’t nobody gonna be able to bury you there!”
Bo said, “Alright, that’s fine. Then just bury me wherever ya want to.”
She said she still needed him close, so, she buried him in the front yard where she could still talk to him and go visit him. There was a bench and chairs that I had missed on my way in, when I was so focused on the grave they surrounded. She said that was where they would sit together and just relax in the sun and enjoy nature. With him being so close, she could still enjoy that with him. I could tell that he might be gone in body, but he was still close in spirit. It touched me that her love for him was so strong that she still needed him near. I could see that my first assumptions were wrong, and I began to see the grave of her husband in a different light.
The rain eventually stopped, and we asked her where she would like to go for the day. She shot up straight in her seat, her whole face lighting up, and she looked like a child as she said, “Dairy Queen!” We all giggled and said that was exactly where we would go. As we walked out of her door, we ran into her three cats. She introduced us and I was drawn to one she had named Thumper. We asked why his name was Thumper and she said, “Because he thumps everywhere!”
We drove away from her house and noticed an old car body with trees growing out of the middle of it. Mona was amused at my thrill to see it. I stopped the Jeep and got out and took pictures. I told her that it reminded me of Harry Potter with his car and the Womping Tree. She said Bo and his brother had taken parts from it to fix another car and had just left it there. Now it’s part of Mother Nature’s artwork!
We got to Dairy Queen and ordered our ice cream. I told them that I had given up chocolate for Lent, which was a HUGE sacrifice for me and complete torture in places like this. Tiffany, who treats me like a sister, promptly told me how delicious her chocolaty ice cream was. BRAT! Mona giggled at her. She mostly stayed quiet and just took in everything around her. I worried that we were talking too much, that she didn’t feel included in our conversation. I wanted her to feel relaxed and welcomed into whatever we said. I wanted to get her mind off of anything that bothered her. Yet, there we were, discussing our husbands and children. Was she ok with this conversation, I wondered?
We finished our ice cream and she said she’d like to go to the grocery store. She seemed to everyone there! They all said hello and asked how she was doing. She smiled politely and said she was fine, and moved on. Tiffany, amazed with the prices of meats and produce in the store, proclaimed that she was moving down there so she could shop in that store! Mona smiled at our amazement.
Towards the end of the grocery store visit, Mona’s eyes lit up with child-like amusement. “Angie, lookie there!” she said as she pointed.
“What am I looking at?” I curiously asked, looking around.
“Lookie over there, too! And there!”
“What? What am I looking at?”
“It’s chocolate! It’s over there, too!” She dutifully pointed out all of the chocolate I couldn’t have and then laughed herself silly at her own joke.
I laughed and told her, “You are not a nice person! Why do you enjoy torturing me?! You and Tiffany both!! God help me!” We laughed some more and then I went around the check outs to wait for her at the front of the store.
We left the grocery and she said she wanted to go to the dollar store, so we stopped by Family Dollar. As we walked around, we somehow lost Tiffany and Linda. Mona pointed it out and asked if we should go looking for them. “NO!” was my reply. “Now I have you all to myself, and I don’t have to share you!” She laughed and asked if she should be worried. I smiled and told, “Maybe yes, maybe no.” And then I winked at her. Too bad Tiff showed up shortly after. I was really enjoying Mrs. Mona! She fit right in with our personalities. She was definitely spunky and full of life! There were moments that you could see her hurt as plain as the nose on her face, but she was so happy and content that those moments passed quickly, and it wasn’t long before she was teasing one of us or just smiling at our shenanigans. She might have been quiet, but I was quickly learning that all she really wanted was to be around people, to listen to someone else talk and be welcomed into the conversation whenever she had something to add to it. I couldn’t help but fall head over heals in love with her. She was cute and so much fun to be around. There was a spark in her that drew you to her like a magnet.
The day was drawing to an end, and we drove her home. As we walked her up the ramp, there came a loud pitter-patter behind us, as if a large dog were following us. I turned to see Thumper as he passed me. Facing forward, there was Mrs. Mona smiling her big, beautiful smile. “See? Thumper!” It totally made sense now! There was no quiet in that cat. He was definitely my kind of cat!
We helped her get settled into her house and we told her we really enjoyed her and that we would come back to visit soon. Tiffany and Linda asked if it would be ok to go down and say goodbye to Bo, too. Mona seemed touched and said yes, of course. I was worried about the darkness, so I got right into the car, thinking they would be quick. But when they didn’t come, I got out to see what they were doing. I found Tiffany praying at Bo’s grave, with tears in her eyes, and Linda in a similar way. I was moved by their hearts and the way they already seemed to love Mona, and had such an affinity for Bo, whom neither had ever met. I was moved by the fact that they took the time to stop and pray for this couple that we had only just met. It was a reminder to me to stop and smell the roses, as they say. I was reminded that this wasn’t just about getting Mona’s mind off of it. It was about taking care of Mona’s heart, and she had such a big, beautiful, joyful heart. She waited on the porch and waved to us with a sad smile and an “I love ya’ll. Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” as we got into the car and drove away. She stayed there on that porch until we were out of sight. My heart was sad, and yet over flowing, all at the same time. How could you care so quickly and so deeply about someone you just met? But, somehow, she had snuck her way into our hearts.
We were worried about being late for dinner, but I couldn’t speed on these windy country roads. We chatted about the day and how wonderful it been. We were all definitely amazed at how much we felt we had been blessed. We had gone down to bless someone else and had ended up getting blessed ourselves! It’s crazy how God works that way!
As we were speeding along the best we could, we came upon an accident! It was a bright blue car laying on it’s side, that had seemingly just driven off the road and through the guard rails. My heart leaped into my throat and I quickly pulled down the street next to the car and into the first driveway. My thought was, “Here’s our next mission from God! Save this person before the car explodes!!!” My heart pounding, I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough! I nervously fumbled with the seat belt and finally was free. Beside me, Tiffany was jumping out of the car and was running around the backside, ready for action. I was half way out of the car, one foot in, one foot out, when we both noticed the large, unmistakable traffic cones at the edge of the road. How could we have missed that?! We breathed a sigh of relief and looked at each other. Pictures!!! No one was going to believe this! After snapping a few, we got back into the car and drove the rest of the way back to the mission.
We burst through the front doors. “Girls! You are NOT going to believe what we just saw!” We told them of the car we had just seen and they began to laugh. What’s so funny? They had just done the EXACT same thing, right down to the driver having one foot in and one foot out before realizing it was an older accident. We laughed together and then compared pictures. They were exactly the same! Too funny! I couldn’t help but wonder, was that a test from God? Did we pass? I sure hope so!
Dinner was divine! I had expected peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or pasty spaghetti from a package. Something that was barely edible, since we were on a mission trip. I had thought that was what Missionaries ate. How wrong I was! Instead, we had salad with anything you wanted on top, bourbon chicken, cheese covered tomatoes, potato wedges and green beans! Then, for dessert, we had vanilla pudding with bananas and Nilla wafers. We sat at fold up picnic table while we ate and enjoyed our conversations and fellowship. We met another group of people from Mississippi that had been there already and were heading out the next day. They regaled us with stories of their time there, and I truly enjoyed our conversation. Many of them were teenagers, and I was amazed at the bright God-light shining from them already. What a true blessing these kids were! What a bright future they must have!
Then, we all went into our room and sat in a circle and told each other about our day and our experiences on our missions. It was amazing how much we all seemed to receive. I had always thought the mission was about the people we were going to help. Not that they were any less than any of us. We are all equally loved children of God and we all have times of trouble, or times of need. I was just going down to do my share to help out. But I truly hadn’t thought about what I would receive in return. To me, it really was all about whomever it was that we would meet. But, as we all told our stories, each one of us said that we had also been blessed. We’d been blessed with a feeling of love, and of accomplishment. One friend said that all she did was sit with her lady, as the lady stroked her arm and just seemed to want some kind of human touch. It’s actually very hard for me to explain exactly what I was feeling as I sat there listening to the events of the day, and how they affected my friends, but it was like nothing I had ever felt before. We had devotions and listened to worship music and talked for awhile. We had planned to play a game, but we were enjoying each other so much, we never got a chance to. We all went to bed that night exhausted, but feeling satisfied with what we had done that day.
As I said my evening prayers, I asked God to bless Mona and to help her to heal and be ok with the life she would now lead. I asked that He would send her people to take care of her and that she would never feel lonely. I also told Him that if He wanted some alone time with me in the morning, He better wake me up early. My phone was plugged in on the other side of the room. I didn’t want to bother anyone with my alarm, since it would take me some time to climb down from my tower and get to it. He must have liked that idea, because He woke me up at 6:00 the next morning, before anyone else. I sat and read my Bible for an hour before anyone from my group even got us. I reveled in the warmth of everything that had happened so far, and we hadn’t even been there 24 hours. What would this new day bring? What blessings did God have in store for us? We would soon find out!