Having read the first installments of these posts, I asked a reader what he was thinking. He replied, "Well, the first ones were pretty exciting, but these last couple haven't been the same. Hurry up and get to the good part!"
I must agree. The details in the past two accounts have not been very exciting-- interesting, but not exciting. Coincidentally, this is the point. The months after our move to Jellico were not exciting. They were difficult, depressing and drug along. Yes, we were supplied, and yes, God's provisions kept us energized, but much of those years, and much of our time since, has simply been survival. It hasn't been an exciting adventure as much as the sheer determination to get up and go at it again tomorrow. Sometimes missions/ministry is that way.
An earlier post refers to the notion of a "journey". This has been that--a sort of journey. Along the way, I suppose I have come to believe that our years on this trek have shared, if not the experiences, then the learnings of the journey through the wilderness described long ago and summarized in Deuteronomy 8:2-7.
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not your would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during those forty years. Know then that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you."
We haven't collected heavenly bread each morning, but daily provisions have arrived and often just one day at a time. Many times, their source has been one which appeared inexplicably. Our clothes have worn out, but our closets are full, and like many of you, we need to get rid of some. We have not hungered physically, but our budget has demanded that we enjoy simple foods when others have lived more expensively, though not any better. And the LORD has tested our hearts. The slow, long slog has driven us to the brink of despair; the stillness and questions about the future have circled our camp like Amelekite raiders and hissed fear and doubt into our hearts like fiery vipers. The character of our hearts has been tested every day, and in future posts I intend to share some of those moments with you. Some will remain between us and the LORD. The important point, however, is that throughout these 17 years, we have been treated generously, lovingly, and wisely-- as a man treats his son whom he loves.
If I were writing a novel, I might have been more dramatic, or delved into the description of a local personality, or sermonized, but drama just wasn't a major element of the early years. Most of what we did came more from the quiet waters of a deep conviction that God had a purpose for us in Appalachia, than the shallow babbling brook of adventure. Which, true as it is, does not mean that future posts won't startle, stun, shake, or sizzle because, they will.
We kept going, and God was in it. The 'good parts' are coming. So, you keep reading.
1/2/96 B & DW handed me a $600 check today. They said that after summarizing their year’s income, they had this as an excess.
A small payment of some things we’d left for sale in Kenya came today. $13.25
JM sent the name of a prayer partner.
1/3/96 Gift of pastries. Enough for 4 morning breakfasts from JR. His daughter R dropped them off as she drove through en route to college.
Received a letter from GKen saying He’d made a contribution to his church for us that would be sent out soon.
1/4/96 SS family gave us a table and 4 chairs for the dining room. They’re antique and very nice.
1/5/96 GKen’s gift arrived in mail today. $1000.
1/7/96 BW wants a copy of our newsletter.
1/10/96 JM sent $100 plus a list of 16 names of people who want our newsletter and will be praying for us!
1/12/96 Took Mom to Dr. -- NO CHARGE!!.
1/14/96 R & GS sent $50 and a card with encouragement. ME sent $10. LA, who we don’t remember having met, sent $50 and has chosen us as her ‘project’ for the year. She plans to send aid monthly.
1/25/96 “Found a penny on the road while walking.”
2/12/96 “JM sent $300. W&LS sent $250.”
3/12/96 “…the mail arrived. In it was a money order with a note, but no return address. The note read, ‘Steve, God prompted us to give this.’ The postmark was from Colorado Springs, Colorado. The money order was for $500. We don’t know anybody in Colorado Springs. We don’t even know anyone in Colorado!”
4/30/96 “Regina social club at Harding University sent gift of $500.” NA, the daughter of F&JA is in that club and suggested that they assist us. I had known NA when she was an infant, but have not been in contact since. Only God could have imagined such a thing as this.
5/6/96 “I’ve been working very hard for several months now (Beginning in June of ‘94 preparing for our return to the US.). Since January my health has suffered, due I think, to stress. I’ve not cleared even one dime of net profit from all my work (Note: I was working to establish income through a multi-level-marketing program selling discounted telephone service.) …I keep telling myself it is just the cost of doing business….at any rate, I will continue to do my best to “work my fields” and look to the Lord of Harvests for a crop. Today, I spoke to the Lord for a long while about all of this.”
5/12/96 NOTE: It was amazing to us as we watched God provide through so many people and with such surprise and variety. For example, we didn’t even know the person ‘GK’!
5/16/96 NOTE: Though seldom having excess at our disposal, at times during the journey, we enjoyed pleasures and privileges typically reserved for the world’s wealthiest. As an example, For months D&BW paid for us to have a maid come once per month and spend a day cleaning. What a blessing from the Lord.
“Cleaning from D&BW-$81”
5/19/96 “Gift from E&FW. It was sent along with a note explaining that this was a special amount, but they intended to send $50 on a monthly basis…they gave $500…God has sent gifts of $500 almost monthly from unexpected sources.”
5/23/96 “I prayed for help and the thought I should pray for ‘singers’ I’m supposing that they will play a significant role in the progress of the Lord’s Body in Appalachia. It seems that Appalachians have historically been gifted in this way. Music is probably the heart language of these people.” (NOTE: On 11/08/00 God answered this prayer.)
6/10/96 NOTE: The RGs are another family whom we do not know.
“Gift from RG of $25”
7/7/96 “Given an air-conditioner and 2 ceiling fans from D&JM! It’s been hot so these were special gifts for specific needs.”
7/10/96 “Preaching engagement paid me $500 and reimbursement for cost of travel.”
8/11/96 “RD sent $200. A surprise gift from someone I’d not seen or heard from in 16 years!”
SUMMARY: Three quarters of the year was complete and we were still living on Florence Avenue. Many new faces, places and ways had been encountered. The children were healthy and my Mother had improved a good deal, though she was still ill. There was no new church begun, though we met regularly with the two families we knew when we arrived and we still had the hope of adding another family from outside Jellico. It had been challenging, but we had survived. However, there was still that last quarter of the year, and it has its stories too.
Old picture of a young coal miner.
Entries from my journals are in italics. Additional comments have been added for clarity in the form of NOTES. The facts have not been altered, though first names, initials, or pseudonyms are used instead of full names to protect the privacy of those involved. The amounts and quantities shown are actual.
12/15/95 We arrived in Jellico on the 13th. God provided a 3 bedroom rental house for $300 per month. The timing was, of course, perfect. DW worked hard and prepared all the water, electric, and telephone arrangements prior to our arrival. This was the first of God’s provisions. I’ve begun searching for work.
12/19/01 My first interview was today. Rumor is of a factory to open here soon, so I checked into it. The manager offered me a supervisor position, but the job demanded I be on call 24/7. It was for the 3pm to 12 midnight shift and would keep me from prime family time hours during the week and perhaps weekends. I told the interviewer that I had children and could not commit to that schedule.
He clearly wanted someone he could train and depend upon for the long term. Believing that ministry will one day consume all my time, I told him I could not be counted on to be available over the long term. So, I declined the offer, but left him my application for any lesser position that offered daytime hours. Having stood firm on principles of family-first and full disclosure, I lost the possibility of securing the highest paying job available in Jellico today, but I am not afraid. God is also firm on His principles.
12/95 After that interview God began a shower of blessings. Though we solicited none of them, gifts were sent to us. These arrived during our first month in Jellico-- the month of December:
HL church $1000
SR church gave a resettlement gift of $6300.
NC church – sent winter boots and clothes for the entire family. We don’t even know them!
Leaving Texas, many individuals offered us odds-n-ends for setting up.
12/30/95 NOTE: My Mother’s health condition was worse than we had discerned before leaving Africa. She lived with chronic and excruciating pain. Doctors had not determined the cause or cure. Many times I slept in a chair by her bed to watch in case she woke in the night and needed assistance. It was difficult for all of us, but especially for her.
For Christmas we were given two large boxes filled with new winter shoes and boots. I was given a winter underclothing. A church in NC heard of us and were moved by God to send these items!
Yesterday, we got a call from R&C E in Texas. They’d been moved to call and offer to send us some support. I explained our doctrinal stance might be different from theirs, because I wanted to be completely honest. They had no problems and will be sending the gifts.
God is daily confirming to me that He is near and aware and involved. Also, for the past two mornings I’ve felt compelled to lay prostrate before the Lord during my prayers as I pray for Mom (Her chronic pain.). Yesterday she said, ‘Steve, today I’ve had one of those rare days when I’ve felt really good.
12/31/95 $160 left on our pillows and refrigerator by D & CS after they left our house today. They promise to give regularly.
Thus the year 1995 came to a close. So much had changed in 12 months: a baby had arrived, we'd moved around the globe, our mission in Africa had come to a halt, our mission in Appalachia had begun, and Mom had moved in. It was a year filled with a lot of stress. It was not one to live over, but it was a necessary transition. I suppose it was like that part of a woman's labor that doctors refer to as 'transition' -- painful, but necessary for the beginning of a new life. We'd felt the pain; we now waited to see what was about to be born.
In the months just prior to leaving Kenya, I had, almost by accident, been introduced to the autobiography of a man whose story influenced my life profoundly. He is perhaps my chief spiritual mentor though he lived a hundred years before I was born.
George Muller—was a great man of prayer. He operated an orphanage in the 1800s that was supplied solely by the provisions of God in answer to prayer. There was no solicitation, no advertising, no sharing of needs, no begging or pleading. There was quiet prayer and waiting. He wrote about his purpose in operating the orphanage’s funding in this atypical manner:
“The chief end being that the church of Christ at large might be benefited by seeing manifestly the hand of God stretched out on our behalf in the hour of need, in answer to prayer. Our desire, therefore, is not that we may be without trials of faith, but that the LORD graciously would be pleased to support us in the trial, that we may not dishonor Him by distrust. This way of living brings the LORD remarkably near. He is, as it were, morning by morning inspecting our stores, that accordingly He may send help.” (See footnote for quote source.)
Mr. Muller’s trust in God for provisions was the primary avenue through which God demonstrated, for over 50 years, an eagerness to answer believing prayer. The testimony which resulted from Muller’s answered prayers was considered by Muller to be perhaps of greater importance than his ministry to the orphans. Since we first read his story in 1989, Donna and I have been “nudged” to follow his example.
Thus, grand as our Appalachian church planting dreams may have been, they rested on taller shoulders. We felt God wished to work through us to deliver as a fresh testimony that He still hears and answers prayer.
Serving as a living testimony to God’s readiness to hear prayer was our chief objective in coming to Appalachia. We moved toward that position only partially until in 1999 when we came under His wing fully at the advice of our four friends.
The journey ahead would be filled with tests and delights. At times we would be distraught and despair, yet at others we were delighted and astonished. Though it was not (and sometimes still is not) always easy, we managed to stay on the roller coaster. Only in recent years do we get a little giddy at the approach of a "drop-off". PROVISIONS is a telling of the ups-n-downs of that story.
Taking our example from Muller, Donna and I determined never to solicit assistance, or inform others of our needs. Our needs were kept secret; known only to God in the closet of prayer. This awareness of the purposeful secrecy of the needs of our family and ministry made way for the exceptional testimonies of God’s resulting answers.
PROVISIONS however, is not to become a model or recipe for others. It is not to be taken as normative practice for all Christians. In no way am I (or would Muller) suggest that others of you do as we have done. God provides for His people through wages for work, through fund raising efforts, through sharing etc. These are in no way inferior or ‘less spiritual’ than what PROVISIONS records. We believe God’s working in our life and ministry has been unique simply because He desires a unique testimony. Though unique, PROVISIONS is only one demonstration of God’s readiness to hear and respond to prayer.
If there is a clear message; a clear model; an example to take; or a teaching from PROVISIONS for all Christians it is this: “Pray. God IS listening.”
PROVISIONS opens the door to the living room of our private ups and downs, our personal humanity. Such vulnerability is needed so that the workings of God may shine brightly against our doubts and personal weaknesses. It demonstrates how God moves the tender hearts of His people--apart from well planned ad-campaigns, religious telemarketing, televangelist pleading, or even the casual mention of needs or “opportunities”. While it certainly shows that we should be praying, it also reminds us that we need to be listening. We are all His instruments: sometimes recipients, and sometimes channels of provision.
What we detail in these entries is far, far, far from being a fund-raising method. Our story is an illustration of how faithful God is to hear our prayers, and how He nudges us to action. The focus is God’s faithfulness and activity in our midst today.
PROVISIONS exposes my family and I to both the accolades of those who see and believe as well as to the criticisms of those who doubt. Neither are accurate critiques. Again, the only proper response to the material is a focus upon and adoration of Jehovah Jireh.
Here, let me pause and take a deep breath as I release this material into your hands. These records have been held, until now, in private chambers. Yet, I am thrilled to share with you the things-- great and small, public and obscure-- which God has done. The entries I’ve selected are mostly about daily provisions, but also about personal and family issues and, near the end, about souls. It was necessary to offer entries describing our
12/14/95 - The Ryder Truck, Our Suburban & Mom's Car.
personal doubts, fears, and questions so you might know the range and rhythm of our struggle to keep on believing. May you find them human enough to see yourself yet divine enough to see Him.
Here, in December of 1995, the story opens with us driving a Ryder truck into the small Appalachian community of Jellico, Tennessee where unemployment is high, friends are few, the future is uncertain, but God has called.
 George Muller: All Things are Possible by A.T. Pierson; published by Ambassador
The view along I-75 near Jellico.
The facts however, are that God had in effect, been our Provider since our arrival to Jellico. All along, He had been sending surprise gifts, but we would now be trusting Him for every need. I had the peace that comes with doing the right thing, and yet, I felt a knot in my gut like I had strapped myself into a roller coaster and cresting the first long drop--the kind that makes your heart race and your stomach leap into your throat.
Thank you for taking the time to let me tell you a true story. It has taken place within my lifetime, so the details are accurate and fresh. I am privileged to share them with you, and even more privileged to have lived them. I believe you will be blessed by reading them .
When you have finished each entry, quietly sit before Father and listen to what stirred in your heart as you read. Take action, if moved to that, but do so prayerfully. Many have been inspired by the stories of God's dealings with George Muller. The accounting of the many and varied ways God moved in that era in response to Muller's prayers changed my life, and I believe this record of events in my life will change some of yours.
It is said, "No more than a book can know what words may be written upon its pages, can a man know what acts God may perform in his life." Keep reading to learn what God may have in mind to write on your pages.
All things by prayer; by prayer, all things.
Stephen L. Meeks -- 1999