God has so very many persons that will touch the lives of His servants to form and fashion His men and their ministries according to His sovereign plan and purpose. One such person in my life, when I was a very young man in training for ministry, was Miss Walker.
It was in my sophomore year in Bible School when the director of the ministerial class called my good friend, Tom Kent, and myself into his office with an opportunity of service. He had received a “Macedonian call” of sorts from an elderly, single missionary who lived on Roan Mountain in western North Carolina. She had been a Presbyterian missionary all of her adult life, and she was living by herself in what might best be described as a “cabin” that had a mountain creek that ran under the house so that the house she lived in was like a bridge over the creek. It was quaint and neat, we thought, except at night when you heard all sort so weird and unidentifiable sounds.
Her communication with Dr. Stenholm was that there were young people that she had a burden for living on the mountain that needed Christ and she wondered if there might be some “preacher boys” in the university, Bob Jones University, that might be able to come up and lend a hand in helping her to reach these young people. She recognized that her years of active service were now behind her, but she still had a burden for the young people that would follow her. Tom and I were open to the possibility of going to see what and how we could assist.
We made a trip to Bakersfield and from there on to the top of the mountain where a typical brick church house with a white steeple was perched. We found, on our way up the hill, where Miss Walker lived and eventually made our way to her “cabin,” where she invited us in to get acquainted. We knew immediately that she was a godly, elderly woman whose body was worn out but whose heart burned with a desire to reach the young people who were her neighbors. We knew that if God could use us to build upon what she had done, we were able and willing. Tom and I had been involved, prior to our attending BJU, in ministries directed to young people, especially in summer VBS programs. We had, for a brief time, served, in a revitalization effort, as “co-pastors” of a dying, if not dead, Baptist Church in my hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa. So, we accepted the invitation and were ready to take up the challenge as God would lead.
We attended the church on top of the mountain, and for some reason, the welcome that we received from the pastor and many of the regulars was pretty tepid. Frankly, we summed it up as a nice little congregation of folks who were comfortable with who they were and what they were doing and really were not too concerned about having any help in reaching the youth who were not attending their services. They did not ask us not to come back, so we proceeded in trying to establish relationships with the young people, inviting them to attend the services. We were afforded in time a room in the basement of the church where we could teach a Sunday School class to the young people who did attend.
One family was kind to invite us to stay all night in their home any time we chose to come up on a Saturday. The drive was about three hours, so we did at times drive up on Saturday evening, stopping in Burnsville where we had made acquaintance with a sweet elderly couple who had fried chicken on the table for us to enjoy even when we got there after they had gone to bed, and comfortable beds to sleep in. We did, of course, thankfully accept their hospitality and, after a delicious North Carolina breakfast early Sunday morning, would trek on up to Roan Mountain to minister to the young people that we were establishing relationships with.
To be transparent, we loved the weekend “extension” ministry, but we also loved an alternative to attending the campus, formal worship service. The Sunday services at BJU, required then, were very special, with the best of music and good preaching, but they were a bit more formal that the little mountain church would have and the latter was frankly a breath of fresh air that we were thankful for!
One family on the mountain was particularly poor and the children were especially hard to reach with what seemed to be a barrier that they had put up between us. They were rough and tough by appearance, but week after week, by simply trying to befriend them, we saw that barrier evaporate. They seemed to look forward to our coming. They began to show up for church. One Sunday morning, rounding the bend that wound by their house, a chicken ran across the road in front of us and it was impossible to miss hitting it. We stopped, apologized and made sure that the dead hen was taken away, then proceeded on to Sunday School. Later, at church, the oldest and once toughest son, said that we were invited to dinner at their house that day if we’d like to come. Of course we took that as an “open door” and accepted the invitation. The dinner was chicken and dumplings. The house was totally open, doors and windows, to any critter that happened to drop in, like another chicken, pig or whatever. We were thankful for the invitation to strengthen our ties with these precious people, but we were thereafter always careful when passing their house on the bend to give way to any errant chickens—so as not to get another invitation to Sunday dinner of chickens and dumplings. We were not quite ready at that point in our training for missionary service!
Many other interesting things occurred during the months we labored on Roan Mountain, including a proposal written to me by a mother offering her daughter’s hand to me in marriage if I wanted to elope with her. I of course was not interested and have often remembered that an as attempt by a loving mother, again in a very poor situation, wanting a better life for her daughter.
We thank God for Miss Walker. We did make inroads with the youth there, but unhappily the church never did embrace us or them. We learned early on in our ministry preparation that some churches have lost their vision for evangelism and for our youth. Thankfully, the aged Miss Walker never did.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Provs. 29:18)
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