Rural towns are a mosaic of hard work and industry, friendship and kindness, forgotten stories and shattered dreams. Every day that I am fortunate enough to spend in these communities I am reminded of the rich record of life, past and present, that they offer to those interested enough to stop and explore.
For the past month I have spent two days a week in the community of Yale. My Sundays are spent in the morning teaching, preaching and worshiping with the saints who call themselves the Yale Church of Christ. After lunch together we meet for a discipleship group that is devoted to equipping for ministry, sharing how we see God at work among us, and developing effective systems of communication and organization for the leadership and ministries of the church. The rest of Sunday, late into the evening is spent with members of the church or visiting people in the community. It makes for a long, but very productive day.
Monday’s usually begin over at my “office” at the Bull Dog gas station and eatery. From my strategically positioned booth I am able to see everyone that comes in to grab a coffee or a breakfast made for folks who could really care less about calorie intake, gluten or cholesterol warnings. Starting up a conversation at the “office” is easy as pie. Simple as opening your mouth and asking, “How’s it going?” That’s how I met Nicholas. He’s the young man wiping down one of the tables. Just graduated from high school last year. Wants to open a shoe store some day. His eagerness to engage a stranger in conversation and share his hopes for the future is one of those reminders of the richness of this place.
And there’s Basil. He’s the gentleman in the plaid shirt. I met Basil at the Senior Community Center. Want a good lunch for cheap (4 bucks)? The Community Center is your ticket. But better than the lunch are the people you meet like Basil. Within minutes of meeting Basil he told me, “It’s just great getting to visit with you. I don’t get out much or get to talk to anyone much.” When I told him I was working with the Yale Church of Christ he smiled and told me he had received a gift basket from one of the members that included “sugar free candy.” I think the candy was a big hit with Basil. But what stuck with me was how the church was touching lives through a simple act of kindness – a gift basket with “sugar-free candy.” “Love is kind,” right? I plan to drop in to the Community Center again, but I’d really like to get by Basil’s place. I want to try that sugar-free candy.
The cotton gin in Yale is shut down. The sheet metal building sits abandoned down at the far end of main street. The windows are shot full of holes reflecting the shattered dreams and forgotten stories of countless rural communities. I looked through one of the holes in a window and saw abandoned rusted equipment, scattered containers and trash, dust and dirt and I heard . . . . nothing.
But there was a time in the forgotten past when this gin was the center of activity, fired with anticipation that perhaps this year would bring a good cotton crop and money would be made that would feed and clothe the family; pay off any debt owed on seed that brought the hope of a crop in the first place. You need to nearly be in your eighties for any of this to make any sense to you. But you’d also be among that rapidly diminishing number who knew what “chopping” or “pulling” cotton was too. That’s a story for another day.
Today, let me end with this: God knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows all the details of our story, who we are, where we’ve been, who we’ve hurt, what we’ve hoped, and how we hurt. I think, especially in these rural communities, He’s especially mindful and active in revealing His love and purpose if we’ll pay attention and work with Him. I keep seeing His hand and His plan in the smallest of things, in the most unexpected places; most recently, a place called Yale, OK.