When people ask us how we got to Ripley, or why, the answer usually strikes them as looney, quickly followed by something along the lines of, “Oh my, there’s nothing like that around here. That’s so cool. And needed!”
We answer their first question with something along the lines of: “We didn’t choose this place. God did. The Holy Spirit led the way.”
Befuddlement. Until we answer their why.
Our road here has been very long and circuitous, a wandering path that led through about as many valleys as it did thorns. The road was rarely straight. Never narrow. Certainly not where we might have planned, but when does God ever take His people through the most direct route? Ask the Israelites about their trip out of Egypt. We all know how that turned out.
Like His chosen people, we wandered about with seemingly little purpose until, finally, reaching the threshold of our promised land. But, like his chosen slaves so long ago who were reluctant to enter their kingdom, some let us know that “here” doesn’t seem so promising for those on the outside.
The west side of the state. In the heart of the midsouth. Not the side that’s filled with the awe and majesty of the Appalachian Mountains, where tourists seek pancake houses, go-kart races, and the gates of Dollywood. We’re not even near centrally placed Nashville. Music City. Where dreams live (and some die), hits are made, country reigns, and Hollywood increasingly comes calling.
We’ve been called a bit further west—a little deeper into the middle of this wonderful nation: Where the land is dirty, the allergies high, humidity more complete than our previous Florida, and the water flowing through the Mississippi muddy and sick.
Ripley is beautiful, though, with masses of corn and cotton in the spring and summer and crisp, colorful fall and just enough snow in winter to enjoy the season and the rest it brings the land. River to a ranch with promise and potential, but in and among the great need here.
The people here are strong. Proud. Kind (for the most part). Hard-working (for the most part). Many love and fear God, reaching and longing for the loving grace, guidance, and strength of our Savior.
Others here struggle mightily. Survival the order of each day, or so it would seem. But we can relate – intimately. For many here in one of Tennessee’s poorest counties, the work is hard and dirt-filled. For some, it’s honest; for others, not so much. For those who toil, here it sometimes seems like that’s even a little bit more toilsome than in other places—the ground a little harder, the dust a little lighter and easier to fly.
But Ripley is now our home, this amazing and proud and long-lived jewel of west Tennessee. We are where the Lord led us, where we asked Him to send us when we asked Him to send us where He needed us.
Here, in the west, it’s a bit flatter than its more heavily trafficked ease side, and some might not find it as majestic. But the greens and golds are brilliant and varied, and the overwhelming presence of the Lord obvious even as so many here seek after their daily provision. Some, like us, long for hope; for others, direction after becoming lost along the way. The Israelites might have fit in nicely here.
We pray that we do. In our promised land. Where we ask the King to let us serve His people, worship Him and build an organization that serves the least of these and places Him at the center of all it does, even if it is a little further west of where most here wish to look.