Recently my husband and I made a quick trip to the mountains of Pennsylvania, in part to drive a friend back home after a conference near us in Ohio, in part to visit some other friends during our brief pass through the beautiful fall countryside. As I reminisce over these visits, I am reminded of the value of lifetime friendships as well as the treasure to be found in those who have walked ahead of me in this journey of life.
Our first stop brought us to a 65-acre farm located in the rolling countryside outside of a small Pennsylvania town. The 1840’s farmhouse was purchased some years ago and has been kept up by these dear friends who provided a home for my husband during an 8-week internship and then later provided housing for me during a 2-week college summer school course. And we are not the only ones. Their gift of hospitality has extended to many young people as well as missionaries, guests, friends, and probably even a few strangers over the years. They parented their four children on this farm, teaching them the value of hard work, hospitality, and serving the Lord in whatever way He leads. In addition to involvement in their local church, this couple has traveled around the world on missions trips, volunteering to help out in any way needed. Their journeys have taken them to Africa, New Guinea, and more. Even now, at 75 and 80 years of age, they are preparing to travel to the Dominican Republic in February. As we sat in their farmhouse living room, warmed by the heat of the wood burner and full from a lunch including homemade bread, her delicious potato salad and made-from-scratch pumpkin pie, we reminisced about the past and wondered about the future. My heart was filled with awe to be in the presence of this seasoned couple who have captured and displayed a remarkable blend of pure simplicity and deep devotion to Jesus, both in their living room and around the world. Few people accomplish a lifetime of this – but they have lived it out beautifully.
A mere one-hour-drive later, we met up with another dear friend, the pastor’s wife we first worked with in church ministry. At 91 years of age, she is as warm, witty, compassionate and conversational as I remember her from two decades ago. When my husband and I first entered full-time ministry, this dear lady and her pastor-husband gave us our first chance. They taught us the ropes. They modeled steadfastness in ministry and love for people. They lived out grace and spoke the truth. Her husband has been in Heaven now for 12 years. She is still in the business of encouraging people, making them laugh with her quick wit and making them feel loved with her sweet “God bless you, honey”, which she shares with so many. We took her out to lunch at a local diner and quickly realized all the servers were on a first-name basis with her and even made sure she could sit at her favorite table. As we ate our soup and chatted, I felt like I was in the presence of a rare gem, a model of grace and faithfulness one doesn’t find everyday, a guide to follow on the unknown pathways that lie before me.
Our travels through the mountains also brought us past a favorite local landmark – the Nicholson Bridge, a concrete arch railroad bridge completed in 1915. The massive structure frames the mountains within its parallel arches. The linear tracks march across the sky from mountain to mountain with a strength that has stood the test of time. As I considered the lives of those I spent time with on this visit, I realized that, to me, they are much like this bridge – a bridge from my past to help guide me into my future. Steady, strong, and faithful are these friends to me. And as long as I follow the same path these dear saints are walking, perhaps I, too, will someday be able to display the fine art of faithfulness to those who come behind me. This indeed is my prayer.