As we were exploring the small towns of northern Florida, back in Oregon pictures started coming in of significant structural damage to the church building Mark had preached in for 28 years. An intoxicated 20-year-old man had plowed into the brick building, wiping out the church sign out front as well. No one was hurt, and he was arrested on multiple charges.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, we camped near a large group of ultra-right wing militia who rode motorcycles into our camp, whose founder is a descendant of a cult you would likely recognize, but I'll not mention except to say if you’ve been around long enough, a member of this cult may have tried to hand you a free flower in an airport in 70s in exchange for a “donation.”
When we pulled into our RV park in Perry, Florida, we were delighted to see it came with a nice fire pit and a couple of Adirondack chairs. One of the many projects I’d tackled in preparation for our travels in the years before we took flight, was to use “voice-to-text” to quickly type all the best conversation starter questions into a document from the stacks of coffee table cards and books we’d collected over the years. Though I left out the questions that were either boring, obvious, stupid, or inappropriate, I still had 450 that made the cut, so for several nights we put on an extra layer of warm clothes, built a fire, and made it all the way to question #131. After forty-one years of marriage, we often know what the answer is going to be, but when the topics are as diverse as this collection of questions, the surprise answers are always interesting and can lead to fascinating little rabbit trails we’ve never before explored, and since the collection is easily accessible on both our phones, we can spontaneously whip them out on the fly with both new and old friends.
In the morning, Mark contacted the preacher, Aric Russell, to see if he could go to lunch while we were in town, and Aric, who recognized Mark’s name from his online show Answering Religious Error, not only was spontaneous enough to say “Yes!”, he was kind enough to swing by the RV park and pick up Mark for that lunch. They, along with an elder from the congregation, had a great, encouraging conversation. In fact, in the late afternoon the next day, Aric’s wife Cassie took us up on our last-minute offer to treat them and their sweet kids to a Mexican dinner before Bible class, where we got to know each other better.
As we chatted, we learned the congregation had been hit hard by the pandemic. Three had died and several had fought the virus repeatedly, still experiencing lingering physical side effects. Given those losses, we were impressed by the courage of both the Russells, all those at the congregation, including several young moms with children who lingered to exchange encouragement with us, and a friendly, older farming couple who invited us to their country property for cake and warm conversation about their travel stories and ours. Though in a high-risk demographic, they were willing to take a physical chance to gain a spiritual advantage. This seemed so consistent with our study that evening in 2 Kings about Hezekiah's reforms with an emphasis on keeping the church pure from contamination by the world by resisting the influences of the culture. We found hardy stock in these northern Florida parts — which is reassuring in a world full of such chaos around us. In fact, with all the young couples there supporting one another to raise the next generation of soldiers of Christ, you might say they live up to their name: Spring Warriors!
Spring Warrior Church of Christ
7432 S. Red Padgett Rd
Perry, FL 32348