A Sabbatical Story: Part 2

Picking up where I left off from Part 1, we completed our pilgrimage along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail by visiting three crime scenes where racially-motivated murders took place. In Jackson, Mississippi, Medgar Evers was gunned down in his own driveway as his wife and children looked on. In the tiny crossroads of Money, Mississippi, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy visiting from Chicago was tortured, murdered, and mutilated by two white men for whistling at a white woman. Emmett's mother had an open casket at her son's funeral so that everyone could see what they had done to her boy. His killers, though identified by eyewitnesses, were acquitted after just sixty-seven minutes of deliberation. And finally, we ended our journey in Memphis on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. What a legacy of hatred and bigotry.

It will take me weeks and months to process everything I have seen and felt during this long pilgirmage, but I know I am grateful for the experience, not only better informed but also gaining a deeper understanding of the human heart. I have seen the depths of human depravity and the heights of human aspiration, the worst and the best in people like us. And, I have learned that the seeds of both are present in every human heart, and the seeds that sprout and bear fruit are the ones we nurture and water in ourselves and in the hearts of our children. As Jesus warned, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matt. 7:19-20 NIV)

Arriving back in Missouri, I began a week of visiting the people and places that were significant and formative in my early life and ministry. What a wonderful week it was, spending time with family and friends that God used to bless my life, to keep me between the ditches, to challenge me to reach higher and work harder than I ever would on my own.

Mom and I attended worship at First Baptist, Grandview, where Dad served and where I was called and ordained to the ministry. I hadn't been back since our wedding day in 1982, and the pastor was gracious to let me say a few words, expressing my thanks to the congregation for their contribution to my life.

My brother Jerry and I drove up to Maryville, where we were born and lived until we were seven and nine. We walked around our old house and neighborhood, our elementary school, and then visited Laura Street Baptist Church where Dad served for fifteen years.

I had lunch one day with Jerry Cain who was campus minister at William Jewell beginning my freshman year. What an encourager Jerry was as I tried my wings in ministry, always pushing me out there, giving me amazing opportunities far beyond my experience, challenging me to stretch and grow along the way. If I subtract Jerry from the equation of my beginning in ministry, I'm not sure it would have added up to much. It felt good to tell him so.

Driving north to Nettleton and Hamilton, I visited the first country church I served as pastor while I was a student at Jewell. The church is closed now as most of the members migrated into town to attend First Baptist in Hamilton. It was sad to see the old building overgrown with trees and brush, now part storage, part haybarn. While I was pastor, little Nettleton Baptist Church celebrated its centennial, 1882-1982, a hundred years of ministry in this tiny crossroads along the railroad from Hannibal to St. Joseph. But time goes by, and people move on, and after all, it's the people who make up the church.

Speaking of the people, I had dinner with Bill Ford who was a young deacon at Nettleton when I was there. In fact, it was Bill who invited me to Nettleton, the first person to ever call me "Pastor." He has been my friend ever since. His son, Brian, who I baptized as a boy, followed me to Jewell and into the ministry, serving on my staff, and later on becoming a pastor to my own grown sons. See how the blessings of God come back around? I was pleased to have this chance to have dinner with Bill and Debbie and express my gratitude face to face. I have never been more anxious to pick up the check.

I've had more visits and conversations than I can share with you in this post. I spent time in Windsor, Sedalia, Smithton, Lamar, and Lee's Summit with special people and old friends who have lightened my load and blessed my life along the way. And there are many others who are beyond my reach who I must thank long distance. For all of you, near and far, please know, "I thank my God for every remembrance of you." (Phil. 1:3 NIV)

So, at the halfway mark of my sabbatical, I am feeling inspired and very blessed. After our family reunion this weekend, I will settle down to do some writing, no more road trips for a while. Stay tuned. I appreciate you coming along.


LisaatLeisure said…
You are making good use of your time, Drew.

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