It is Sabbath afternoon, and it's exactly one week since I received a phone call that Alan Craig, one of the founders of Appalachian Ministries, had died of a heart attack, only hours after I had spoken with him in Church. It was sobering news and I have reflected this past week not only on Alan's life, but on how quickly and completely unexpectedly, our mortal life can end.
I did not know Alan as well as some, having met him about 18 months ago when I drove up to Liberty, KY one day to spend the afternoon with Alan on the project site of Appalachian Ministries, an over two decade old organization that annually provides an opportunity for high school/academy kids from Madison Academy, Georgia Cumberland Academy, and another academy in Oregon, to grab a hammer and saw and help renovate and in some cases build from the ground up, the sub-standard housing that defines much of the depressed poverty-stricken region of Eastern Kentucky. Alan was someone who liked to laugh and shared some of the more 'corny' if clean jokes you have ever heard. As we drove from project to project, as each year there are multiple sites in the area where the kids and their sponsors are working, it was clear to me that Alan loved people, loved the Lord, loved the teens who through this ministry, are given an opportunity to engage in true mission service, right here in the U.S., and for a very small cost, and I know Alan knew that this ministry was making a difference. Not only for those who would receive the gift of a new roof, a new kitchen, indoor plumbing, a roof that would no longer leak, but for the teens who often came away from these few days of service . . . changed.
Last Sabbath, as I introduced Alan in the corridor of the church to my wife who had never met him, I told her that Alan, together with Pastor Donnie Keele who is presently the Campus Pastor for the Georgia-Cumberland Academy Church, were the two driving forces behind this extraordinary ministry. Alan paused, and with tears in his eyes, told me and my wife of how a boy he knows, who went on this years mission trip, and who had dropped out of the church, had experienced a new beginning, a new walk with Christ, as a result of participating in Appalachian Mission.
I don't know if it was God's plan or not, but I think that maybe I was supposed to acknowledge, one more time, what Alan was doing, and had done, for the sake of God's Kingdom, and in ministry to our youth. A few hours after our conversation, Alan Craig would fall asleep in Christ. Lessons I'm reminded of? Life is short, life is precious, life is unpredictable, and the only thing that is promised is the gift of eternal life for all who trust and believe in and receive the gift of Christ's forgiving grace and righteousness. It's the only thing that you can rely on that cannot fail . . . and in the end, that reality is enough for those who grieve, and those who hope, that there is something better, much better, that is soon to come. Maranatha.