Hello dear friends,
Another year has come to a close and it just seems normal to look back and see all that God has done for us. We will be starting our ninth year here in Cherokee this April! Where has the time gone? In so many ways, things have not changed and seem to be the same; but then again, are they?
Cherokee remains a lovely place with the Tribe continuing to make cosmetic improvements to what we see around us. The water table, ever so close to the surface of the ground, seems to be continually floating around us as we ended the year with over two and a half feet above the normal rainfall for the year. But more important than the physical aspects around us, are the changes that we are seeing within those who are involved with the church here.
Early Spring brought us Jack Hilliard and Ben Flatt to hold a gospel meeting for us. It was so good to have them share with us their years of experience, learning and service to God. Those who came certainly benefited from the experience. Jack has been a long-time supporter of the work here in Cherokee and we so value the love and prayers he always sends this way.
In the Spring, we rejoiced as Sam Swayney and his 11 year old son Hunter became family when they put their Lord on in baptism. Sam is someone who we became friends with not long after arriving in Cherokee. It was overwhelming to know that we had a part in helping him to see his need for a Savior. We pray that he and Hunter continue to grow in the love and knowledge of God. We welcomed David and Brooke Ratcliff along with their children Brianna, Austin and new baby Ceran. David and Brooke are managing the Smokey Mountain Cabins about 1/4 mile from the church building and moved here from Valdosta, GA two summers ago. Along with Logan who was baptized a year ago and Ian our song leader, we now have a small source of "men" who can help with activities during our church services. David and Ian have stepped in a couple of times to lead the service on Sunday nights when Jim was not available. It has been a growing experience for them both and one that we are grateful they will step up to. David is a fairly young Christian man and it is a testament to his faith that he overcomes his fears and speaks from his heart to our people. And we know that you all have experienced that same sense of pride that we have as our young men assist during the communion service.
Spring also brought us some new friends as we made the acquaintance of a group of Jamaican women who were staying in Cherokee to work at a local hotel through the end of the year. Several of them worshiped with us from time to time, with 3 being fairly constant when they weren't working. We spent much time with these women as we helped shuttle them to Sylva, and Asheville for shopping expeditions and filled in, now and then, as a spiritual advisor. These women ranged in age from their 30s to 50s and have come year after year to the US to work and send money home for expenses and to their grown children as they attend colleges and universities here in the States. It has been a pleasure to get to know these women and learn a bit of what life in Jamaica is like. Some of them hope to return in a few months to work again and we look forward to seeing them again.
The Fall brought us two groups of youngsters (5th-7th graders mostly) from the Greater Atlanta Christian School near Atlanta, GA. This is the second year they have come to help work on projects around the church building and in the community. They are a terrific group of young people who work hard, without complaining, and are so polite and helpful. We have really enjoyed getting to know Joe Edelhuber, their group leader, who takes the time to stop by and visit when going by the area, even if it is for just a quick afternoon visit. We pray that our relationship with these young people continues to grow as they serve this community and as we hope we are encouraging and helping them to grow spiritually as well. Joe has also assisted us with the development of a website that will be of great use to us as we learn to work with it. We have found that there are several places on the internet with contact information for the church in Cherokee. Unfortunately, not all of the information is currently correct and there is not a way to change it.
Other signs of growth in our members are hard to see from the outside, but they are definitely there and make us so thankful. It is difficult to put into words, but our ladies seem to be developing more caring for each other and themselves. The activities that have happened this past year really seem to be drawing our friends closer together. In June, the ladies from the West 7th congregation in Columbia, TN (led by Faye Kinzer), came to help us with our 7th annual ladies day. These women have been devoted to coming every year to lead our program with speakers, song leader and activities. We have just had to supply the place, attendees and food. Faye was saying that with this last visit, they feel more of a connection with our ladies than ever. It is something both groups look forward to as personal relationships slowly grow. Having this group of women come back year after year has really been a lesson to our ladies about the caring and sisterhood that is shared within the church. Another wonderful happening for our ladies, in fact for all, was when Sue Fox brought friends from her personal spa business and the community of Columbia, TN, and even a couple from Louisville, KY, to bless us with a spa day. This group of folks spent the entire day with us providing haircuts, manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, food, crafts and spiritual fellowship to our community. They worked consistently from 8 in the morning till 8 at night providing services to our women, men and children as well as several from the community. It was an unbelievable work of service and one that was so unique in that it provided such a personal experience to each individual. It wasn't until afterwards that we realized what this meant to some of our folks. For some of them, being touched was not always a loving experience, and to allow someone to be so personal was such an act of faith on their part. We so easily forget, or just don't realize, that to accept a hug or touch on the arm can dredge up very unpleasant memories for many of these people. Debbie realized this as she watched one of the ladies getting her hair trimmed. As she saw the stylist brush her hand down this women's hair, telling her how pretty it was, Debbie realized that here was a women who had lived with a lot of abuse over her lifetime, who stiffened when given a hug, and who flinched when her arm was touched; yet here she was allowing someone to touch her so intimately with love instead of anger. What a revelation that was! And what an unknowing blessing given by these folks from Columbia. Praise God for all His wisdom and surprises!
We continue to be humbled and in awe of how God continues to bless us and the work here by people outside of this community who care about sharing the love of God with others. We are so grateful for the financial contributions that allow us to live here and daily be available for the people and their needs. We appreciate so much the friends who send supplies for our food pantry and personal items that cannot be gotten with food stamps. Every Sunday the congregation uses study material supplied by others. People stopping by to attend a service while they are on vacation or passing through the area are a breath of fresh air that we look forward to. And we are thankful that they see the importance of making time to worship even while away from home. There are several families that are regular visitors as they stay in the area for the summer. It is so nice to have their time with us. Our potlucks are especially blessed by them (ha ha). All of these blessings help us to cope with the daily frustrations, and sometimes loneliness, as we struggle with trying to share the love of God with those around us. We never know when the phone will ring or when there will be a knock on the door from someone needing food, diapers, baby formula, a ride somewhere, selling crafts to make some money, gas or spare tire. Believe it or not, we get knocks at the door sometimes at 10:30 or 11 at night from people with these needs. Sometimes a phone call will come at 2:00 in the morning from someone who needs to talk, usually someone who has had too much to drink and is feeling down. Jim always responds (and Debbie always reminds him to take his cell phone) and God has always protected him.
Debbie continues to work with the Cherokee Cancer Support Group as their secretary and volunteer. She and Jim are both now working with a new program through the American Cancer Association called the Community Health Network. Western Carolina has one of the highest incidences of cancer in the country and part of that problem stems from being an area of low income and mountainous living. How the CHN works is very similar to friendship evangelism in that people within a community can better speak with each other and encourage one another to move in a right direction - in this case, seeing the need for and getting screened for certain cancers that are shown to be more readily identified and treated. We hope that this will be another way that we can meet people to serve them in more than one way.
The church building and house remain in fairly good condition. We had to put some work into plumbing and electrical issues with the house this past year. They seem to be okay now. This year, we will need to pay some attention to the electric and plumbing at the building as well as work on painting the outside trim. The lease, which expired the end of 2012, has still not been renewed. We have been assured that there is no problem and that all will remain as it has been. We continue to wait on the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to complete the paperwork and have it approved by all involved. As you can tell, doing things in a timely manner doesn't always happen here, but we continue to be assured that all is well. We have met members of the family that own the property our buildings are on, and they are pleased with what they see. The Wolfetown Community Club who holds the lease also say they are very appreciative of all that the church is doing here in the community, and so we believe that we just have to be patient and the new lease will be completed sometime soon.
Personally, our family continues to grown and stay healthy. We were able to spend a few days around the New Year in Tennessee with our children and are looking forward to the arrival of two babies this Spring. Debbie was able to visit her family in Rochester, NY this past summer and hopes to go again this year. Jim's mother is doing well and living in Green River, WY near his sister Donna. We miss our friends and family, but continue to believe that God has a plan for us here, and that here in Cherokee is where we need to be. Progress is slow, but God is patient and so must we be. Thank you all for being patient as well. As Paul said, we must continue to run the race knowing the value of the prize before us. We pray that day comes soon, but until then we will continue to do the best we can in His name.