My Great Aunt Jenny used to oversee a logging camp high atop a mountain in Tennessee. Nobody in my generation has seen what remains of the camp. The road leading to it is suffocated, impassable due to fallen trees and tangled masses of vines, inhabited, I’m sure, by creepy-crawlies that science has yet to discover.
My husband and oldest son tried to reach it via dirt bikes and chainsaws, but were forced to surrender, discovering that only a bulldozer could wage war with this picture of nature-gone-wild. My dad and I once hopped in a jeep and tried to make our way to the top-but our optimistic rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” quickly turned to “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”
It was scary…climbing a mountain that didn’t want to be climbed.
There used to be a train that serviced the camp, carrying timber to a depot in a nearby town. For me, it’s a shuddering thought-I don’t think the Magic Kingdom, Universal and MGM combined have a ride as frightening as clacking around the jagged edges of that mountaintop in a train.
People did it, though, and their bravery kept the logging camp alive for many years, even during the Great Depression.
Aunt Jenny had about 10 men working for her during that tumultuous decade. They were all white, except for one black man named Jonas. He was a hard working man, an honest man, but was ostracized by his fellow loggers.
Given the time in history, you can guess the reason why. They didn’t like the color of his skin.
Everyday at lunch, while the other men broke bread together, Jonas was cast off to the side, sitting on a lonely tree stump where he ate lunch by himself.
Now, Aunt Jenny was a Granny Clampett kind of a mountain woman-Bible in one hand, shotgun in the other. Seeing racism outside her kitchen window didn’t abode well, and twisted her petticoats into quite the wad. One day, she did something about it.
No, she didn’t charge onto the grounds shouting scripture and firing shots. But, she did do something that-for the time-was just as shocking.
She invited Jonas to come inside and eat lunch with her, an action that might have been inspired by this:
“Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17, NIV)
I can imagine the grumbling that arose from the other men. There they were, opening lunch pails to whatever Depression-era bites their wives could scrape together. And there was Jonas, eating high on the hog with the Queen of the Camp.
Eating lunch with Jonas became a daily thing- one that spanned for over a decade. Aunt Jenny not only enjoyed the company of her friend; she discovered how smart he was about the logging business.
It wasn’t long until she made him foreman of the camp. As for the guys who wouldn’t talk to Jonas…well, keeping their jobs depended on them answering to him.
That’s MR. Jonas to you!
Fast forward to the 1980s. I was in college and it was sorority rush week. Hundreds of freshmen women were participating, and among the throngs of bright-eyed eager beavers was a shy one I’ll call Rose. For her, answering the most basic questions-where are you from, what’s your major-were a struggle. Occasionally, she’d glance at you, but for most of rush, her eyes were glued to the floor.
Rose pledged my sorority. I don’t recall hearing her say much during the fall and winter quarters, but things turned in the spring. Rose’s big sister in the sorority was elected to a major sorority office-and named Rose as her assistant. Not a token title, it was a supportive role demanding much communication and interaction with others.
Rose? some of us wondered. We loved our shy sister, but was she up for the job?
A few weeks into it, I ran into Rose, who was gushing and glowing as she plopped into a chair beside me. “I’m running crazy!” she cheerfully exclaimed, then launched into a detailed description of the people, places and things that filled her agenda.
Hello????!!!! Was this the same girl who couldn’t take her eyes off her Espadrilles during rush? Yes, and her transformation began with some water, aka encouragement, poured out in the form of someone believing in her.
Several years later, while visiting my sorority as an alumni, I was studying the most recent composite on the wall. There was Rose’s photo, and underneath her name was the title…
Picture a world where everyone, like Jonas and Rose, received the encouragement they needed! How many lives would go from failing to successful…from ordinary to extraordinary…from Christ-empty to Christ-filled?
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV)
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, NIV)
Sometimes, the everyday world seems in short supply of encouragement. I’ve known bosses who couldn’t say “good job” if their annual bonuses depended on it. I’ve seen people publicly berate their spouses for the most minute of things. I’ve heard parents scream at an eight-year-old for missing the pitch. (Hey parents-take a time out!)
What makes a person an UN-encourager? It varies from person to person, but what remains consistent is this:
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)
In his letter to the church in Colosse, Paul encouraged others to be wise in their actions and to make the most of every opportunity, to let their conversations be full of grace and seasoned with salt. (Colossians 4: 5-6)
Of course, some people need more than a pat on the back. They need the ultimate encouragement-the Good News of Jesus Christ. With that, much can be realized, much can be conquered.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, NIV)
As we can see, encouragement is highly encouraged by God. Aunt Jenny knew that, and heeded Paul’s teaching to make the most of every opportunity to lift up the Jonas’ and Roses’ amongst her. She encouraged them to stand, take off and run.
Aunt Jenny also knew how to make the most of a shotgun-and used it to encourage bootleggers to stay off her land.
That, no doubt, gave a whole different meaning to “off and running”…
Donna Morton is a Christian writer from the Atlanta, Georgia. More about her and her writing can be found at FaithWriters.