You never know when you’re going to round a corner and plunge right into a refreshing surprise. It happened to us last week. Our plan to “drive by” Annie Parks’ yard to see her multiple lily beds became an introduction to a very unusual Covid-19 ministry.
Charles and I had delivered a book to a friend near Old Egg Road. Driving on from there, I realized we were very near Annie’s house and proposed we go by just to see her pretty flowers. When we turned the corner onto Elkins Road I spied Annie down on the ground under an azalea pulling weeds. We stopped to wave but Annie jumped up and called out, “Come on, let me show you my chapel. You can drive right to it. You’ll be safe.”
In amazement we followed this spry little woman who called out and pointed to this flower and that bush, even adding bits of history as we crept along. Annie was born in the big frame house she now lives in and has fond memories of growing up there. She stopped along the way to tell us about a tree now gone under which she kept the babies and children of the cotton pickers. “Some of the mothers wanted me to make frocks (dresses) for their little girls so Mama let me have the pedal sewing machine out here under that tree.”
But it’s another tree past that spot, a wide spreading oak tree, that is the setting for Annie’s present ministry. It’s what she calls her chapel. Under the tree spaced at least six feet apart are five wire “baskets” turned upside down to serve as seats. These baskets, Annie explained, were covers for tobacco barn heaters. Annie discovered a neighbor about to throw these old things away and claimed them, not knowing what she would do with them. But then the Lord gave her the idea of having an outdoor prayer chapel during the pandemic and very soon she knew what she could do with those old wire baskets. Next to the trunk of the tree is a large tight cooler holding towels to make the seats more comfortable and a stack of paper plates. The plates are not for serving food. Annie laughed and said, “I don’t feed the people who come. We just read scripture I’ve printed on the plates and then we pray. That’s all.”
Annie, who is “going on 88,” is the only family member left in her generation. But she has no spare time for being lonely or taking her rest. Under normal times she is organist at her church, teaches Sunday school as well as an ESL class, crochets, grows and preserves vegetables, and keeps a colorful yard year round. If mayhaws are ripe, Annie will be harvesting. If the lemon tree is bearing, Annie will be picking every one to share with friends and to freeze for making her own lemonade.
The Lord is Annie’s constant and “ever present” help when things are good and when they are bad. When the “home shelter” started she suddenly couldn’t go out to work at her ministries in town. She explains that she didn’t really beg the Lord to show her what she should do. “He took the initiative,” she says. “I just felt this warmth in my chest and I thought about those tobacco covers and my tree and I knew what to do. I don’t advertise it. Folks find out by word of mouth.”
Folks pull up to Annie’s house and blow their horn. Annie leads them to her chapel just as she did us that day. “I never know who’s coming,” she says, “but friend or stranger they are all welcome. We just talk to the Lord and then they’re on their way.”
Speaking of the tree, the home of her chapel, she says her grandfather, Christopher Columbus Miller, told her it was as old as the historic Big Oak in Thomasville. It has been through many storms including last year’s hurricane but, having lost only one limb, is sturdy as ever and makes a wonderful canopy of shade for the pray-ers.
We didn’t sit on Annie’s wire seats but she gave us each Bible verse plates which we read out loud. Then, standing safely back from our car window, she prayed for us that we would be blessed and be a blessing, that we would stay healthy and strong. Charles prayed for her too, thanking God for this special praying lady. There were three of us there under the oak tree, no four. Jesus was there!
We left feeling refreshed and ready for the next thing. I think Annie returned to pulling weeds. I’m sure she was talking to the Lord while she worked. She told us she had even asked God one day for a dog she wouldn’t have to take to the vet. And right soon Rufus, a sweet black mutt, showed up. He stays at Annie’s during the day, then goes home to his “other family” at night.
When I called to ask Annie if I could write about her and her chapel this week, she readily agreed. “But it isn’t my chapel; it’s the Lord’s. Be sure you give Him the honor and the glory. He’s the one who sends me folks needing prayers, like the couple down the road who left a few minutes ago.”
As I said, you never know when you’re going to turn a corner and find a wonderful surprise. Maybe you’ll turn Annie’s corner one day.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
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