Published in Our State magazine, MY PRAYER FOR NORTH CAROLINA, December 2013
People are invading my city. I meet some of them on Sunday mornings after worship: “We’ve just moved here from Arizona. We’re new in town. My wife and I are from Florida. From Texas. Connecticut. New York.” A family across the street speaks only in Spanish. Just down the road and to the right, Korean neighbors built a little Methodist Church. It seems they all want to be here—in my mountains—in my city. And I’ve noticed that the natives can grow restless—genuinely disturbed by the invasion.
The roots of my life run deep into these mountains. I know the natives. For the longest time, I claimed to be one of them—a mountain man, born and bred in North Carolina. I eventually faced the truth. I was born to missionary parents at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. My first birthday was celebrated in Hot Springs, but my birth certificate betrays me—I’m an invader. Like all of them, I really want to be here. This is a good place to be.
The move to Yancey County introduced me to igloo snows, BB-gun forays into mica mines and rock quarries, makeshift hockey games on a frozen South Toe River, and Mr. and Mrs. Bodford. Mr. Bodford loved his preacher, so he gave Daddy a corner of his garden and taught him a thing or two about growing green beans and onions. Mrs. Bodford cooked us a groundhog for lunch.
Haywood County is where I was planted into the soil of pastoral ministry. Lou Belle Browning loved her preacher. One Saturday, she just appeared in our kitchen with all the supplies, and like it or not, my pregnant wife learned how to make homemade apple jelly. Wayne Garrett loved me too. His workshop became a second home. Together, we built a cradle for my son, and we bought a beehive for twenty-five dollars from a keeper in Sylva. The bees were mean. “Demons!” we’d call them as we fled down the hill. But the honey was sweet, just like my life here.
A recent backpacking trip took me home to Cherokee, which stirred fond memories of bean bread and fatback and bear meat.
At Chasteen Creek Trail, my family set up camp in fading light, and with flashlight in mouth, I attempted to cook dinner after dark. The invasion was swift. These bugs were different. In thirty-plus years of hiking mountain trails, I have no memory of them—a swarm of tiny, green, moth-like creatures—dive-bombing into my can of Chunky soup. As quickly as I spooned them away, another green layer covered the surface. It was a hungry man’s nightmare. My son, Joey, saved me. “Dad, just turn off the light.” So I sat in the dark, ignored the extra protein in my soup, and ate as if they’d never come.
John tells the story of Jesus sitting around a campfire with his closest friends. The after-breakfast conversation reveals Jesus’ expectations for those who love God: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.” Another reminder that the Biblical narrative is really a love story. God loves people. Once Jesus sat down on a mountain and taught the God-lovers that they are to be salt and light. Not to remain in the shaker; never to keep light to themselves, because God loves people—the invaders—who sometimes need spice and are often in the dark.
My prayer for my mountains and for my city is that we’ll never just turn off the light and act as if they’d never come; that we’ll see the people around us and know that they need us—know that they need these mountains and the generations of people who have lived here for centuries; and know that because of you, the hearts of people like me will come alive, and our world will somehow be better because of it.
- Keith Turman