The latest newsletter from Cherokee... please post, circulate to interested parties, and continue to bring us to God in prayers!
Cherokee, North Carolina... summer/fall 2014
Well, for starters, Debbie and I would like to wish you all joyous holidays, as they are approaching faster than we even are aware. Life in Cherokee has in some ways become 'normal' and we can't really remember the way that our lives once were before coming here. In other ways, the culture and way of life here is so different from anything we have ever experienced prior to this, and there are some things which will always mark us as 'You're not from here, are you?'
Cherokee as a community is a place that is in our lives and hearts, and even when things seem to be dragging along with little visible change, we always are looking for the change that is not so easy to quantify... people learning from God's word and making changes to their way of life; people who call on us for help that in the past would have never considered doing so. Being part of the ebb and flow of this place has taken time, but invested time is exactly what it takes.
Our ladies' day in June was once again a success, and that is in large part due to the women that come from the West 7th Street church of Christ in Columbia, Tennessee. There is a commitment from them that is noticed and appreciated by many here in our area, not just by our own ladies, but also by others in the community. That also goes with the 'spa day' that Sue Fox and her folks come and bless us with as well. It opens up people on a level that can't be done in a church foyer. It is personal and breaks down barriers. People who have often experienced the physical act of 'touching' as a painful experience are overcoming their fears and letting strangers touch them with gentleness and love. These occasions have made a powerful impression with this community.
These visits have paved the way for a new adventure that some of our ladies have braved. At the end of September, Debbie and 5 of our ladies drove to Columbia, TN to spend the night and attend a ladies' program at the West 7th church. This doesn't seem like a big thing, but some of these ladies have never ventured outside of this area before, much less spend the night at a stranger's (and a white stranger at that) house. It was an excellent adventure and helped to strengthen the bonds we share with other Christian women. A couple of weekends later, we attended a ladies' day program at the church in Andrews, NC. These are big steps for our ladies who have difficulty speaking or looking strangers in the eyes. We are so proud of these women who have opened up and who have become so welcoming to the visitors at our services.
And speaking of visitors, we cannot say how much we truly love and appreciate our summer members who live in the area during the nicer months of the year and who worship with us on a regular basis. They are a continued source of encouragement and examples of Christianity as they share their lives and friendship with us all here. We eagerly await each spring when our summer family members return and mourn the cold weather when they leave us. For Debbie and I, they are a taste of "normalcy" that we miss from our past life as we share conversation and meals together.
A few of our members have experienced some major health problems that are being dealt with, and as much as we realize no one will stay on this earth forever, we continue to pray that we can hold on to our friends as long as possible. Western Carolina is known to have a higher incidence of cancer in its population than most of the country. It is hard to find a family not touched by some form of it here. Debbie has volunteered with the Cherokee Cancer Support Group for most of the time that we have lived here. Our Miss Winnie, who was recovering from lung cancer and surgery to remove one of her lungs when we first moved here, was treated again this summer for a re-occurrence. She has made it through, but the intense radiation has definitely taken its toll on her. Another of our ladies is currently going through testing, but it is pretty certain that the diagnosis is kidney cancer. In our small congregation, there is quite a large percentage of our people dealing with some major health issues. Just more hardships to find a way to live with. Finding joy as we daily live for God is a tough subject!
If you have always lived where you currently live, then you can appreciate how it is that new people in town are watched, examined, and even tested to find out their mettle. One of the worst things that happens here is when a minister comes for a couple of years and then leaves, for whatever the reason. It is seen as a non-commitment: here today and gone tomorrow. Stability and knowing who you can count on is of great value to the people here in the mountains, not simply the for the Cherokee but to all the 'mountain folk' of the area.
With our economic climate as it currently is, there are fewer visitors to this area than we once enjoyed. Those who do come through and visit with us are of great encouragement not only to Debbie and me, but the visitors that come through every year helps to give a real sense of acceptability of who we are and who we belong to. We are the Cherokee Church of Christ first and foremost, but there are people who have told us that the warmth they feel, the welcome that is extended, and the feeling of a home away from home for worship makes us proud. If you were to come and visit at some point, you will probably be asked to help on the Lord's table, to lead a prayer, and in rare cases lead singing!
In spite of that, our numbers are really just as solid as ever... contributions are stronger in the 'visitor' months of the year, but people that took years to give for the first time are now weekly contributors, and do so with a great attitude. The core group is continually evolving, some new faces and some that are gone. One of the things that I find, and sometimes get a little bit sad about, is that so many people want easy Christianity, one that doesn't ask them to change and transform into who God wants them to be. After a while they return to either not going to any church, or they move on to a group that gives lip service on Sunday, but is teaching a 'once saved always saved' gospel that is really no gospel at all.
We have begun participating in a program that is targeted towards people living with family members who have addictions. Mostly it is those who are trying to deal with the crazy lives that take over their children who are using drugs. Meth, opiates, crack, heroin (various kinds) and others are rapidly destroying families, often previously good families. The group meets in our building on Tuesday evenings, for anywhere from 90-120 minutes. We have seen people that we would never have met otherwise, and are getting a chance to influence and become part of their lives; perhaps to show them a Christianity, a church, and caring that they have not been accustomed to in the past. There are many churches, but very few that offer food and baby needs like we have. Many churches, but none that wanted to open their doors to this group and take a chance with addicts (a few of them are in the meeting and are seeking a way out) like we have. I pray that this outreach will result in opportunities to reach, teach, and hopefully baptize some of them and help them begin a new walk, one that is worthy of the calling of Christ.
On a personal note, it has been busy beyond any year since we've been in Cherokee, busy with family sadness and joy, new challenges and new birth. We now have 2 granddaughters to go along with the 4 grandsons. June Sexton and Olivia Rowe have joined our happy band! We are a proud Poppa and Noni, and wish they were a little closer for spoiling purposes. Our oldest daughter has been experiencing some ongoing health issues. Debbie's folks are going to be selling their home and moving into an assisted living complex, a reminder that we have less time with them each year that goes by. Jim's mom had 5 1/2 hours of abdominal surgery in June and then it was discovered that she had a seriously deteriorating heart that required 7 1/2 hours of surgery, a couple of bypasses and a replacement valve in August. Two major and intrusive surgeries in a very short period of time had all of us praying and holding our breath. I flew up to Wyoming to spend almost 2 weeks with her as she recovered, while Debbie was with new grand babies and then in Rochester, NY to help her parents downsize and have an estate sale in preparation for their move.
For the 4th fall in a row, in another case of appreciated consistency for us, a group of young men (5th-7th grade) made a weekend trip to Cherokee to help clean gutters, clear flower and vegetable gardens, and rake, trim and do whatever might be needed to help some of our elderly people in this community get ready for winter. The school also has sent 2 groups of girls who have done some impressive cleaning and painting to brighten our entryway and classrooms in the building. These folks come up from the Greater Atlanta Christian school and we are already looking into things for next year's visits.
One really great sign is our evening attendance, no matter the season... it is rare for us to have fewer than 15 people for bible study Sunday and Wednesday evening. There have been nearly a dozen weeks when we have 20 - 25 at each study! Imagine a congregation that routinely averaged 350 for morning worship and could reasonably have 200 to 250 return for evening bible study. We are currently going through the book of Genesis, something that we did the first year that we were here, but now the difference in understanding is obvious and in questions that show insight. "Lot was really a terrible man to do what he did", was from just the other night when we read and talked about him offering up his daughters to the men of Sodom.
Keep us in your prayers, that we may be strong, stay grounded, and continue the task at hand! This is home, we are part of the community in more ways every year, and owe so much to the people who support this work. God is so good! Thank you so much for the love, concern, prayers, cards, and other ways that you help to keep us here doing God's work.
We thank you and love you,
Jim and Debbie Sexton