Written by Jessica Long
One of the biggest ideas that impacted me during our pilgrimage was the concept of seeking God’s will first. We heard about it in sermons, from the nationals, partners and exiles that we met. Many times we assume that the good things, reasonable things, practical things that we want are what God wants, but God’s will works in God’s timing. Seeking his will (and letting go of our plans) brings us closer to him.
In worship, we learned about Saul who was impatient and decided that what he perceived as the need of the group (starting battle before the warriors wandered off) was more important than waiting on God’s prophet to come bless them. When they went ahead of God, things didn’t go so well and Saul’s reign as king started going downhill.
One exile we met, said that after having to flee his home country he was very worried about how he would continue to serve God. He had a good ministry in a dangerous country, but when he had to move to a safer place for the sake of his family he worried that he had lost his opportunity to serve God. God provided a new opportunity in the new place to share Jesus with people who would have been otherwise very difficult reach.
Seeking God’s will first relies on a firm knowledge that God will take care of our needs and that he loves us, even when it's hard to see where he is taking us.
Written by George Gutshall
I must admit that when I got on the plane at Dulles for our trip to Turkey I was not at all sure what to expect. Sure, I had a picture of what we would see during the “tourist” part of our trip – Bradley had provided us with links to videos about Istanbul, Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus – but the meeting at the conference was a giant question mark for me. We had talked about the conference being a “once in a lifetime” and a “life changing” experience but I was having trouble taking these broad concepts and molding them into an “on the ground” expectation.”
The fact that the first session at conference dealt with security brought the program into focus. How often do we give any consideration to security in this country? We certainly don’t worry about being seen going to Church on Sundays here at Forest Hills or talking about our faith at the mall, or sharing our beliefs in each others’ homes. But for the people beside us during this entire program these concerns were very real – this truly had the potential to be “once in a lifetime experience” for them since they face the possibility of persecution and prosecution every day and everywhere they go.
It also did not take long at all to realize that the people we were going to spend the next several days with took Jesus very, very seriously when he commanded them to go and make disciples of all nations and to teach them the things he had said to them. These people were giving their all to share the Good News with hungry souls in conditions that we simply cannot imagine from our comfortable sofas, easy chairs or pews.
I guess it is pretty clear that our trip brought me to view the vast majority of our fellow attendees at the conference as true heroes. They sacrifice and risk so much for the benefit of those who seek out our God. And the trip also brings me to question my own faith and dedication to spreading the Good News in my everyday life and to question whether I can live up to the examples these people face every day. May God bless each and every one of them.
Written by Mary Alice Ferguson
The Mission Visioning Trip to Turkey was the experience of a lifetime. The opportunity to walk where early Christians began their worship of Christ, to hear scripture read that was written to these churches, and to attend the conference where so many committed Christians from oppressed countries risked so much to worship and learn together with groups such as ours was simply overwhelming. The fact that I was sharing these experiences with valued friends from Forest Hills Presbyterian Church enriched the experience even more. We discussed the events of each day along with the joys and expectations for the coming day. It was my great pleasure and privilege to share a room with Betsy Haskins. Her company made the trip even better. Our accommodations were excellent, and we found the Turkish food to be an added bonus. The opportunity to be a representative of our church family is a memory I will cherish the rest of my life.
My interaction with other conference participants was another highlight for me. A lovely lady from one country tried to teach me a few words of Russian. The conference agenda began at 8:00 am with praise and worship. Then workshops and information sessions continued until 9:00 p.m. At the conclusion of the day, our FHPC group met to review the day. Typically, we discussed the prayers, information, joys, blessings, and fellowship of the day.
Of great interest to me were the Bible Story Tellers. Their method of teaching the stories of the Bible was by oral stories. Often the listeners cannot read or do not have a Bible. The Bible stories allow them to hear the word of God and to retell these stories to others in the community. This method also had the advantage that no physical evidence of worship could be used against them.
Some Christians from a region in Asia worshipped amid danger in underground churches. Some served as dedicated missionaries. Each did their mission in a way that brought blessings to the recipient of the word of Christ.
One message that became clear to me was that the need in this region of Asia is great. However, the people bringing the message of Christ there are great in their strength and their commitment.
In the final analysis, there were people from many countries who spoke different languages and had different cultural and economic backgrounds. Each person was proud of their country. Each person was optimistic. The atmosphere of joy and serenity was hard to define. But above all, the greatest unifying factor was faith and love.
Now I am home in Virginia with my family and FHPC. I am in awe of all that I experienced. I am humbled by this opportunity to represent this congregation. I thank each of you for your prayers and support of this mission.
Written by Liza Moore
Liza Moore was willing to share her response to the following question that she was asked in an application for Inter-Varsity Small Group leader at the College of William Mary:
How did you become a Christian? Describe some of the key experiences that have shaped your faith.
I grew up going to church so pinpointing a moment can be difficult, but I will do my best to describe why I can't live without Jesus. I have always felt a strong connection between God and the outdoors. My first time when I actively remember feeling God tugging at me was at church camp, Camp Hat Creek, which I attended for a week in the summer from 3rd grade to 5th grade. Each night we would have vespers and that first year in 3rd grade I was super homesick and yet at vespers each night I was entirely comforted in worshiping God. In middle school I was confirmed at my home church and professed my faith in Jesus as my Savior, but of course, the story never stops there.
I went on ski-trip conferences in middle school in the NC mountains and mission trips to NC beach slums. I have visited many National Parks with my family and without fail I am stunned by God's creation. I attended Montreat youth conferences in the mountains of North Carolina. God and the outdoors yet again, seems to always click with me. Romans 8:38 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. At each of these conferences, I would most likely end up in tears at some point, wondering why I have been so blessed and why God loves little old, selfish, stupid me. I would end up so overwhelmed by God's love for me that I (normally calloused to outward displays of emotion) would be in tears. I learned however, from these conferences and other activities that I will never fully understand why God loves me and wants me to know him, other than because I am His child, formed in His image with a desire for Him hardwired into my very soul. And since He loves me when I have done nothing to deserve His love, how can I (well all of us) respond in any other way than with unadulterated joy?
As a junior and senior in high school I began to more fully live into this joyous response to God's love for me. I led a bible study during lunch for senior year as well as worked regularly with the homeless in my town. Through my experience with Christ so far, I have been taught the value of every person: old, young, homeless, poor. I have been taught that if you are always comfortable, you are probably doing something wrong. I have been taught to not waste anything that I have been given or blessed with. I have been taught to seek God with all I have. I have been taught that following Jesus requires daily repentance and surrender. I look forward to the growth that my faith will have through leading a small group and I'm excited to see what God has in store.
Written By Lucy Moore
Childhood memories are oftentimes a blur, but I think God has a way of helping us to remember the people and experiences that are most important.
I spent my first nine years in a small town, Oxford, NC, which is really not too far from here. We lived in a small, relatively modern manse. Today not many Presbyterian churches have houses for their pastors to live in, but we lived in this one. I suppose it was a burden off of my parents to not be responsible for upkeep and maintenance, except for mowing the lawn of course. The church was only two blocks away and we could walk there if we wanted to.
I had two older brothers who seemed to always play together and leave me out, but I also had a dog, several girlfriends and my neighbor, Emeline Daniel, who I called Mrs. Nat. She lived in a ramshackle house that was easily accessible by walking on a short path next to my dad’s garden.
To a small child, anyone with gray hair and old shoes seems old, and as I think about it, I think she must’ve been in her sixties. Her husband was eighteen years older than she was and I remember when he turned 84 thinking he was absolutely ancient! Their house was in bad shape and kind of creepy. Their yard was full of rusty equipment and a broken down forgotten old car. I still remember pretending that the perfectly symmetrical small pieces of broken glass from the windshield were diamonds. Many of the rooms in the house were unused and I still think of her dark hallway when I smell ripe bananas, especially when the scent of coffee is mingled in. She and Mr. Nat kept warm in an upstairs room where we would sometimes sit and talk to Mr. Nat while she knitted. Mrs. Nat crafted me a red hat and matching sweater. I liked them so much and even had a picture taken of me sitting on my front steps wearing my new ensemble. It’s a shame there were no color photos then!
Mrs. Nat introduced me to paper dolls, puffed wheat, digital clocks and Tab, you know the first type of diet coke. I’ll never forget walking with her uptown and sitting at the counter at Roses and feeling so grown up as she ordered us both that delightful fizzy drink. I have warm memories too of sitting with her each Sunday in church since Mama was in the choir and, of course, Daddy was in the pulpit. I remember so well the quiet breathy way she’d sing the hymns and the way she’d position herself when it came time to hear the sermon.
On occasion she’d babysit and she taught me and always instructed me to say my prayers while on my knees next to my bed. My parents always let me say nighttime prayers aloud while I was lying down and almost ready to doze off and I remember feeling somewhat hassled by Mrs. Nat’s seeming requirement. Perhaps being wider awake is one of the benefits of being on your knees to pray!
In January 1970 I remember overhearing Daddy talking on the corded phone that hung on the wall inside our small kitchen and I could tell that something fairly major was up. Soon after, I received word that we were going to move to Virginia! My nine year old world was turned upside down and I will never forget the horror of Friday, February 13th! We had a valentine exchange at school and several kids gave me going away gifts before I rode home to get in our car and drive the dreaded route to Crewe, Virginia.
When would I get to walk uptown with Mrs. Nat and get another Tab? Who would I sit with in church and talk to about what was happening in my 4th grade life? I remember her attempted words of encouragement as she quoted a poem about new friends being silver and the other ones gold. I wonder now just how upset and sad she might have been at our family leaving town.
Moving was an adjustment that we made fairly well but I missed Mrs. Nat dreadfully. She visited us once in our new home and I don’t think I showed her the affection she was due. I was approaching the middle school years plus never really had any time with her alone where I could have poured out my emotions. Back then and in my family we didn’t do much of that anyway.
The next time I saw her I was much older and we visited her in the hospital where she soon died of leukemia. My forever friend was gone and I grieved many a night alone in my bed. I knew I would see her again in heaven, but as the years have gone by, I regret that I was never mature enough to articulate to her what she meant to me and how she was a foundational part of my knowing I was loved by God.
We serve a big God and I believe that she knows her impact.
Now I’m getting a few gray hairs of my own and according to my kids, I can wear some pretty old lady looking shoes. I know some young girls who are now at that same age that I was back in the sixties. What am I going to do? Can I do something as important for these girls as Mrs. Nat did for me? God says a resounding YES! There are so many Lucys out there waiting to embrace us and nothing is much more important than having our eyes open to seeing them. I want to be a Mrs. Nat and I want to love the Mrs. Nats that are out there too. Did I tell you how good Mrs. Nat’s hugs were? If we ever get too obsessed with weight gain, just remember that added weight is just helping making our hugs soft and squishy like Mrs. Nat’s! We affect children by the things we do and the words we say, and there are plenty of children who are ready to respond to our love and attention. I think we have a lot of Mrs. Nats among us! And there will always be a Lucy for you too.
Written by Debbie Whitlow
I have believed for most of my adult life that God speaks to us in many different ways. Sometimes, for me, it has been like a very subtle “something” nudging me in a certain direction, and at other times, it has been a much stronger sense of communication. I know that God has spoken to me through other people as well. I wish to share a very personal story, a time when it was apparent to me that God was speaking.
On Friday, August 21, 2009, my husband, John, and I had the daunting task of driving my stepfather, Mac McAllister, to the University of Virginia to see Mom, who was struggling with an unknown health issue. Dad was struggling with his own health issues and Parkinson’s, and it was unrealistic to be in Charlottesville the entire time due to his mobility problems. I had a bad cold myself, and didn’t want to give it to Mom, so I had returned home after taking her there for tests a few days earlier. My brother, Mike, had come to the rescue by driving from Atlanta and getting a room, so that he could be with Mom on a daily basis. On the night before this trip, Mike had called to inform us that Mom had had some sort of horrible respiratory attack, and from his panicked voice, I could tell the situation was dire, thus the trek to Charlottesville first thing Friday morning.
When we arrived at the hospital, Mike met us in tears, and told us that Mom was on a breathing machine, and that she was struggling. He prepared us as to what to expect when we saw her. She had indicated to him that she knew she was dying. We all cried, then gathered our emotions and headed to her room. Although Mom was covered in medical devices, I still thought she looked her beautiful self. She was the most wonderful mother a child could imagine. As most of you know, Mom and I had a very special relationship. We had the blessing of being best friends, as well as mother and daughter. The day was exhausting, filled with questions and very few answers. The doctors could not figure out what was causing Mom’s issues. At one point, late in the day, she was taken to the operating room for a procedure, and when she returned, she was still under the anesthesia. We decided to head back to Martinsville, as Dad was worn out, and I was feeling badly from my cold. Mike was staying, until I could come back on Sunday. He promised to call, if there was any change. Dad said that he wanted to say goodbye to Mom, even though she was out of it. I wheeled his chair up to the side of her bed. He stood up and gently reached for her hand. He said, “Goodbye, Sweet Pea, I love you”. I tried not to let Dad see my face.
On the way home, Dad sat in the front seat with John, and I sat in the back. I fought my emotions all the way from Charlottesville to Lynchburg, tears streaming down my face, but I didn’t want to upset Dad, so I tried very hard not to sob out loud. I could not get that picture of him holding her hand out of my mind. I had never been more distraught in my entire life, wondering if he had just said goodbye for the last time; wondering if I was about to lose my mother and best friend. I was overwhelmed with the most fear I had ever experienced in my life, and I truly felt that I was going to explode. This feeling, these thoughts, it was simply unbearable, and just when I thought I might lose my sanity, I happened to glance out the window.
Just to the east of us was the smallest cluster of dark clouds that must have just passed by minutes before. There was hardly any moisture on the road, and it had been a sunny trip both up and back, but there it was…the most beautiful double rainbow I had ever seen! I knew immediately it was meant for me. God might as well have shouted down to me, “I am with you all, child, as I have always promised.” In that moment, I experienced the most overwhelming feeling of just total peace. I could feel it up and down my spine. I suddenly knew that everything was going to be okay, that God was in control, and that He was with Mom. The relief was both instant and satisfying. I thanked Him for this blessing. I share this because we all face death and adversity, and it is so difficult to see the blessing through the tears. Our humanness can be so blinding, sometimes.
The days to follow were very difficult, but I felt God’s arms around me the entire time. Mom departed this earth on August 25. Oddly, the last gift that I ever opened from her was a Hallmark Christmas ornament of an angel. I remember her saying that she had no idea why she had purchased it, but that she just had! It sits on my piano in front of her picture.
Written by John LeRoy
In Christmas 2009, Jackie and I returned to Pennsylvania to visit with our extended family and lifelong friends. We feasted for four days, with seemingly no end to the abundance of food, when the subject changed from feast to famine. We seniors began reminiscing as to what life was like when we were kids . . .
Early in childhood, we were so hungry that we picked and ate flowers. We regularly collected violets, dandelion blossoms and leaves, clover blossoms, pokeweed, and flowers of the squash family --- to be used as a filler in a batter made up of eggs, flour, salt, pepper and diluted evaporated milk, and cooked and served like pancakes. Now we eat flowers to not forget hunger.
In the Spring of 2010, Jackie and I shared a dinner table with Bill and Virginia Manson. Our dish was garnished with an orchid, which I, as usual, picked up and ate. Virginia looked at me as if I had just gotten off a UFO. I asked if she had ever gone hungry in her life time. Her answer was that they always had plenty of food. Well, I said if you were hungry enough, you too would have eaten flowers.
That’s how it was when we were young.
It was 1929, and my dad used to walk into steel mills looking for work. The mills were closed, but sometimes they hired day help for maintenance. I remember a night when Dad cried himself to sleep from hunger. It was then, when I was six years old and my brother, Bud, was 3-1/2 years old, that we went looking for a job. We found one mowing Katie Greenham’s lawn for 5 cents a week. We took that first nickel home and tried to split it with a hatchet. All to no avail – every time we hit the nickel with the hatchet, it flew off. Mother came to door to see what we were doing. We told her that we had gotten a job and were trying to split the nickel. She said that any money earned must be spent on food, so brother Bud purchased a can of evaporated milk to be diluted and poured over bread crusts saved for us by our neighbor. This affluent neighbor saved bread crusts for Brother Bud and me. I know now that she did this so we would have something to eat, but at the time, she gave us the bread crusts under the pretext that they would curl our flaming red hair and make our freckles disappear.
I (John) was the older boy, so I was the negotiator. I would go to the store and bargain for a soup bone, an old dried-up carrot, onion and piece of potato, and I would make a broth to pour over the bread crusts.
One day, a hobo came to our door looking for work. My mother had him spade a garden plot and cut wood. While he worked, mother gave him some of Dad’s clothes to wear while she washed and mended his clothes. Brother Bud and I picked daisies, spread a towel on the porch and decorated our “table” with a jar to hold the daisies and, of course, a Bible, because Mother was a deeply religious woman. She brought out my broth, and I threw a tantrum because the hobo was getting our food. She took me by the ear back into the house and wailed me with a katynine tail until she had my undivided attention. The hobo ate; when he was ready to leave, Mother gave him a bag with the remaining bread crusts, a spoon and a small jar of jelly. He went on his way.
Within a few days, my Dad had made his usual trek into the steel mills looking for work. While en route home, a runaway truck caused Dad to jump into a ditch for safety. He flushed out a ringneck pheasant, which flew into the side of the truck and fell dead at Dad’s feet. Needless to say, we feasted on bread crust-stuffed pheasant. As we sat down to eat, Mother reminded us of her saying that the Lord would take care of us.
When we were boys, we were curious about an inscription carved in a sandstone boulder in our front yard. In our retirement years in the 1990’s, Jackie and I attended the Hobo’s national convention held annually in Britt, Iowa. They told stories of how they were helped in their travels. They had several inscriptions available for viewing – it was then that I realized that the carving in our yard was an open hand, a signal to hobos that the residents would help a traveler.
In Ralph Lester’s book titled The Magnet, he notes the fact that there were more self-made millionaires in Martinsville than any other city in the US. The money is here – it is time for us to loosen up and help the poor.