Friday, November 3, 2017

The Old Country Church- Bethabara Baptist, Cane Island

Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them"

Bethabara Baptist Church is situated on Cane Island in Northeast Arkansas, and was established in the 1880's. During the early years, hitching posts dotted the church yard for the many wagons and horses that were the modes of transportation in that era. In later years, a tractor or a bob-truck could be seen parked among the pickups with a few cars here and there. I don't know what the original building looked like or when the one in the above picture was built, but I know this building has served the community well for many years.

Progress in farming machinery has allowed farmers to plant and harvest crops on hundreds of acres scattered across the county. The small family farm of forty acres no longer exists in this world of more is better. The descendants of those farmers who inherited the land now rent it out as they have no interest in farming it themselves.

Times change, and with those changes the landscape changes too. At one time, the community of Cane Island had so many houses and so many school-children that the bus had standing room only at the end of the route.

 The fields were separated with fence rows of honeysuckle vines intertwined with scrub brush amid small trees.  The roads were dirt or gravel, at best, and the dust kicked up by the truck tires would cover front porches that were close to the road.

Now as you drive on the levee road, the church and the few houses still there are in clear view. The land is wide open, planted with crops of cotton, soybeans, corn and peanuts as far as the eye can see.

That old country church is coming down. The faithful members of this congregation have built a family life center behind the old church, and I was privileged to be there in September when they hosted a luncheon for the area farmers. What a proud and happy day. The family life center will serve as a place of worship until a new sanctuary building is completed. Praise and worship will continue just as it has since the 1880's. 

The building will be new but the "church" is the same. Some of the members have never worshiped anywhere else. They were saved and baptized in that little white church over fifty years ago. 

The Old Country Church 

Oh, I'd like to go back
To that old country church
To hear the songs of praise
How the people would sing
It would make the rafters ring
At that old, at that old country church.

Hundreds of devoted, hard-working Christian people brought their families and served as teachers, choir members, deacons, ushers, and even janitors if the church needed to be cleaned. Children learned about Jesus in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

Oh, I'll never forget
At the old country church
How the glory of the Lord came down
And the children would smile
As they shouted down the aisle
Of that old, of that old country church

Several generations have passed through those doors and their descendants are many of the members today. They are a small congregation, but they are huge warriors for Christ!

Then on Sunday I'd see
All my friends dear to me
At that old, at that old
Country church, country church
When we'd kneel down to prayer
Everybody would be there
At that old, at that old
Country church

Now the years have gone by
And so many have died
At the old country church
But they're on the other shore
Where they'll sing forever more
As they did at that old country church

 Many loved ones have been residents of Heaven for many, many
 years.We will join them one by one, and just maybe somewhere along those streets of gold we will come upon an 
Old Country Church.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Legacy of John and Julia Townsley

       For many, many years on the second Saturday of August, the descendants of John and Julia Townsley gather in Knox County in the Appalachians of eastern Kentucky for a family reunion.
    The second Saturday of 2017 was the 13th of August. John and Julia left a wonderful legacy for their children. Through the years some have scattered far and wide across this great country, raising families of their own. Others chose to remain in Kentucky, and a few who left returned in later life. Many descendants make this trip annually to reconnect with the roots of their ancestors. Nine states were represented this year.
    On Sunday of the reunion weekend a tradition has been to visit the cemetery  where John and Julia were laid to rest, along with three children who did not survive. The cemetery is on top of a mountain and a few fearless and brave souls still make the trek up that treacherous and winding road to pay their respects.
    My husband Howard is one of their many grandsons––they are his maternal grandparents. I am saddened that I never had the pleasure of knowing them. As I participated in the family festivities of hugs, laughter, and home-grown foods from gardens scattered around the local hills and valleys, I marveled that this gathering has not failed to meet since the early 80’s when it began.
      I wondered what John and Julia would think to witness the family members in attendance out of the one hundred and forty-seven who had or have life because of their sweet union that began over one hundred years ago.
    John Anderson Townsley was born in 1888 at Turkey Creek, Kentucky. He married Julia Belle Smith of Hinkle, Kentucky on March 17, 1916. They gave birth to fifteen children, twelve who lived to adulthood. Those twelve children gave their parents thirty-three grandchildren, seventy-one great-grandchildren and forty-three great-great-grandchildren.
    Of the twelve children, four have passed on from this world and joined their parents in eternity. Seven of the eight living children are women. One of the sisters has been in a local nursing home for several months, and at the end of the festivities on Saturday, the sisters and a few nieces went to visit. Later, my mother-in-law Eva, told me they gathered around her bed and sang Amazing Grace, and Aunt Bib, as she is called, sung every word. They are devoted to her, and it was a small way to include her in the reunion that she had always attended in the past.
    John studied medicine under his father’s supervision, and under the authority of the Health Departments of Knox, Laurel, Bell, Whitley and Clay Counties of Kentucky he delivered eight hundred and seventy-three babies. In the rural area where he lived he was called upon to treat everything from hiccups to skin cancer. He served in the US Army during the First World War and was the Deputy County Clerk of Knox County for thirty-four years. He also cultivated the family farm, growing tobacco and sugar cane, while being Pop to his twelve children. John was a busy man!
    Julia was a loving mother to her children and a loving wife to her husband.  The home-place was her nest where she grew a large garden, harvesting vegetables to can in half gallon jars stowed in the root cellar under the house. It was enough to feed their large family of fourteen, as well as sharing with hungry neighbors. The cow provided milk, the chickens provided eggs and hogs provided the bacon, all these things were the mainstay of feeding the family.
    My mother-in-law Eva reminisces about climbing the hill behind the house to get the cow and bring her down for the night. And I’m sure she, along with her siblings, did a lot of milking that cow as well as working in the garden and gathering eggs.
    I know many families in my home state of Arkansas who grew up in large families and had a similar life. God is the master designer of the family and knowing and appreciating your lineage is a beautiful thing to be celebrated. The Townsley family know that, and celebrate every year on the second Saturday of August!  

Back Row: Agnes Townsley Stacey, Cleda Townsley Stoller, Colonel Townsley, Mae Townsley Broughton Flynn, Vivian Townsley Ledford.
Middle Row: Eva Townsley Hulen, John Anderson Townsley, Julia Bell Smith Townsley, Ida Townsley Gambrel
Front Row: Jean Townsley Warring, Kelly Townsley, Clarence Ray Townsley, Beulah Townsley Pittman Genslak, and Fern Townsley Leford

Monday, January 30, 2017

Happy Heavenly Birthday Amy

    Today is Amy's birthday. Her dad and I talked about it a few times in the past couple of weeks. Things like, "Amy's birthday is only a few days away," and the answer, "yes I know," and then nothing more. Why are birthdays, holidays and special days so hard?  We miss them every day, but more so on special days. January 30th will always be her day! We would have mailed a card, called her and wish her Happy Birthday on facebook with funny pics through the years and tag her so she would see.
    Working on a project for another high school graduation in our family has kept me busy looking through old pictures. And up until two years ago she was in so many of our family photos, as you would expect, and her face has appeared over and over today...tears.
    I went for a walk and as usual I talk to God. I asked Him to tell me something He wanted me to know. I was trying to clear my mind of the memories  when I heard wind chimes... always a sweet sound. Amy gave me wind chimes several years ago and they hang outside by my porch every year in warm weather. When they make beautiful sounds in the wind I hear her say,"Hey I'm okay, I'm happy and I'll see you again." Sometimes I smile and sometimes the ache to see her and hear her sweet soft voice is overwhelming. But today the sound sent a message from God that I needed to acknowledge her special day.
   I began to think about all the things she loved here. And all the things I want everyone to know about her. These are only a few.
    She was passionate about Jesus and she wasn't afraid to die. She didn't want to leave her family, but she knew where she was going. She loved deeply. If you are related to her you were a recipient of her love and you were blessed by her. If she was your friend, you knew she would always be your friend, because she was fiercely loyal.
   Amy Elizabeth Hulen Kelley was competitive! She was a fierce competitor in basketball and soccer and any other game. She wanted to win and she wanted to be the best!  Laughing hysterically and making those around her laugh too was a huge part of her personality. Colorado became her home and she loved the mountains. She loved the color purple and she loved senior citizens.
    Her fair skin was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because coupled with her auburn hair, beautiful eyes and the few freckles sprinkled across her nose she was a natural beauty, though she never believed that about herself. A curse because the sun was not her friend.  
    Trying new things and going new places was another love, and she wanted her children to experience those things too. She always knew what was going on in the community, where she could introduce them to fishing, or the circus, or a parade or whatever might be happening that she wanted to be a part of.
     She was known for gift giving. Her gifts were always perfect, just right for the recipient, and after her gift was opened and oohed over then we always felt ours were inadequate. Always. But that was something else to love about her.
    Intelligence was one of her attributes. She was very, very smart. And she passed that to her boys. She always made sure their homework was done and they had better have good grades.
    When Amy became sick she was an ICU nurse in Colorado Springs. She was an excellent nurse and cared passionately for her patients. The picture at the beginning was in the lobby of the hospital. One of her patients nominated her as one of the Hero's of the medical community there.  She reluctantly showed it to us and of course tried to say it wasn't a big deal. But it was a big deal to that patient.
    There are so many more things I could say about her, but the main thing I want to do is to acknowledge that a sweet baby girl was born on this day in 1976 and she brought so much joy to the lives of her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. She was a wonderful wife and a loving and protective Mom to her boys and Mimi to her grandchildren and we all miss her terribly.
    All these things I've described were good things. Not all things in Amy's life were good. Like all of us, we go through good times and bad times. But the day she closed her eyes here and opened them in Heaven God made everything good. Every. Thing. Good.
     We love and miss her and on her birthday today we remember her and the life she shared with all of us.
(If you are related or a friend please share any memories that you have. We would love to know)