Sojourners travel country serving God
He drives up every Sunday from my parents’ home in Keller, a Fort Worth suburb.
I make it down to Greenwood from Oklahoma City every few months and always insist on lunch at Catfish O’Harlie’s in nearby Decatur. But I won’t bore you with details of the salad bar, the pinto beans or even the giant baskets of catfish and fries.
(Note to Dad: I’m suddenly hungry. Howabout I meet you this weekend?)
In the afternoon, Dad studies and napson a church pew. Then he preaches again that night.
It amounts to a long day for what istechnically his day off. Dad works full time at a Walgreen’s drug store.
On a typical Sunday, about 17 to 20people — including four elders — gather at the Greenwood church.
As we pulled into the gravel parkinglot on a recent Sunday, though, visitors filled the sidewalk. When everyonefinished exchanging greetings and handshakes, there must have been 40 people inthe auditorium.
Why all the hullabaloo?
The Sojourners were in town.
In case you’re not familiar with theSojourners, they are retired Christians who own R.V.’s. — recreationalvehicles, that is.
They travel to smaller congregationsacross the country to help them grow spiritually and physically. (Their Website at www.sojourning.org tells all about their history and organization.)
In all, about 800 Sojourners help outat congregations, church camps and Christian schools.
They knock doors, lead parentingseminars, conduct gospel meetings and organize Vacation Bible Schools. Theypaint, trim weeds, remodel, fix whatever’s broken and even sew. The EasternHills church, Marshall, Texas, oversees their work. Sojourners goonly where invited, and before leaving town, they put enough money in thecollection plate to cover any utility expenses incurred by their stay, such aselectricity and water usage.
Six R.V.’s were parked outside the Greenwood church buildingwhen we arrived that morning. At least two more were on the way. The Sojournerswere here to meet people in the community, set up Bible studies and invitefolks to a four-night gospel meeting.
Before Bible study, all the Sojournerswere invited to introduce themselves and tell where they were from. Most gavetheir hometown, but a few of their responses made me laugh.
“We’re from wherever our motor home isparked,” Charles Hickerson said when he and his wife, Linda, stood up.
“We’re from Greenwood, Texas,”Luther Whitfield said, pausing for effect. “For the next two weeks.”
Whitfield and his wife, Peggy, havebeen on the road since 1998. He retired after 20 years as a firefighter anddecided he wanted to preach — but not at the same place every week.
“I told my wife, “If we don’t see somecountry, we never will,” Whitfield recalled. “So we just sold everything andbought a fifth wheel and a pickup and went on the road.”
When they want to stop somewhere formore than a few weeks, they park their R.V. at their daughters’ houses, one in St. Louis and one near Shreveport, La.
Many Sojourners own permanentresidences along with their R.V.’s. But Whitfield jokes that they also havesomething else he doesn’t: Yards to mow and property taxes to pay.
Sporting blue suspenders, a maroonshirt, jeans and tennis shoes, Whitfield delivered the guest sermon thatmorning — and in a style that anyone could understand.
He recalled the old country song, “I’mGonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home,” and suggested that it might not hurtto have a wino assess our churches occasionally, to see how we might betterreach the lost.
He reminded the congregation of thetheme song from the Cheers TV show and pointed out, “It tells about a beerjoint. Everybody likes to go to a beer joint because everybody’s got the sameproblems and they sit around talking about their problems.”
I don’t think his point was that weshould all go to beer joints, but that our congregations should be places whereeverybody is somebody and everybody can get help navigating the bumpy road toheaven.
Alas, I detoured into Sermonland. Backto the Sojourners.
This was their third visit to Greenwood. The first timethey came a few years ago, they focused on hard labor — putting inplasterboard, paneling, doing woodwork. “We had little old ladies up onscaffolds cleaning those lights,” elder Jerry Myers said.
The next time, the Sojourners worked onbuilding projects and led a gospel meeting. This time, their visit was totallyspiritual.
“The Sojourners just pump a lot ofenthusiasm into our congregation,” said Myers, a 67-year-old retired airlinepilot. “We sit here and complain about our aches and pains, and then we seethese people come in here who are 10 years older than us, and it’s veryinspiring.”
John Townley, the 78-year-old leader ofthe group that came to Greenwood,has been a Sojourner for 23 years.
I asked him why he keeps doing it.
“It’s kind of like being a Christian,” hereplied. “Why do you keep on being a Christian?”