“Mountain Reflections” Blog

(Note:  All names have been changed to protect the identity of those we serve.

A Day (By The Numbers) In The Life of An Appalachian Missionary

by Barbara Duncan

Most, if not all, of my days begin with expectation. I wake up early expecting the house to be quiet, expecting to sit down in my chair with my Bible to spend time with my God. I expect the lights will come on when I flip the switch and that hot water will spring out of the shower head when the faucet is turned on. Often in life I have been advised to lay my fears and worries at the foot of the cross. I wonder if I should not also lay my expectations there.

When I recall Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." ESV. I see that God knows the plans He has for me. But, certainly there are times that I don't know those plans. It leaves me pondering the deep connection that must exist between God's hope and my expectations.

Suffering and disappointment are truly potentiated by expectations. A quick mental inventory of some of my own disappointments reveal a life that is where I never expected it to be. yet, it is not a life without hope. Indeed, God's plans for my life, although different from my own plans, have afforded me a deeper and richer life. And, I see that any problems lie within my expectations and not within the plans of God.

So, as I start my day, immersed in my own expectations, my endeavor will be to give way to the plans of God. Let's share the day together, shall we?

4:30 am to 7:00 am Arise, study, pray, reflect

7:00 am to 7:15 am Breakfast

7:15am to 7:40 am Answer and send emails

7:40 am to 7:50 am Fold a load of whites. Put on a load of towels to wash

7:50 am to 8:19 am Shower and dress

At 8:19 am, I answer the second phone call of the morning. It is Linda returning my call from two days prior. She has "been to Lexington...got back late last night...the Drs. drained 9 liters of fluid from David's abdomen...he has cirrhosis...too far gone...6-12 months...need a will...a living will, too.

She doubts her faith lately....knows this is David's last mile...Doctor told him to quit his job....missed 8 days last month....wants to work as long as he can....can't work for 48 hours after having his belly pumped....don't know what we're gonna do."

About this time I notice the sound of rain falling hard against the window.

"I've talked to Joey," she said. "Even though he's only 12, I thought he should know....he doesn't want to know...said if it wasn't good news to not tell him....told him we had to be savin' as possible....all the Christmas you'll git is up at the center....we'll be lucky to have food, water, and lights....David tires out quick now....sleeps for hours off and on throughout the day....been going on since last winter....we just didn't know it was his liver....not a candidate for a transplant.

I've been tryin' to gather up enough fire wood to do the winter....used 9 loads last year and it wasn't enough....everybody's sayin' it's gonna be a bad winter....I'm gonna have to try and buy some up before David............that chainsaw just kills my back."

A moment of silence allows me time to ask what some of her specific needs are.

"I really need a kitchen table," she answers. "Last winter I had to bust up the old one for the wood....it was down to 20 degrees and we was freezin'....we 'bout froze to death....David was too sick to cut any and I couldn't git out and leave him....I sure missed that table when I was cannin'....and I sure could use a dryer....I have a washin' machine but I've been hangin' clothes all over the kitchen....have a lot more laundry since David's been sick....

If we can make it til David gits his disability....truck payment $245 a month....will need at least 2 more loads of wood....his mom tries to help us a little....I'm makin' $330 a month sitting with Ms. Jones....Well, I have to go....told her I'd be there by 11:00."

I asked Linda if we could pray. Her answer was, "I'll take all the prayers we can git." For a moment, I was ashamed to ask her. On the surface, I'll pray for you, seems kind of lame when stacked up against all the problems she's facing, but the hard truth is that prayer is sometimes all we have to give. We hung up the phones at 8:54 am. Pausing for a moment, I laid my head in my hands and prayed again.

8:59 am and I'm out the door to the center.

9:00 am - 3:00 pm - I help Hilton ready the pantry for people and make up some food boxes in anticipation of the busy day. My first Christmas sign up arrives and is followed by 34 more throughout the day. I answer another 12 calls including my routine Wednesday call from Alice, a learning disabled sweetheart from Clark Holler. Her voice sings.

"How ya' doin' Barb?....my sister Mary died....my dog sure is gettin' big....Can you bring me some clothes and some of that good beef stew and chili?...The kitten is gettin' mean, Barb."

I have a soft spot in my heart for Alice, who looks like she's maybe in her late 30's, but has a mental capacity of perhaps a 7 or 8 year old. She lives with an older sister, Ruth, and an older brother, Glenn, in 1 very small house at the end of a long gravel road. None of the 3 were ever married. We met 4 or 5 years ago when one of our mission teams came to do work on their home.

It was then that I learned of Alice and Ruth's love of fashion magazines. The highlight of their month was walking to the end of the gravel road to check the mail box and find their "picture book". Alice worries about Ruth's breathing and I worry about Alice and what will happen to her when Ruth passes.

Margie slides into the chair just across the table from me and picks up an ink pen. She doesn't speak, as is normal for her, but sits waiting for me to instruct her on what to do next to have her children sponsored for Christmas. I explain that we need clothing sizes, shoe sizes, and ask her if the kids need a coat. I notice that she has that familiar look of deep sadness. I presume to blame it on her losing her husband to cancer 2 1/2 years ago and to raising 3 children on her own in deep poverty.

Her kids play loudly about 15 feet away at a Foosball table. The oldest, a girl, is now 12, her younger sister is 6 and a younger brother is 8. Margie seems oblivious to the noise of the game and continues to write in silent sadness as Nina bursts up behind her. Margie's pen never leaves the paper and her head doesn't move even the slightest.

I ask Nina how her mom is doing? She proceeds to tell me that she and her mom will be "having the holidays alone....Elvin is still in jail....trial going good....2nd degree murder....he has a good lawyer now....Charlie is in jail, too....stole over $65,000 worth of metal....didn't even pay off his house or car....drugs....has nothing to show for it and they picked up Jeff Saturday and took him to jail....Charlie lookin' at 5 years."

Margie mechanically lays down her pen and slides the papers across the table toward me. I jot down the party day and time on a slip of paper and hand it to her. Nina continues with her story as Margie moves like a ghost past her and gathers up the children from the Foosball table and silently slips into the shadows.

1:30 pm and we have given out food for roughly 180 people. The thrift store has 6 ladies stuffing clothing into trash bags as I munch on peanut butter crackers and a stick of cheese. Another lady pulls into the parking lot and I lead her to the table for Christmas sign ups as she talks about her 2 granddaughters who are both in the hospital. Sierra just recently had a double lung transplant and is now having problems and Brianna, who also has Cystic Fibrosis is at UK hospital being treated for a lung infection.

As 3:00 pm closes in, I find myself writing out bills and preparing some paperwork for mailing while Hilton empties trash, cleans commodes, sweeps floors and readies the center for youth group in a few hours.

4:10 pm. I grab my camera bag and head out to Dobbs Holler. The ride gives my legs a chance to rest and my thoughts a chance to catch up with my body. The rain has stopped now and low gray clouds bunch together in the sky. It's a sad sky, I think to myself. A sad sky for a sad story. I had dreaded making this trip down to check on Josh and Teresa. Josh has cancer; Hodgkin's lymphoma with metastasis to the bones, the lymph nodes and the aorta. The prognosis is poor. Very poor.

He had to quit his job due to his health and he and his wife and 3 kids are now living with his in-laws in the holler. According to Teresa, "Josh took his 2nd chemo and radiation treatments today....blood count at 1.5....can't touch him....might bleed out." Josh is sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of a small wooden framed building. Smiling. His new home. 2 men are working feverishly in an electric box while 2 others sit leaned up against the wall talking about hunting and fishing.

Looking around the 14 ft. x 31 ft. building, I take in Josh's dream. He dreams of having a home for Teresa and the kids, before.........He wants Spud, Holly, and Hannah to have a place to stay. I sigh. It's heart wrenching to think about. Dying. So young and with 3 little children and a wife to leave behind to....fend for themselves, to survive, without him.

I wander outside trying to cast off the dark shadows. It's then that I see Holly. At about 5 years of age she's too young yet to know the depths of sorrow she's wading into. Her eyes sparkle with innocence and hope. A smile, bittersweet, steals across my face. She sees the camera that hangs from my shoulder. She stops and poses. When I realize she is waiting on me to take her picture, I grab my camera and begin ticking shot after shot as she rocks from side to side smiling. Funny, I thought, about how quickly our moods can swing from to despair to delight and then back again.

Teresa stands beside me now. Her eyes look down the one lane dirt and gravel road, but somehow, I can tell she's not seeing it. She's seeing something farther away....Snapping more pictures of the building, her new home, I promise to see if I can find help, knowing that most of our build teams have already come and gone for the year and that by this time next year it will probably be too late....for Josh.

As I turn to go she thanks me and hugs me timidly. She has never been one to show much emotion, nonetheless, to offer a hug. I could feel restraint, still, in her embrace. Backing out of the driveway I catch a glimpse of Holly and Hannah playing in the sand beside the road. Teresa stands in the middle of the road looking back up the hill to her new home. I feel sorrow in a deep place within me. I remember having both she and Josh in my Sunday School class less than 10 years ago. I remember their shy courtship and early days of sparkin'.

Just yards down the road, Homer's driveway looms wide with 6 or 8 dogs running and barking as I pull in. The house looks emptier than usual. No one sits on the porch and no grand kids are playing in the yard. As I start to step up onto the porch, a voice from inside the house beckons me to, "Come on in." It was Homer's voice, raspy from his lungs. Peeping inside the screenless open doorway, I find Homer sitting in his usual spot on the end of the couch by the window.

"Come on around and git ye a seat," he directs. His wife Cora comes around the corner and we sit down in the tiny living room as Homer asks about "ever one up on the ridge." His breathing seems harder than usual and he explains that he has a 9 mm growth on his lung. Cora looks at me and says, "It's been there a long time."

By now, Homer is talking about his peppers and his peaches. Peaches were so good this year that they broke down the limbs on his trees. He spits tobacco juice into an old metal can. It reminds me of my Papaw. Homer and he favored each other a lot and I noticed that Homer sat on the end of his seat just like my Papaw used to. I wondered if it was because of their poor breathing.

I asked Homer how the ginseng hunting went this year. He "hadn't got to go none....couldn't breathe good enough to get around....Cora had been....her and Jake." For the briefest moment his gaze seemed far away, similar to the one Teresa had displayed a few minutes earlier. Homer is getting old, I think to myself. I know I will miss his stories about growing up with my Papaw....about their moonshinin' days.

Homer speaks, "I bought an old radio off of Gurs' once. Paid 'em $6 for it. The 2 of us packed that thing down by Alum Cave all the way to Wolf Creek. That thing was heavy too....stood 'bout this high," he said while measuring up about 3 feet off the floor.

5:52 pm to 6:11 pm. I ride back towards home across Skull Bone road. The truck clanks as it chugs across one pothole after another. The sun is setting to the right of me, but the low dark clouds hide most of its light. My thoughts crowd in to one another. I can't concentrate on one thing....Teresa's face, Holly's smile, David's belly....Linda's table....I mean how desperate doyou have to be to chop up and burn your kitchen table to keep warm?...Joey....Josh....that smile.

Over the course of the 20 minutes back home, I realize that I'm exhausted suddenly. Back home in my own driveway, I sit for a moment....collecting....collecting my things and my thoughts....collecting the strength to move. Time to fix supper.

7:39 pm. After supper I make another round through my emails, answer a few and send a few. I print off some papers to do first thing in the morning and I call a lady about getting some insulation for Josh and Teresa's house. Of course, there is no answer. It's 8:00 at night. I pick up my pen and pad and head for the porch. Ever since my illness in 1995, I promised myself to spend some time on the porch every day that the weather cooperated.

The cool, still, night favors Fall more than Summer, I think as I settle into my seat. Feeling something underneath me, I reach in between the cushions and pull out a 12 gage Remington shotgun shell that one of the boys must have lost out of his pocket after squirrel hunting. Leaning back I realize just how tired I am and I remind myself that it's way too early to go to bed....so I close my eyes and pray....and ponder....

If there's anything I've learned about being a missionary, it's that no day is typical. Today was far different from yesterday and tomorrow will likely be far different from today; each day having its own particular tasks and trials to wade through. Some days will even hold moments of deep belly laughter and joy.

I'm learning more and more to seek the serenity that only comes from God and to trust His plans and His ways. But, it's hard. Each day holds a thousand stories too hard for the telling, but somebody has to tell them....and today, that somebody is me.

So, as 10:30 pm finally comes, I lay my head onto my pillow.

Now I lay me down to sleep.....I pray the Lord..................

Third World America

Cathy met me at the door with a dish towel in her hands.  "Come on in if you can get in." She said while holding the door open for me.  Her hair was disheveled and her face glistened with sweat.

I stepped into the living room and noticed it's low 6 foot tall ceilings. I felt the urge to duck when I passed underneath a lone light bulb in the center of the room. The room had only 1 small window and it was dark for a sunny day.

"It's right through here," she said as she directed me into the bathroom through the kitchen. I followed her into a 6 by 6 room with a commode, a sink, and a bathtub filled with dingy water. The look on her face told me that she was embarrassed to tell me the truth.

Slowly, she relayed that the runoff from the mine had ruined the well and that the whole family was sharing the same bath water.

She didn't have to say more.  Six people sharing the same tub full of bath water. My thoughts immediately drifted to third world countries as I stood looking for the right words to say. I don't think I ever found them.

At the next Fiscal Court meeting, I stood to ask the Judge what could be done about the water situation in the county. He answered truthfully that little could be done due to the dire financial situation of the county. I appealed again stating that this was America not a third world country.

To my chagrin, my request for help was not to be granted. Helplessly I continued putting one foot in front of the other while looking for ways to help this family with their water woes.

Many months later we got word that the County had been awarded a grant to bring clean water to the "holler". I was elated to hear the news, but had plenty of time to think of this family as it took more than a year for fresh water to finally be pumped into their home.

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