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
It was December 13th, 1995. I was unemployed. We knew only two people in town. Our four children were young (ages 11, 9, 4 and 3 months), and my mother, who had just come to live with us, was seriously ill. I can’t believe we did it, but under these conditions our family lumbered on to the Cumberland Plateau and into the tiny Appalachian town of Jellico, Tennessee. But I’m bringing you in at the middle of the story. First, let’s go back 8 months to May, and travel across the world to Kenya, East Africa.
For ten years my wife, Donna, and I had been blissfully busy as missionaries.
Our plans were to continue planting African churches the rest of our lives. That was our plan, until one evening in May.
It had taken us 5 years to get a phone line, and phone calls were expensive, so the phone was a tool during emergencies. When it rang that afternoon, I suspected trouble.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Steve?” It was my Mother’s voice. She sounded worried, almost tearful.
“Yes, Mom. It is me. I can hear you. Is everything alright?”
“Are you okay?” My Mother, no matter the situation, was always one to deflect attention from herself out of consideration for others first.
“Yes. We are all fine. What’s up there?”
“Well, son. I’m not doing too well. I don’t think I can manage anymore without some help. I really need you to help me.” She was crying. Her heart was breaking for having to ask of me (us) what she was asking. She was asking us to leave our dream.
Donna and I knew the answer; it was obvious. We began making arrangements to relocate to the USA in order to care for Mom. She had been brave and suffered chronic pain for years, but now it was crippling and it was time to be nearer and more helpful. Clearly, the pages ahead of us were not going to be completed as we’d imagined. Never could we have guessed what lay ahead.
The next few months were a scramble. Our son, Benjamin, was born in early June. We sold out, wrapped up, packed, and departed Kenya in late August. September and October were spent in the States reporting to supporters and hoping for direction. We smiled at every service and through each meeting, but inwardly we grieved the death of the life we’d known and loved for a decade. Though our bodies were in America, our hearts were in Africa. It was a crucible-time and this was just the beginning.
There were a few options presented to us. Planting a house church in New Jersey presented itself. We took a look, but we were rural missionaries and Camden was not Kenya. I remember feeling physically dizzy from the blur of activity and noise. We loved the house church idea, but this was too much too fast. A University asked that I help link their missions department with the other disciplines. Attractive, granted, but something didn’t click there either. An Hispanic church planting opportunity in Texas was a good one, but there were extenuating circumstances which portended roadblocks down the road so, we passed again.
In the final week of our travel and reporting we visited friends in Appalachia with this prayer secretly on our lips, “Lord, if this is the place have them invite us to come.” This is the one visit we had planned with no stated objective other than to say, “Hello.”
The last evening, one of our friends offered, “We are so busy at the clinic that we don’t have time to minister after hours to those we meet. Why don’t you all come here?”
Donna and I drove the next day talking all the way to Texarkana. Crossing the state line into Texas we pulled over at a rest area. The kids needed to stretch after 13 hours in a cramped car and we needed to breathe fresh air and pray.
I told Donna, “You know we asked God to have them ask us if He wanted us there.”
She replied, “And that’s what happened.”
“I guess we’re moving to Tennessee?” I offered.
“Yes,” She said, “I think we should.”
They needed a church planter and I needed a team and a new dream. Ironically, the month before my mother had called us in Africa Donna and I had remarked that maybe—thinking 15-20 years down the road -- we’d retire to work in Appalachia. In my journal a page was written. It became the first of a challenging chapter.
“God brought us to Appalachia with a vision. We came believing that it was God’s desire for us to introduce the Mountain People to Jesus. While religion was prevalent, the holy life, which Christ produces, was far too rare. Our dream was greater than a single church planting. We envisioned a “movement”. We imagined hundreds of rural communities of faith stretching the length of the Appalachian Mountain range, spilling down the mountains and across the ocean. We had big dreams. They seemed a worthy swap for those we’d given up in Africa, but would they come true, and how would we survive? The invitation to Appalachia had not come with a salary, or any offers of financial assistance. We were going because it seemed the answer to our prayer, and the God who commanded that farmers feed their oxen would surely care for his own laborers…wouldn’t He?
December 10th, 1995 we waved goodbye to our friends and family in Texas; driving away from those who had been our financial and moral supporters. On December 13th, 1995 we parked the Ryder Truck at 203 W. Florence Ave. in Jellico, Tennessee, breathed a sigh of relief and offered a prayer to Him who would now be our provider.”
The next page would be nothing like we thought.