One morning at breakfast over some “million dollar bacon” at First Watch Café with socialites :D Ralph and Paula Walker, Mark’s pen was flying as he scratched down (in old school style) every congregation all around Florida Ralph and Paula could think of that we should eventually get around to visiting. Among them was the Chipley church of Christ in northern Florida near the Alabama border. Weeks later, we realized the timing was perfect to visit this congregation, since we’d just spent several nights just west of Chipley at the Twin Lakes RV Park near DeFuniak Springs (where, as Providence would have it, opportunities left and right to give out copies of Your Fresh Start were abundant, and even the owners of the RV park agreed to make them available in their gift shop!)
When we pulled up for worship, we were happily surprised to see the size of the congregation, relative to the size of the small town of Chipley. When we walked in friendly greetings were exchanged --- they had many visitors to meet and greet, including about a half dozen singers from Florida College that had performed for some of them the evening before.
As we walked toward an empty pew, Terry and Rosa Nichols snagged us for a quick chat and before we could even sit down, we had been invited to spend time with them that evening for what turned out to be a bi-monthly gathering at the preacher’s house. After a good class on comparing Old Testament prophecies on the predictions of the life of Christ, to New Testament fulfillments of those prophecies, we had our break and the sermon began on the topic of teaching our children. Preacher Darrel Yontz walked us through the “how” of teaching our children about God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 6:7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children”. He discussed the “when” of having open conversations on spiritual topics with our children, “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (at every opportunity!) and the “whys” in Proverbs 23:14 (to put it bluntly) to “deliver his soul from hell”. Then we explored the benefits the souls of children receive when they open their hearts to receive God’s instructions through their parents in Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
Brother Yontz reminded us that often our instruction will be more likely to be persuasive if we treat even our children the way we ourselves would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12), that is, with love (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:4; 1 Cor. 13), kindness, gentleness, and humility (1 Pet. 3:7; Col. 4:6). We are to set a good example in all things, including being “still” inside and out during all times, but especially in periods of chaos so we can show our children how to feel and know that “God is God”. And finally, we must realize and teach our children that true knowledge comes from listening attentively to Him, so that we can gain an understanding of His wisdom, to be able to use that spiritual wisdom to make better decisions. Clearly, this congregation treasured the souls of its children--- the topic of the sermon showed such to be so.
After the closing prayer, announcements were given--- (which I found to be a brilliant idea that lends more flexibility as to what kinds of announcements can be made and by whom. In fact, they had created a small blank announcement document that could be filled out and passed on to whomever was making the announcements. Hey, that’s handy!) At the end of the announcements, the same brother, Terry Nichols, who had invited us to the evening gathering, stood up and with much emotion expressed the deep joy, gratitude, and relief he was feeling for having seen, for the first time at this worship service, the new, and much loved little baby boy whom the congregation had collectively poured out such exceptionally earnest prayers for his healthy development and delivery. Truly, the love this congregation has for their little ones is from the heart. It was beautiful.
We were offered some afternoon hospitality between morning and evening worship by Tom and Virgie Bowen --- so kind of them, especially given the fact they had just housed the young men from the college who had come to town to sing and encourage the local youth. In the Bowen’s living room we shared stories and got to know one another while Mark washed the Airstream. When he finished, he came in and I went out and napped in the van while he took a turn enjoying their good company.
After evening worship, we joined this happy church family for the delicious Mexican food Rhenea Yontz and others had cooked for the crowd, then had a great family conversation with the houseful on the importance of being still and silent habitually every day while listening to God (reading the word) and being devoted to prayer. It was so encouraging to hear little tips and hear the blessings our brethren had experienced in the course of being disciplined in this corner of their lives.
As we said our goodbyes, I learned how Rhenea managed to care for her bedridden father while juggling regular Sunday night gatherings in her home of the youth (who happily stay until wee hours if there’s something pressing that needs counsel), along with parenting classes, ladies classes, marriage classes --- whatever is needed. I commended her for somehow wrangling the energy of a 30 year old with all they have going on in their congregation, and she just giggled. They do A LOT of that around this congregation. I mean a lot. And I like that.
On a side note, one thing we giggled at was that earlier in the day, after the sermon, Mark mentioned the preacher had in the past preached full time for a congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Only then did I realize I had actually stayed in his and Rhenea’s home one night with my friend Stephanie Merrill on the aforementioned 11,300 mile, 57-day journey in 2017 we called the “Only God'' roadtrip. How could I have forgotten?! We had arrived at the Yontz’s that night, cresting a mountain, not expecting to see the vastness of the beautiful city lights of Albuquerque below and after a great night’s sleep, the next morning we were shown some samples of long rectangular polymers that we could choose from that Darrel took out to his garage and returned with a pretty little pens he’d made out of them somehow. In fact, I had that very pen in my purse the whole time I was listening to him preach, thinking I’d never met him. I've no idea my excuse. #brainfreeze
1295 Brickyard Road
Chipley, FL 32428