Laila and I did not leave C’ville until late evening following a UVA Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner at Alumni Hall. A hundred miles later wisdom guided us to a motel.
We continued west the next morning heading toward Cleveland, TN. Nearing Abingdon we took the exit toward Dante.
The road to Dante is modern. Off the four-lane road into the City of Dante is a step back in time. Dante was born in good times. First came the railroad. Then coal. Thriving economy. Theatre. General store. School. Churches. Homes mostly built and owned by coal companies.
Then came politics. Coal was cursed. Economy died. No consideration of the people who had once enjoyed a good standard of living.
Current population is about 650. More than 50% of folks over age 15 have never been married. Seventy-eight percent of children do not live with their parents. Many of the streets are dead-end or simply loops that go into deep hollows and return. Drugs and alcohol are common.
Pastor Dallas Jones lives about 150 miles away from Dante. His first church is a congregation of about 15 adults. Pastor Jones drives to Dante twice each week for church services and youth ministry---about 30 children. The Assembly of God gave him a van that he uses to transport children and teens.
Pastor Jones rode us up and down the valleys where a house can be bought for $30,000 to $40,000 or a lot less. The church's parsonage with a new metal roof sold for $7,000. Land is cheap. Most houses need repair. Average income is about $22,000 per year, with a significant part of it coming from social security, disability and welfare.
Into this wilderness of need Pastor Jones has put his heart and generous effort. His wife shares the burden. Friends have helped. Friends are helping. He found sponsors for 19 children to attend youth camp in Roanoke. He then faced the challenge of the children not having towels and washcloths to take to camp.
On our tour the pastor took us by a small mobile home in which four adults and four children live. We talked with the mother and asked permission to talk with her 14 year-old daughter who has dreams of being a gynecologist. Jasmine has a high grade point average and has recently given her heart to the Lord. Her brother Khory is age 13 and a straight-A student.
By the time we left the mom agreed to allow Jasmine and Khory to visit with Laila and me for a few days this summer. We are excited about investing in their lives.
We left Dante for Cleveland. I called Teresa Gilbert a friend who is a pastor’s wife. We talked about other things and then I said: “Hey, Teresa, how would your church like a mission’s project?” Then I told her about the need for towels.
“We have church tonight. Send me some pictures,” she said. We did. She called back a couple of hours later. Her husband presented the need after Wednesday night service. A lady stepped to Teresa and said: “I want the whole project.” The next day the lady delivered 20 gift packages of towels and washcloths.
We traveled to Cleveland for my part in the board meeting of the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. While in Cleveland we picked up the last of rubber base needed for our new building.
We left Cleveland Saturday and drove to Charlotte, NC to catch a flight to New York City. Sitting on a plane for two hours a person can choose to bury his/her head in the proverbial sand. I choose not to do that. The young man beside me was pleasant. His 4-year-old daughter was totally captivating. Muhammad and I enjoyed talking. He shared that the Koran was written before the Bible. I made note that Islam was not established until about 610 A.D. and all of the Bible had been written hundreds of years before Islam was established.
Just before landing he shared that his daughter is in a Christian daycare near the university where he is completing a Ph.D. before returning to his native country. I gave him my church card and extended an invitation for him to bring his family to stay in our home and enjoy Charlottesville for a weekend. He promised to be in touch.
We flew to NYC to meet friends and have extensive dental work done at a Jewish clinic where one of Covenant’s parishioners works. Cost of work will be a fraction of the cost in Charlottesville. We attended a Korean church with her and the family on Sunday. Laila and I wore the headphones for translation. The gracious people treated us royally at the newcomers’ lunch which followed.
Memorial Day we attended a ceremony in Pleasantville, NY. It was beautiful. We were especially touched at the end when they asked for all veterans to come forth. The people were invited to come by, shake hands and thank them individually for their service.
On the way back to our motel we stopped at a drug store. The lady at the register asked where we live. Incredibly her son works at Lowes only two miles from Covenant. She said she would call him immediately and share about Covenant Church and give him my phone number.
Traveling is a God privilege. Wherever our feet touch the earth and we meet people it is a privilege. For all of the privileges of this trip we give thanks to God and Covenant Church.
Even as I write, one of our Elders is on a plane flying into a war zone. He too has asked for prayers that he may be an instrument for God while serving our country.
My hope is that as we come to this Sunday with a praise offering for the building fund we will rejoice for the good we do to bring souls to Christ.
"He (Jesus) said to them, "Walk to the villages and the cities near to us, so that I also may preach there, for because of this I have come," (Mark 1:38).