Sunday morning found Katie and I driving through Knoxville at 7:00Am headed for Elizabethton. The fog was dense to the point of limited vision, yet as we drove east, we were able to look directly at the sun because of the shroud created by it. It was interesting to experience an agent that both inhibited our ability to see what was ahead, but simultaneously allowed us glimpses of the impossible. It is my habit to spend much of a drive reading. By the light of the shrouded sun I was reading The Apostle of Freedom by Mercia MacDermott. It is a biography of a Bulgarian named Vasil Levsky, who was a revolutionary politician, philosopher, and freedom fighter during the time of the Bulgarian Renaissance and the birth of the modern Bulgarian nation.
It was surreal to be reading about Levsky’s activities in the Sredna Gora, the foothills of the Balkans, to establish the identity and lay the foundation for the Bulgarian state, while simultaneously driving through the foothills of the Appalachians, where the identity and foundation of the state of Tennessee were laid. I could look through the windows of our Expedition and see mist covered foothills where settlements of pioneers once stood. The depth of the history, passion, love, and narratives of both the foothills of Tennessee and Bulgaria struck me. The power of pioneer passion. In a way, it is our prayer that we would journey to Bulgaria with our own God given pioneer passions.
We pulled into the parking lot of Elizabethton First Church of the Nazarene a little before 10:00AM. The beauty and character of the facility was immediately striking. We were greeted by Pastor Kenley Knight and David Welch. We quickly got setup and then had the incredible joy of getting to hear about the planting of this long-established church. Elizabethton was planted by Mrs. Robinson, who was a minister in the Church of the Nazarene and a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University. Many aspects of the sanctuary decorum bore her name. She not only planted the church but built the facility that housed its worship from the basement up. We sat in the service feeling that the stained glass depictions of Christ at the door knocking was a direct reminder of his presence that morning, the domed ceiling filled with a beautiful bronze chandelier seemed to lighten the earthly space from the heavens, and the tilted amphitheater style space centered our attentions on the Gospel proclamations that would come from the front. Katie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You can tell a woman of passion built up this church.” I am inspired by such faithfulness and Kingdom accomplishment. May we walk in the footsteps of Mrs. Robinson.
The people were so inviting and inquisitive. Here was a church full of brothers and sisters who so genuinely journeyed with us in worship and our calling that we could not but feel at home. The best part of the service, for me (besides getting to hear a song of praise from a couple of beautiful little ladies), was the time of Q and A that followed the message. I believe that good questions are the result of a desire to know better what we love. Questions about Bulgarian food, government, ministry, culture, and language were proof to Katie and I that we were loved, attended, and supported by the wonderful people at Elizabethton First. After service, people stopped by our table of prayer cards and Bulgarian items and continued to indulge their genuine curiosity, to my very obvious delight! What a wonderful time of worship. After the service, we ate lunch with Kenley, Kristi, Kylie, and Kamryn at the local Mexican restaurant and then jumped back in the car to head for Maryville First Church of the Nazarene.
We had left our children with their Nana and Papa, so we were eager both to arrive at Maryville to share with them, and to be reunited with our babies for the service. We pulled into the parking lot just before 5:00PM. The August heat drove us into the facility a bit early, where we were cheerfully greeted by Pastor Ray and Donna Couey. This wonderful couple once served as missionaries with the Church of the Nazarene in Indonesia, so we were doubly excited to spend some time with them! We got setup and did some sound checks and then it was time for people to arrive.
We settled in the back, knowing Jude and Kate might be a bit noisy, and a couple of wonderful elderly ladies settled in front of us. Throughout the service both would intermittently turn to direct a warm smile and mischievous wink at Jude and Kate. I love to see my children loved by the church.
What a wonderful service it was. This was our first service that we have had where many of the churches in the area were represented. Donna had prepared everything beautifully, so that each church brought a limited number of people, everybody socially distanced, and wore masks. It was a great marriage of passion and responsibility and we are thankful both for Donna’s efforts and the support of those from the other churches. The service was wonderful and it was so incredible getting the opportunity to talk with others afterward about their own experiences, passionate support of missions, and thoughtful responses to our presentation. What a blessing!
After the service, Ray and Donna Couey took us to eat. What a wonderful gift it was getting to hear about their own missionary experience. Each of their stories was a treasure. As I listened to them talk about their time in Indonesia it filled me with nervous excitement for all the stories we will have, the ways God will use us, and the journey we are beginning as missionaries in the Church of the Nazarene. As we stood in the parking lot saying farewell, with Jude standing between Katie and Donna, holding each by the hand while I wrapped up a conversation with Ray, I thought of the treasure of having a district family that is standing hand in hand with us. As we headed to our separate cars Ray shouting a last word of advice, “Pray, pray, and pray. Make sure everything you do is covered in prayer. Pray and always pray.” We did just that as we put our children to bed not much later, giving thanks to God for the gift of the church, our calling, and the life our Creator has made us for.