(This blog post was written by my wife, Mary.)
On Thursday evening we flew to Atlanta, then to Ashville, NC. Pastor Mike Thompson and his wife Robin picked us up. We bonded immediately, talking about family and scriptural convictions. Joel was pleasantly surprised to learn that Faith PCA is the church where dear friends Olin and Jean Coleman were members before they went to be with the Lord. Olin was a leader of the Puritan Project in Brazil. As an elder, he mentored Mike and had a profound impact on him.
Our home for these days was a log cabin on a dirt road in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It is really dark in the country at midnight. After trying a couple wrong driveways, they were quite sure they found the right one. The code worked, and an autographed welcome sign confirmed we were in the right place. Phew!
Our favorite recreational activity is hiking, so we accepted with pleasure their invitation to come a day early to hike the Shortoff Mountain Trail. Dr. Howard Hall picked us up. About 25 folks of all ages came along, ranging from toddlers and babes in arms to a Superior Court Judge of North Carolina! We climbed 1,321 vertical feet in 4.5 miles. Aside from a rain shower, it was beautiful weather.
When some of the group arrived at the top, they realized they had not seen nine-year-old Emmett. Several of the men retraced our steps. The rest of us prayed. He had taken a wrong trail with others in the group, but when they had turned around, they didn’t realize he was out ahead of them. He eventually realized he was alone, and returned to the vehicle just as the men came looking for him. Relief and gratitude! We had a beautiful view of Lake James and the Linville Gorge—called the Grand Canyon of the East. It is always so refreshing to exercise in God’ amazing creation!
The conference began that evening and continued Saturday. The theme was “Parenting by God’s Promises.” The church has been studying Joel’s book on the subject. In six addresses, he spoke on many aspects—bringing our covenant children to Christ; parenting as prophet, priest, and king; encouragements and practical steps. We met some very special people, some who have huge challenges in their everyday life, such as a family with nine children, three of whom have a condition in which they are going deaf and blind. The dad is an orthopedic surgeon; the mom has a degree in psychology and homeschools the children. They drive a cheerfully painted mini-bus. Another couple has a daughter with a severe seizure disorder.
Pastor Thompson’s oldest daughter has a chromosome disorder. At 20 years of age, Ginnie can walk but not talk, except “Mama.” She has a constant smile and shows love to everyone. She doesn’t understand personal space, so she gets very close. She has certain favorites in the church. She adores her dad’s preaching. When the music plays, she stands in front of her dad or mom, and moves her arms up and down. All of these parents with special needs children have had their times of feeling they could hardly go on, but they all say they are so very blessed to have their special children! So much love! What a testimony of God’s grace working through trials! They ministered to us more than we ministered to them!
On Sunday, Joel preached on “Coping with Affliction in a Christ-centered Way,” “To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain,” and “The Utopian Marriage.” We had lots of fellowship over a soup and chili lunch the church shared. Friends formerly from Grand Rapids, now from Charlotte, NC, Leo and Marilyn Markwat, attended. This church has some very special, yet everyday people—doctors, a judge, businesspeople, teachers, nurses, factory workers, etc. We had wonderful fellowship, and they expressed much gratitude for Joel’s ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!