Our ministry to students at the University of Arkansas is possible because of so many who believe in what we are doing and have confidence in us – that we are about the things of God and His Kingdom. Each of those who make our ministry possible are special to me. I pray for them regularly and thank God for them. There are churches – large and small. There are former students from around the world. There are family members and old friends who know me too well and still choose to be a part of what we are doing. There are parents of students who were a part of our ministry and are thankful for our involvement in their children’s lives.
But a couple of weeks ago I received a check for our ministry that brought back a lot of memories. It was from the “remaining members of Hepler Christian Church.” The Hepler Christian Church closed in 2001. The building was torn down in 2008. But when I was a child, it was the place that we would go to worship with my grandparents and great grandparents, with my aunts and uncles, and with my cousins. My dad, my grandparents and great grandparents, and most of my aunts and uncles are gone now. But that those who remain from that church (and I have no idea how many there are) would choose to invest in our ministry touched me deeply. In some ways, it feels like all those who meant so much to me are still encouraging me and expressing their love for me and pride in what we are doing.
Below is a part of a post I wrote in 2008 about the Hepler Christian Church when I received news that the building had been torn down.
Hepler, KS (population 132 in 2010) is the community where my parents grew up, where their parents and grandparents farmed. It is where they graduated from high school (my mom was the only girl among the seven graduates in the class of 1956 and dad graduated in 1958) before the high school was closed in 1960. Hepler is where so many of the memories of my childhood are based - being at my grandparents, playing with my cousins, "marching" in the Fourth of July parade, visiting the cemetery where so many of my relatives (most of whom I never knew) were buried.
And attending the Hepler Christian Church, which was founded (and the building built) in 1881. It was the church that my mom and dad grew up attending. It was where they were married by Miss Jean Minnich, the rare woman minister who served several small congregations in southeast Kansas back in the 1950's and 60's. I remember going to Sunday School in the old school house they had attached to the back of the building. I remember my grandfather leading the singing on Sunday mornings. I remember the string of student preachers from Ozark Bible College who would hone their skills on the patient folks in that congregation. Though I don't think I ever preached there, I sang a lot of duets and quartets there, as well as played my trumpet. I remember the ringing of the church bell and having to go to the outhouse when nature called. I remember the tree and popcorn balls and bags of candy at Christmas time. My aunt and uncle lived catty-cornered from the church, and another aunt and uncle lived in the house next to them.
But, outside of the cemetery, all of my family is gone from Hepler. There are no schools, little business, and few people left in the town. Strangers live in one of my grandparents' house and the other grandparents' house has been torn down. Hepler Christian Church quit having services in 2001 because there just weren't the people left to pay the bills and keep up the building. And now it is gone, too.
Though never a large church, Hepler Christian Church was a major part of the lives of people - where they were married and buried, where friends gathered, and needs were met. And it was a sad day when the bulldozer tore through the walls of a building that once was full of people who loved God and each other and that was home to a congregation that helped shape the life of a community.