Monday, March 24, 2008

An Encounter In The Mountains

A few weeks ago I was at the cabin sitting on the porch. It was right after the time change and our clocks had “sprung forward” one hour, giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evenings. As I sat there pondering, the thought occurred to me that I should try and find the nearest Church of God, since, after all, I am an Ordained Bishop in this organization.

So – up and out of my rocking chair – I shut off the water pump powered by the solar powered batteries, un-hooked the hose pipe that is attached to the 50 gallon barrel of water, put out the camp-fire, closed the blinds, shut off the propane gas, pad-locked the door and started out “ramblin’” in my pick-em-up truck to where I thought I had remembered seeing the church. However, when I arrived at the road leading to the Norwood Hill area, which is where I had remembered the church sign being, I did not see the familiar Church of God sign. Was I turned around? I wondered…for I have a habit of becoming be-wildered. So I just drove in the direction I thought I remembered the church to be. Well…when I arrived at what I thought was the building, I noticed that the main part of the sign (about 4 feet by 4 feet) was missing. Across the top of the frame though was a sign in red letters “Leonard Evans Memorial”. “Hmmm,” I thought. Some thing is not right here. I drove up into the parking lot anyway and got out of my truck as it was a beautiful spring day. As I stepped down from my truck I noticed that there were two 500 gallon gas tanks beside the church. “That’s not right,” I mused. I walked over to the church door and tried the door-knob. Locked… Just as I thought.

As I turned and started back to my truck I first heard and then saw a red late model Buick start up, back out of a drive about 100 yards away and head furiously towards where I was. This made me delay getting all the way into the truck, so standing on the bumper step with the door open I waited until a very country appearing woman got out of her car and said in an almost demanding manner, “Can I help you?”

“Nah,” I said. “I’ve bought a cabin near here and was just out knocking about, gettin’ acquainted with my neighbors.” I continued, “I thought this was a Church of God church here but I must have been mistaken. Do you know where the Church of God is located near here?”

“Yes! This is whur it wuz. But they done took up and left. Tuk ever-thang with em too. They lef 7 good members out here too, includin me and my husband.”

I don’t really remember just exactly how we first got to talking about it but I must have mentioned to her that I had started my pastoral career in Tellico Plains, about 15 miles or less from where we were standing. Maybe because of the “Leonard Evans Memorial” I mentioned that Lucinda Evans was a member of mine. One of the most faithful and godly women I had ever known was Lucinda Evans. Well, Leonard Evans was one of her many children. Although I had not known Leonard, I mentioned Lucinda’s sons Jack and Lewis Evans whom I had known as the boys who lived in Tellico Plains and that Lewis was the one who really took care of his mother.
“Welllllll, my husband, Gene Wallace, is Lucindy's gran-son and he is sittin right thar on th porch. Go up and speak to him if you want to.”

“O.K., I believe I will.” So I drove up to the yard, walked up on the porch and introduced myself. After a string of general niceties were spoken I mentioned that I worked for the World Missions department of the Church of God. I was not prepared for what happened next.

“Well, said he, I know one thing! They ain’t nothing but a bunch of liars, thieves, and whore-mongers!” There followed a continual volley of words which echoed off the hills like rifle shots, full of “vengeance is mine and I will repay”. This man was so full of hurt and pain and sour words that it was hard for me to listen to. While he talked he mentioned two men whom he kept calling Mr. Van Hoos and Mr. Green. “I’ll never call them brother again,” he growled, “Nothin but thieves and whore-mongers. I caught im twice, right down thar at that church!”

“I’m sorry, Brother. I can see that you have been hurt and that it’s been a painful experience for you. But you know what? It’s not good for you to be so full of this hurt. I’ll pray that God will take this bitterness out of you. You know the Bible says that we should be careful lest a root of bitterness spring up and thereby many be defiled. -- By the way, Who is this Mr. Green you keep talking about? And you say he’s connected with the missions department?”

“Why it’s Mr. Green. He’s over the mission department!”

“Whoaaaaa.,” said I, “Mr. Green is not over our mission department. I work for the missions department and our leader is named Vaughan.”

“Well, this is Mr. Dewayne Green.”

“Oh. I see. You mean the state of Tennessee office and he is head of the state evangelism department. I do know him! Anyway – I’m truly sorry that you’ve had all of these unpleasant experiences. You know what Jesus said? He said that we should love our enemies, and pray for them. He said that we should bless those who persecute and say all manner of evil against us falsely and that we should rejoice and be exceeding glad. I think God wants you to have gladness in your hearts and not this hurt and pain. Do you mind if I pray for you before I go?”

After praying that God would forgive those who had done wrong, no matter who they were, I prayed that God would take away the pain from this couple and let the peace of Jesus settle on their spirits and cause their words to become sweet and encouraging words to all whom they would meet.

As I took my leave and got back into my truck I thought of how many times I have been hurt and how easy it was to become critical of others and how gratifying it seemed then to spread the news of all the wrongs which had been done against me. I also remembered a couple of occasions when God sent someone along to minister His love and forgiveness to me and I hope I have helped this couple today to reflect on their current behavior and learn to forgive. After all – forgiveness is a requirement if we expect to be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15)