Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vermont Trip Day 7

One of Dr. Seuss's most popular books is entitled Oh The Places You'll Go. That phrase is a fitting moniker for our day today!

We began by heading into Barre to work with the saints at Barre Baptist in their soup kitchen. Needing a little jolt of caffeine to begin the day, we ventured by foot from the church up to Espresso Bueno. Barre's main street is undergoing a "big dig" as the town is being "streetscaped" for more charm. It will be nice when it is finished, meanwhile, not so much. Eric is our resident expert on coffee, so we let him choose the places we will "fuel up." He has a checklist of requirements: where did the beans come from, where are they roasted, how are they roasted, what is the name of the donkey that carries the sacks of beans down from the mountain, etc. At one coffee shop, he even asked if he could eat a few of the coffee beans (!) to make sure it would meet his criteria. This guy is serious about coffee. He searched the web and found Espresso Bueno, where Jim had a cup of coffee, I had a maple latte (which was much more mapley than the one I had the other day), and Eric had something I can neither pronounce nor explain. But he seemed to enjoy it, and ours weren't half bad either. I had a Barre Berry muffin, and it was Barre Berry good.

With a fresh bounce in our step we made our way back to the Church to get ready for the soup kitchen. Pastor Jim led a devotional time, and folks began coming in for their lunch. Mo (Mrs. Jim) fixed a good vegetable soup, which we enjoyed after serving the crowd of homeless as we tried to minister to their spiritual needs. It was impressive to see Jim and Mo's love for the unlovable. They know them by name, they know their life situations, and have done much Gospel sowing, and even a little reaping. After lunch, we helped clean up and get the place ready for the Sunday Service. With the afternoon rapidly getting away from us, we decided to forego the door-to-door visitation and strike out for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

It is hard to describe with words the beauty of the scenery in Vermont, nearly everywhere you look. A drive through Northeastern Vermont is perhaps one of the most scenic journeys in America. Lakes, streams, mountains, trees (some of which are already beginning to change colors), farms, quaint townships, and steeples of vacant, repurposed, or entirely gospel-less churches dot the landscape. We did stumble across a few evangelical churches, with the emphasis on the key word "few" here. Along the way, we were enticed by a hand-painted sign for "Real Vermont Maple Creemees" at a little roadside stand in Danville (sadly there was no sign of Phineas, Ferb or Perry the Platypus there), and this was a delight! Best one we've had so far (and we've had several!). The recipe for their creemees was based on a family recipe for Maple Cream Pie. As we talked about how delicious a Maple Cream Pie sounded, one patron suggested that we might visit the P & H Truck Stop in Wells River, and I made a note of it, even though it appeared that it would be far out of our way. In exchange for her recommendation, I gave her a booklet explaining how she can have her sins forgiven and live forever with Jesus. If she should happen to read it and come to Jesus, she will find that it was an excellent bargain!

We made our way into the town of Lyndon Center where we stopped in at Lyndon Center Baptist Church. The pastor is recovering from a stroke in a nearby rehab center, and a member of the church (from NC originally) showed us around. This church has a small guesthouse that could be the base of operations for future work in the Northeast Kingdom. There are two churches nearby to this one which share a pastor, who has recently stepped down due to health problems and we wanted to visit those churches as well. The wife of the gentleman who showed us around at Lyndon Center offered to go with us, but I thanked her and assured her that "Emily" (our GPS) could get us there with no problems. That was a huge mistake.

Most of the roads we traveled on from that point for the next little while were unpaved, but we finally found South Wheelock Church. No one was around, so we decided to try to find our way over to the sister church in Sheffield. We'd been told that there was a road that went over the mountain that we could take. I am not sure if we found the right road, because whatever it was that we were driving on cannot be described as a road. It was precarious and filled with holes and ruts and deep gashes caused by rushing water. At the crest of the hill there was a little spot to turn around, but we opted to press on. You may be detecting a theme here ... that was also a huge mistake. The descent was the stuff of nightmares and horror films. The "road" narrowed to little more than a path (a path might have been preferable) and was a tortuous maze of crevices, boulders, and other hazards. Clearly, our Crown Victoria was not the vehicle that these roads were designed for. I was praying as I drove, both for a safe descent, and also for Eric, as he was in near cardiac arrest in the passenger seat. He kept saying, "You aren't going to go down this are you?" I kept saying, "What other option do I have?" Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Hahaha, that reminds me of the time I ...." Just stop right there. Unless you have ever traveled this path from South Wheelock to Sheffield before, you have NEVER experienced anything like this. I haven't traveled any road like this in Africa or India or Nepal. This path is to roads what yesterday's "Hot Hoagie" is to sandwiches. We're talking disaster area here! We were convinced that we were going to be stranded if the Lord didn't bring us down. And He did, thankfully. I kept thinking that there was probably a local somewhere in the woods laughing and saying, "What are those idiots doing?" At the bottom of the worst of the hills, there was a Mercedes station wagon on the side of the path with a broken axle. It is only by the grace of God that there is not a Crown Vic parked right beside of it now. Once we were back on level ground, we did a vehicle inspection and seemed to be missing no major parts, though there may be some noticeable wrinkles in the car seats, and the steering wheel may have permanent grip marks on it. We have had many a laugh about that trek since we got safely down it, but there was nothing funny about it during the process, except for Eric's ceaseless requests for me to retreat from the descent. As soon as he had a cell phone signal, he called Yvette and said, "Hey. We almost died!" I think that is an overreaction, but I confess had the same thoughts a few times. Jim was more concerned about the wildlife, including that of the human variety, that may have been within striking distance. There was evidence that his concern was well-founded, including a pile of bicycles that may or may not have belonged to the last group of Mormons to ever attempt to go through there, and a shotgun shack with a sign on the door that said, "Gone on a beer run. Be right back." I assure you, if the resident of that place had really gone on a beer run, there is no way in the world he would have been "right back."

We can laugh and joke about this, but remember, there are actually houses on this road, and that means that there are people who have to travel this way every day. That is how remote some areas of the Northeast Kingdom are. How do you make a Gospel impact in such a place? We are still trying to figure that out!

Once we got back to a paved road, we began working our way back toward the interstate, and when we finally came to it, we realized we were only 8 miles from the Canadian border. I thought it might be interesting to just go up and take a picture or something, Eric was radically opposed to the idea, and Jim chimed in with his usual comment, "I'm easy. Whatever you guys want to do is fine with me." But he added, "It would be a shame to be this close to Canada and not see the border." That was the deciding voice, so we pressed on. Guess what I am about to say? That was a huge mistake!

We had not planned to cross the border into Canada. Our intent was to go up to a place near the border and turn around and head back. The only problem with our plan is that there is no indication that the last exit before the border is actually THE LAST EXIT before the border. So, we round a curve on the interstate, and there is the Canadian entry checkpoint. I have a passport, but it is in Greensboro. Eric's is expired, and Jim doesn't have one. The Canadians were very nice and after some Q&A they kindly allowed us to make a u-turn. The Americans were not so nice and we (more accurately, "I") received a stern "talkin' to" about the error of our ways. I have a nice little warning pamphlet to bring back as a souvenir. A cool little surprise was passing a sign that indicated we were at the precise half-way point between the equator and the North Pole.

We had worked up quite an appetite by this time, so we ventured over to the scenic town of Newport on Lake Memphremagog (don't ask me how to pronounce that) for a quick bite at Wendy's. I guess it is homesickness combined with a deepened and enriched fellowship among us that got us talking about how blessed we are with wonderful wives, and this was a really joy-filled conversation. By this time, we were ready to make a bee-line back to the Calef House so we hit the interstate with zealous aggression. Emily advised us to exit onto some little side road, but frankly we are now terrified of little side roads, and opted to remain on the interstate. When we came to our exit, lo and behold, almost as a pot of gold at the end of  a rainbow, there was the P & H Truck Stop, the Shang-Ri-La! This was the place we had been told to visit for the Maple Cream Pie! Well, it wouldn't really be right to not stop in and try it, would it? We had to! And it delivered!

A few times during this trip, we've been unable to resist paraphrasing the famous Vegas marketing slogan, "What happens in Vermont stays in Vermont." At the Truck Stop, I saw a bumper sticker that said, "What happens in Vermont stays in Vermont. But nothing really happens in Vermont." That's not quite true, but it IS funny. We made our way back to the Calef House, being warned of Moose Crossings at every bend in the road. I am beginning to think that moose (or meese, or mooses, whatever) are like Yetis. They are mythical beasts. We've been warned time and time again about them, but we haven't seen one yet. Jim said he was disappointed about that, but I told him I'd rather not see one than to come up on one at 60 miles per hour.

Back at Calef, we fellowshipped briefly with the Carters, the Geers and the other Pastor Russ (isn't it horrific to think that there might be TWO of us?!?!), and now we are settled in for our last night here. The other Pastor Russ is fixing us breakfast EARLY in the morning, and we'll be on the road for Harrisburg before 9 AM, Lord willing. We've charted a course back via Burlington, the largest city in Vermont (and the smallest largest city in America), sensing the need to set eyes on it for our overarching trip goals. From there, we've planned to travel along side of Lake Champlain, crossing it by ferry near Fort Ticonderoga.

What an adventure this has been. I thank the Lord for Eric and Jim and the great fellowship we've had this week. I am so grateful to God for all that we have seen and done. We have a lot to consider as we look toward future work here. Your prayers have helped us along, and we ask you to continue as we begin the journey home in the morning. Can't wait to be back in Greensboro! 

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