Sweet Home Church of Christ

As we drove to Sweet Home, Oregon, our last stop on the first leg of our journey, we’d been living 341 days on the road — just 24 days short of a full year.  The drive through the Willamette National Forest on the McKenzie Pass and Santiam Pass Scenic Byway were both bursting with so many wildflowers, that although it was summer, it looked like early spring on the tops of the mountains. Among the lava beds atop the mountains, from time to time we saw little patches of snow. The sight was so rare for a late June afternoon, that finally we were moved to get out of the van and touch it, especially because just a couple hours west, the Willamette Valley was experiencing record-high temperatures. As we pulled into our RV Park in Sweet Home, we noticed the lumber mill across from Foster Lake seemed to have picked up a bit after all these years. As we passed it, I thought about the employees throughout the decades there; hot, sweating, and itchy during their work day, later enjoying a refreshing swim in the lake after work to cool off. Simple pleasures are the best. 

The congregation in Sweet Home, Oregon, holds some memories for us that go all the way back to August of 1983 when Mark and I had been married for only four years. I was twenty-one and he was twenty-four. Our firstborn child was in her first year of life so Mark was busy juggling fatherhood, training to be a preacher, and working full-time at a local grocery store.  For about three years, most Sundays he would be gone all day preaching, mostly for smaller congregations who were without a preacher.  Sweet Home was one of the first congregations that reached out to Mark and invited him to come preach for them.

That was almost forty years ago, and yet we still found that when this congregation sings, it produces perhaps more volume than other groups twice their size. In fact, Mark noted that he felt like he needed to keep one hand on the songbook and the other gripping the pew to keep from being ejected; and suggested maybe they needed little signs mounted on the pews in front with a seatbelt logo that warns “just jump in and hold on”!

As always, the congregation in Sweet Home was very welcoming and incredibly generous. Sweet Home’s preacher, Dave Miller, perhaps twenty years ago did what a lot of men only consider doing, and that is retiring from his secular job in order to preach full-time.   After morning worship, we were given multiple offers to plug in our van at different individual’s homes to keep our cat alive in the 109 degree heat and did so at the country home of Delbert and Debbie Goss who hosted lunch. After a good long chat, we spent the rest of the afternoon with Nick and Juanita Hutchens who told us an inspiring story of how a logger in Sweet Home took note of the warnings of high winds approaching when the wildfires were headed toward Sweet Home.  Instead of waiting to see what might happen, though, he had all his crews and logging buddies load their cats onto lowboys, fueled everything up, and filled to capacity every single water truck available. He first used the water on the power poles because he realized that as dry as all the vegetation was, if a power pole went down in that wind, the fire would be completely out of control by the time the Forest Service could reach them. Sure enough, a fire did start and quickly grew to fifteen acres, but this group of ordinary citizens worked together to put the fire out and save the city— an accomplishment quite noteworthy, seeing that the fire had started just two miles from the little town of Sweet Home.  Without their personal initiative and forethought, there is no doubt that the town of Sweet Home would have ended up burned to the ground like so many of the other towns nearby, and would probably not exist today. The truth is, even the most effective government agencies cannot always move fast enough to save us, so we must therefore give thought to what we must do to take charge of our own well-being. 

What a fitting reminder that, spiritually speaking, if you are not growing, a kind of fire is headed your way, and you have no time to wait for someone else to come along and take over the fire hose of your life.  If you are about to go up in flames, it’s time to move.  It’s time to repent or perish. Others can often help you, and are more than willing (Galatians 6:1ff), but more times than not, only you can motivate yourself to repent, praying for your own forgiveness (Acts 8:22ff).  For that logger, Sweet Home was his town and he cared about it. Let’s care most about the part of us that lives on throughout eternity. Let’s save ourselves (Acts 2:40) no matter what we must sacrifice to do so!

Sometimes smaller congregations may pause and wonder what they have accomplished.  The answer is always “quite a bit”, actually. Your labor is never in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). When decades ago Sweet Home gave that young Mark Dunagan the valuable opportunity to develop preaching skills, all the souls he brought into a relationship with God were brought to God because of this small congregation and others that helped him get started. All that he has accomplished these past forty years, was due in part to this little congregation’s willingness to be a part of the process.  May smaller congregations always remember that a good portion of the fruits of their labor are not seen locally, rather, those fruits are continually being borne by the ones who once came their way, were watered, then went on to bear fruit in other parts of the world.

The church of Christ in Sweet Home will always be a special group to us because not only did they say to Mark, "Come preach for us" when he was just getting started, but Dave and Linda Miller also housed our son while he got his schooling at Oregon State, saving him a lot of debt and gifting him a family life. 

Satan has tried and tried, through various spiritual wildfires, to take down Sweet Home — spiritual wildfires that consumed many souls when I was growing up during the ‘70s and the decades that followed. Far too many churches in the Northwest suddenly decided Jesus didn’t really mean what He said about marriage, divorce and remarriage (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9) and turned a blind eye when a husband traded in his wife for newer, more interesting one because, they would argue, “of course, God's grace is enough to cover all sin and grace will abound”. Others took a sort of middle ground approach of "love the one you're with" no matter who she belonged to (Matthew 14:4) while still others thought they’d opt out and in essence had the policy of “Don’t ask. Don’t tell. And please, please, please don’t talk or preach about it” in order to enjoy at least a feeling of unity by not discussing this corner of the full counsel of God.  Sweet Home didn’t do that.  They were too hearty; “Like a piece of oak that the head of an ax bounces off the top of as you try to split it” as Mark put it.  

If you are a smaller congregation, you are making a huge difference for good in this world, and you most assuredly make the world a better place when, even during spiritual wildfires, you just keep giving the souls around you the living water found only in the “full counsel of God” (Acts 20:20; 27). 

Sweet Home Church of Christ
3702 Long Street
Sweet Home, OR 97386
Phone: 541-367-1599
Email: churchsweethome@yahoo.com