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Doing What God Wants

Mama says everybody loved Uncle Ceph. Cephas Poe was Mama's daddy, but everybody called him Uncle Ceph.

Uncle Ceph pastored in a different world. First Assembly of God stood on a hill outside a little town tucked into the Arkansas River Valley. Men worked in the cotton fields and coal mines. Despite the Depression, people still grew their pole beans and bought peaches off the truck and canned them, got milk from the cow and eggs from the store, baked biscuits and cornbread, fried chickens, and once in a while treated themselves to a store-bought candy bar and a Coke.

Pastoring in that context wasn't idyllic. Seems the radio was causing people to waste a lot of time on Fibber McGee and Molly and baseball games. Families weren't broken on the outside, but cotton farmers and coal miners could be a hardened lot who worked hard all week, drank and danced in the sawdust honky-tonks on Saturday night, fished all day Sunday, and didn't think much beyond their families' physical needs, if that. AIDS wasn't a scourge, but Black Lung was, and suffering and death feel pretty much the same whether or not branded with an acronym and federal funding.

Uncle Ceph took care of his family. In addition to preaching out on the hill on Sunday morning and Sunday night and in town to the colored church in the afternoon, he delivered bananas during the week, hauling them in his pick-up from the train station in Clarksville to fruit stands and grocery stores. Mama remembers flying around Ozark hairpin curves, singing "God Will Take Care of You" and believing it was true.

I don't know if Uncle Ceph had to carve time into a busy schedule for his family; Mama remembers his coming home from work, drawing a bucket of water, putting a chunk of ice in it, and making lemonade for everybody. They all drank out of the same dipper.

I never knew Uncle Ceph. Before I was born his heart wore out with caring for Adabelle, whose own heart was worn out. But I'm glad he lived in a different world.

I'm glad he didn't have to wrestle with reams of ideology about the effectiveness of his cross-cultural ministry and could devote himself to feeding some small-town folks with different skin. I'm glad he didn't have to feel guilty about his limited exposure to the most innovative ways of building bridges, and went about instead being who he was to the fruit sellers and depot workers and neighbors and dime-store owners. I'm glad he wasn't made impatient with his "bi-vocational ministry" and gave himself to faithfulness there instead of straining to stretch it into a church where success was measured by a growing budget.

I'm glad he didn't have to worry about what the experts say about methods and marketing and expectations and options and cultures, and just did what he thought God wanted him to do. What grief to think of such a servant being greeted in Glory: "Mediocre job, Ceph. Your ministry wasn't marked by excellence and efficiency. But come on in and enter the joy of your Master anyway."

I'm glad he was met in heaven by Someone with standards different from ours.

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