One of the annual missions of our congregation is called Project Joy an Appalachian Ministry. Every year, with the help of 24 other churches and dozens of folks that live in our neighborhood, we gather warm clothing, school supplies, food, children’s books, and bibles and travel to Harlan, Kentucky. The National Guard allows us to set up in its armory.
Harlan is a coal mining town whose heyday was some 50 years ago. Many folks live up in the hills and have very little of anything. Children often go without. Winter is harsh.
The poverty cycle in Harlan is extreme. We realize that one day a year probably won’t break it. Our hope is to provide some needed goods, some hope, and some joy.
A few years ago, we decided to put up a prayer station near the exit. I put out two chairs, one for me and one for another person. I taped a sign on the back of the chair with the words “Need Prayer?”
Most of the folks are too focused on getting what they need for their children and for
themselves to think about prayer, but I get about a dozen folks a year that will
sit down for it.
I have heard one heartbreak story after another. I have seen many tears shed and heard the voice of desperation. I have sat with 40 year-old women who looked 70. I have blessed children who are wearing their first shoes and first winter coats.
Most of the people that sit down are women. It seems that women are more likely to ask for prayer than men. I think it’s connected to asking for directions when we are lost. We don’t do that either.
Sometimes I am surprised, though.
There was an enormous man wearing a sleeveless jean jacket, tattoos all over. He looked like a recently retired small-time professional wrestler. He walked on passed me to the medical booth to get his blood pressure checked and his blood sugar taken.
Rather than leaving from there with his bag of goods and food box, he placed it in a corner near the exit and came my way. He said, “Bless you so much for what you’re doin’. I hate takin’ help from anyone, but it’s been a tough year and my grandkids need things…I need stuff, too, I guess. I got diabetes, but I can’t afford the medication. They just told me my sugar was over 300…My grandkids really need me. Their dad’s in prison for makin’ meth
and their mom left town. It’s just me and I don’t know what’ll happen to ‘em if I die.”
I knew he wanted prayer, but wasn’t going to ask. “Can I pray for you?”
He sat down and bowed his head. I laid my hand on his shoulder. He covered his face with his enormous hand. I prayed. He shook.
When we finished, he stood up and said, “You just don’t know what a blessing this is.” Before I knew what was happening he pulled me in to the biggest bear hug I’ve ever had. I felt like a child in comparison to his size, and I go about 6’2” 215 pounds. He squeezed me for a good ten seconds, an eternity in man hug time.
He looked at me again and said, “I miss my boy.”
The huge wrestler of a father then turned, picked up his bag of clothes and food box, and left.