Last summer, I spent a few days in the mountains of East Tennessee and came face to face with one more picture of God’s extravagant love and provision – through a humble bluegrass banjo picker.
To be honest, the entire trip was one of those accidental, God-shaped miracles that sometimes surprise us in life. As a Christian journalist on assignment for AFA Journal, I knew that God had something specific in store for me on this journey—a lesson I needed to learn and write about. As a public school teacher though, I was just glad for the first week of summer vacation.
So, I packed for my trip with a growing, quiet expectation. But after a week crammed full of new friends, unique adventures, and deliciously caloric foods, I was beginning to doubt that I was ever going to find “my story.” Leave it to God to wait until the last day and the very last stop on the trip to show me something so beautiful and profoundly emotional that even now I find it hard to put into words.
The lesson I learned reminded me of George Bernard Shaw when he said “though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents.” The accent, the music I heard on that final day of my trip at the Coke Ovens Bluegrass Festival in Dunlap, Tennessee, was very unfamiliar to me. Those twangy bluegrass songs were laced with heartache and sorrow, a testament to the hard lives that their writers experienced trying to dig out a coalminer’s living. But each note was seamlessly strung together with the others in a soaring anthem of hope as timeless and steadfast as the mountains from which they came. And it was that hope, that bedrock faith in Jesus Christ, which was as familiar to me as the air I breathe way down here in the Mississippi valley I call home.
Mr. Brown’s story
Now, if hearing the faith-filled lyrics of those bluegrass fathers was not enough, the bonus was meeting Mr. Ed Brown, one of those bluegrass pioneers. And what a humble, kind, and gifted man he was! His nimble fingers did not give a clue to his 77 years of age, but rather showcased his expertise on multiple instruments. I bet he could have played those songs blind-folded; they were second nature to him. Or maybe first! Those bluegrass songs were his heart. After he played a lengthy set with any and all ages of musicians brave enough to pull up a stool and join in the picking, he took a break for a little conversation.
Now, I’m usually not at a loss for words, but somehow Mr. Brown and his poignant music made me just want to listen and learn. He had so much knowledge and wisdom to share. From the way he conducted himself with his listeners, to the way his fellow musicians respected him, to the way he worshipped as he sang. I knew Mr. Brown had so much to teach me about myself and my faith. I could detect love, pain, truth, and determination in every banjo note he played. I could hear the Savior talking to me even in the bluegrass songs that never spoke His name.
Where would I begin an interview? And what right did I have to even ask?
I kept wondering what I could possibly ask Mr. Brown of worth or value. I’m not sure, but I think I finally voiced at least one query. Whatever my question was though, it still did not express what I really wanted to say. So, I opted for the simple route. I introduced myself and told him I was with AFA Journal at American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi. He smiled and said, “Oh, I love those folks and what they’re doing for us. I’ve partnered with them and supported them financially for over 20 years.”
Yep, this was my story; this was my moment to learn.
Imagine! For over 20 years, this humble Christian man, Ed Brown, had been giving to the vision of another humble Christian man, Don Wildmon. And both of those men had unknowingly played an important role in my life. Because of their faith, I get to share my faith outside my home and my classroom through the words I pen. Plus, my husband (a fulltime AFA employee) and my family are also blessed directly by these men and countless others like them.
It was such an eye-opening experience for me that I was humbled beyond words. I kept thinking, “This man is my family!” Because really, American Family Association is exactly that—a family. And I get to be a part of that family. What a blessing! What a responsibility. So, I just forgot the interview! With tears in my eyes, I simply asked Mr. Brown if I could pray for him. He took my hand, nodded and smiled as I prayed.
I really don’t even remember what I prayed that day. My words were probably as jumbled and raw as my emotions. I know what I wanted to pray; I pray it still. I pray that this man and all the other members of this ministry family will somehow feel and know how honored I am to be a part of AFA. I pray that God will bless the sacrifices that Mr. Brown and so many other American Family supporters make on a daily basis to bring the gospel to others through the radio, internet, film, and print ministry of AFA. And I thank God that even though we all sing and speak in different accents, our message is still the same: For God so loved the world…that He gave. And may we, the family of Christ, continue to do the same.