Milestones, April 2018
Anniversaries Gary and Emalee Johnson 50 years Gary and Emalee…
March 24, 2018 at Happy, Texas in the home that for past and nearly thirty-six years has been a part in God’s magnificent handiwork creating memorable and wonderful memories for his kingdom via the Happy Church of Christ and the humble abode of Alvin and Mary Moudy.
I have been a part of Alvin and Mary’s family story for nearly thirty-six years, and for that time span we knew each other for twelve years through Bible correspondence. And for the almost twenty-four years, we have known each other face-to-face. I was her sixteenth student from Ghana for the International Bible Correspondence (IBC) according to her records. This was an evangelism effort organized by the Happy Church of Christ. As Mary tells the story, the name Philip, my name, caught her attention as her grandfather was also Phillip, though mine is spelled with one l instead of two lls. That is, Philip instead of Phillip. I have known Mary Moudy my bible correspondence teacher first as Mary, Cathy, then as Mother, and then as Grandy… But for the purposes of this narrative, I will stick with Mary.
My side of the story started early June of 1982. It was the last day of our elementary school career and the three smallest bodies – Ernest, Kingsley and myself, in our post sixth grade class of Hampstead Preparatory School, Korle Gonno, Accra in Ghana were on our way home, perhaps never to see each other again. I lived the farthest then Ernest. But Kingsley lived closer to the school, but he chose to see us off as we were heading off to different secondary schools in different parts of the country. On that fateful day in early June as we were saying our goodbyes near the post office, Ernest last thing to do was to drop off some mails at the post office before heading home. This last business of Ernest caught Kingsley’s attention as well as mine. And so we asked Ernest about his mail, and he told us about the bible correspondence he was about to mail to America. I am not sure now what was more exciting to us, the study of the bible or just the idea of corresponding with someone in America, but both Kingsley and I expressed interest and asked Ernest to include our names as potential students. This he did right at the post office and mailed it. As Mary remembers, Ernest was one of the few names given to her when she signed up to participate as a teacher in the bible correspondence with the IBC.
Both Kingsley and I received our first Bible correspondence package around August/September of 1982. That was when snail mail was really slow and it took about three months to receive a correspondence to Ghana from America, or from America to Ghana. That is, it took us about six months to conclude a course. The way it worked was that I’d receive a package from Mary, read it, answer the questions and mail it. She will receive my correspondence in about three months after I had mailed my answers back to her, grade them and send back the graded course with a new set of courses. We repeated this cycle for nearly twelve years. In that time span, I believe we corresponded every year at least once even when things got mostly hectic on my part with school and other life events. She later told me she looked forward to my correspondence whenever I could write to her. And she was ever willing and ready to include a course package to stimulate my spiritual growth.
After about a year of doing these courses, my older sister who was a member of the Takoradi Church of Christ encouraged me to get baptized, for she knew I had been studying the Bible through correspondence and had been going to church with her for several months then. But my choice to get baptized was not because I thought I had understood much from my studies, rather I chose to get baptized because I could get my own ration of food. I have often thought about that since then, and I must confess that it humbles me to realize that I came to Christ like those multitudes who followed him from one place to another just because he fed them. But I must further confess that Christ has kept me closer to him because of great examples I saw in Mary, my bible correspondence teacher, and my local preacher.
You see, included in each correspondence package was a two or sometimes three-page personalized letter to me from Mary. And depending on the season, she would write about what’s going on in the life of her family, new events or additions via birth or marriage, the effect of the season on farming as Alvin, Gramps, was growing wheat and raising cattle at the time, what’s going on in the church and other things that caught might be of interest. This impressed me quite a bit. I believe Alvin was still the principal at Happy High School. She will then end her letters with questions such as what does your mother do? What does your father do? How is school? Or tell me about what school is like? I remember thinking at one point, why does this lady want to know so much about me and my family? Eventually, I started following her examples and start sharing with her some of my challenges in school and family. Often, she’ll suggest how to deal with a challenge here or there, but always her encouragements were about being true and faithful to God and his will.
At one point, she included a dollar bill in one of her correspondence with a note for me to use that money. This she did without my asking. I cannot tell you the excitement that generated for me. Later in my reply to that correspondence, I felt obligated to inform her that I had taken the money she’d sent me to the black market where I got the most money back in the exchange instead of taking it to the bank where the exchange rate was much less. She responded back saying she was glad I got the most money back. Later as God opened the opportunity for us to meet in person, she will often refer to that money exchange story and assure me that she thought getting the most out of that dollar was the right thing to do for a poor boy. But what was more impressive to her was the need I felt to let her know that I didn’t feel good taking her dollar to the black market.
Being a young Christian man and her bible student then, her encouragements plus her personal interest in what’s going on in my life as caught my attention in no small manner. I clearly remember wondering on a few occasion if it were ever going to be possible to meet her in-person before heaven? This, God has granted beyond measure and that dream to a large extent beyond my imagination. And over the past twenty-three plus years, God opened the door for us to meet and know each other in-person.
But let me digress a little to clarify what I mean by being baptized because of food. The late 1970s and the early 1980s were trying times for Ghanaians due to political instabilities and famine. The famine was a new experience to Ghanaians and it started early 1982 and lasted through early 1984. This led to food shortages as there was no rain and local farming efforts yielded hardly anything. As this news spread worldwide, churches of Christ in the United States collected and shipped food to Christians in Ghana. This brought lots of attention to the churches in Ghana as people lined up for free food.
This also brought more people into the churches, especially when the time came for food distribution. The church leaders in charge of the food distribution had to come up with ways to ensure that the church members got their rations first before non-members. As a result, my sister who was a member would get her food, but as a non-member, I had to wait to get some food, or nothing sometimes. At this, my sister would say, “You see, if you were baptized, you’d have your own food!” She’d add, “You’ve been studying the bible with your teacher for more than a year, what are you waiting for?” after a couple of times of this repeating, I decided it made no sense not to be baptized and I had no reason for the delays, so I gave in to be baptized, so I too could have ‘my food’. I made the decision on September 23rd of 1983 and, I was dipped in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and was baptized for the remission of my sins by Brother Munko.
I’m sure you’d say that was a successful evangelism effort that yielded successful results, and thus the story has a great ending, but not for God and certainly not for Mary, my bible teacher. When she heard the news of my baptism, she was very excited but also resolved that that was not the time to end our studies. Those who know Mary’s bible study habits will attest to this, that is, there has not been a day gone by that she woke up out of bed and the first thing on her mind was not reading her bible in the first hour. This has been my observation since I have been privileged to witness this for myself firsthand as a guest and part of the Alvin and Mary family. I have come to believe that this was what she wanted to pass on to her students. For she will often say that to come to know God is to know his word and this she believed came from studying God’s word regularly. Can you guess the first thing she included in my next package after my baptism? A new bible and a daily Bible reading schedule. The schedule covered reading the entire bible in one year. And for more than ten years I used the same schedule. One time I wrote to her that the schedule had fallen apart. In my next package, she included a new schedule with the explanation that she found an extra one she could spare. My wife has recreated that schedule, and we still have it. Looking back, I know her effort and example has helped me cultivate my own Bible reading habits over the years.
This summarizes my first twelve years and that is not the end of it. Around this time our correspondence slowed a bit and I moved from Ghana to Brooklyn, New York. Coming to New York was through no effort of Mary or Alvin, but once she learned of my presence in the US, she spared no little effort to meet me. This is important because the work the Lord did through her in bringing me into his kingdom was separate, and his plan to bless us with each other’s lives was also separate and purely a blessing of his. The importance of this for me also comes from the thought and burden the impression might impose on others and dissuade a genuine effort to win souls for the Lord. I don’t want any potential future teacher interested in teaching others to feel the need or even think that they might need to one day help their student come to America. If God chooses to open that avenue for such an effort to be possible and one can, then, by all means, please take advantage of it. In my case, however, my coming to America was purely God’s work and his providence.
I don’t remember writing to Mary that I was moving to the US. But once in New York, the autumn of 1994, I wrote to her that I had moved to New York, and I needed help to locate a congregation in Brooklyn, New York. She wrote back with an address to a congregation nearby, the Flatlands Church of Christ. This was close enough that I could walk to and meet with the brethren. The best part of this was that The Flatlands congregation had been started by a couple that Mary and Alvin went to Harding College, now Harding University with several decades back. Emails were not in existence yet, so we continued to correspond via snail mail. In one of my replies, I mentioned that I was thinking about enrolling in a college. As usual, she had a suggestion readily available. She suggested Lubbock Christian, LCU, and a name or two for me to get in touch with to get the process started. Remember I had wondered whether God will ever open the door for me to meet this wonderful teacher of mine who not only returned my courses, but took the time to tell me about her family and wanted to know what goes on in my life? My decision to follow her suggestion was a mindless one as a result.
Long story short, by the beginning of August 1995, I received my admission letter to LCU, at this point I could call her at Happy, so I called to let her know that I had my admission letter to LCU and was planning to come down by way of the bus. It was the cheapest I could afford, besides the chance to see the countryside. To this, Mary offered that I could come a few days before school started and meet some of the church folks and rest before heading to Lubbock. It seemed like a good plan, so I agreed. Can you see God’s hand in working to answer the prayer of a young dreamer’s wonderings and dreams? Thus God set me on the path to meet this dear teacher on earth prior to heaven. God did this the way he only could by allowing Mary, her family, the Happy Church of Christ and myself to experience his faithfulness in ways I never imagined. And, in the past nearly twenty-four years, this teacher who took personal interest my physical and spiritual well-being over eight thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean included me, a stranger, into her family activities.
So the plans were set and I left New York on August 15th in the After haven’t been dropped off at the bus station by Brother Garfield and his wife Sister Sandra, two great spiritual people in God’s family that I know we will all get to meet in God’s great reunion. The bus ride was wearisome and tiring, but after two long nights of riding in the bus and a full day and a half’s worth of travel, the Grey Hound bus got to Amarillo, Texas. Now I was not sure how I was going to recognize Mary or Alvin as the pictures I had of them were that of faint memories from a picture or two Mary had sent me in some of our earlier correspondences. I had not brought any of those pictures with me when I left Ghana. Moreover, I wasn’t sure they had any idea what I looked like. Yet here I was, getting off at Amarillo not knowing a soul. But, again, God had it all arranged and allayed my worries as the first people I saw as I got off the bus were indeed Mary and Alvin. It must be intuition or the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but I walked towards them and them towards me. After I retrieved my bag from the bus, one large duffle bag that contained all my “worldly possession” as Mary and Alvin will later describe it. Alvin gave one attempt at lifting my bag and decided I was young enough to carry it all by myself. We still have a good laugh about that first meeting and the bag.
After the two day trip from New York, I arrived at Amarillo on Thursday, August 17th 1995. Off to Happy we came after stopping at Cracker Barrel to eat some breakfast. That was the start of a tradition that has been maintained each time I’d visit Mary and Alvin at Happy, we have to go to Cracker Barrel. My wife has picked up on this Cracker Barrel deal to the point where it has extended to whichever town we visit, if it has a Cracker Barrel, we have to visit it at least once before we leave that town. Even Becca has been ‘indoctrinated’ with this idea too, for she picked me up from the Amarillo airport on March 23rd 2018, as I flew in for my final goodbye here on earth to Mary, I asked her if she’s had lunch and she said no, only to let me in on the knowledge that she was given a Cracker Barrel gift card by Gramps, Alvin, to be sure to stop at Cracker Barrel should there be the need to stop for a meal. But, who can object to good food when good people of God provide it?
We got to the Moudys’ abode that Thursday morning on that August 17th day in 1995 and I went to sleep right away. I am not sure how all this worked out, but it so happened that August 17 was 28th birthday for me, and Mary had mobilized the whole congregation to join in to help celebrate. I must have been really worn out from that trip, and I don’t believe the good food from Cracker Barrel helped to keep me awake even if I had the desire to and wanted to stay awake for a while. I slept for a long while, I think. I woke up only to the voices of additional visitors in the house. These were the elders at the Happy Church of Christ with their wives who had come to welcome me. We had a meal with the elders for supper that evening followed by a cake for dessert which members from the Happy congregation came and joined in on the welcome party. These were all new experiences to me as I had never celebrated a birthday on that scale before and certainly not in a strange town that I knew almost no one. But as you can see, Mary and Alvin used the occasion to make me feel welcome and at home. I am not sure at the moment how I felt then, but I know that these kind acts from both Mary and Alvin and the whole congregation at Happy left a huge imprint on my mind and further bonded us in the love of God together even more. Since then I have been treated just like one of their very own and both have become that much dearer to me.
Amongst the guest that Mary had mobilized for that day was Kent Hayhurst who had moved back from Ghana. Carolyn, Mary’s younger daughter found this information. I had forgotten about that, but Mary had written about that in her journal about that day. Kent’s father was one of the elders at Tulia Church of Christ at the time. And, Kent had just returned to the US some months earlier from his missionary efforts in Ghana. I had met Kent and his family in Ghana at worship. They worshipped at the Bomso congregation in Kumasi, Ghana where most of the students from the college I attended in Ghana went to worship. Kent and his family worshipped at Bomso whenever they were not out working with other churches in the region of northern Ghana. So, there was a little bit of familiarity there and it felt good to see someone I could relate to. We spoke for a little while after which he left.
After resting for a day or so, the time finally came for me to head to LCU to begin my studies there. While there, I met Gabe, Mary and Alvin’s grandson who also welcomed me into his group of friends even inviting me to his small group for studies and taking me to church. Mary and Alvin opened their home to me when school was out, and until I started working in Lubbock, I’d come and spend time with them. After my first year at LCU and during that summer, Rick and Carolyn moved back to Happy to preach for the church, and that is where I met little Rebecca, now Becca. Becca was about two years old or about to be two years old at the time. Becca and I spent that summer at Gramps and Grandy’s house. We read books, played games and sometimes put puzzles together all summer. Don’t tell Rick and Carolyn that I’ve finally caught on to the fact that I had babysat Becca. Well, the thing was, Becca wanted her Philip and so her parents would drop her off at Grandy’s, and she was very content spending all day with Philip. That was one of the best honors and memories that still binds the two of us, Becca and Philip today. My little Rebecca is full grow though, and I thank God for the beautiful and gracious woman God has made her be.
In both example and attitude, both of these two giants, Mary and Alvin’s lives have become a memorial that God has been shaping over the years to thrust on us what faithfulness to God looks like. I have witnessed in these two humble servants of God a faithfulness in the study of God’s words, a faithfulness in hospitality and caring for souls, just about any soul that God let cross their paths, and a faithfulness in obedience to the word which she taught to me these many years. I can say this with no hesitation because I have seen them live it over the years that I have been blessed by God to share in their lives. I have experienced it because she taught them to me as her student.
I will miss Mary. That thought of her absence on earth only serves as a resolve to look forward to what heaven will be like.
Mary passed peacefully at 1:23 am, Sunday morning March 25th 2018, under the watchful eyes of her beloved husband Alvin and their four children Alvin Jr., Janet, Bobby and Carolyn. She was pronounced dead by the hospice nurse at 2:32 am, Sunday morning. She would have been 89 in April.
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