A “working retreat” was what they called it. That works for us. We always knew that achieving the vision we believe God gave us for this place would take more work than we could do on our own in several lifetimes. And we know that a big part of our vision for this place is to make it a sanctuary, place of retreat. And the team from Paoli Presbyterian Church combined both elements elegantly.
We enjoyed the presence, fellowship and labors of a great group: Terry and Chris Ambrose, Chuck and Jen Baker with their boys Ryan and Michael, Paul and Susan Archibald with their son Justin and beloved family dog Sasha.
PPC has been a stakeholder and partner in our ministry for almost 20 years, beginning from when we moved long-term to Ukraine. But the level of interaction and fellowship we were able to share was something new and different. Our two deep desires for this place is that it have a transformative impact locally and that it connect with what God is doing globally. We were able to directly share a taste of that, and it left everyone wanting a little bit more!
What most struck us was how the time spent really did connect with our vision:
- The Mill Pond vision sees our presence as providing a place of rest and retreat, a place to bring people together.
The Paoli crew did see this as a “retreat.” And also an opportunity to build community with us. Our good friends from Farm Use String Band came and put on a regular Blue Ridge hootenanny. And we had some friends from Grace Church down the road a piece, folks with whom we’ve been pretty intentional about developing a vision for mission.
Toes were tapping, dogs were barking, and locals and Yankees were dancing. Our daughter Marina was up making waffles with her cousin. Folks were dancing, playing, even rock climbing all together in one happy, diverse bunch. Sasha the dog stopped running around and got right in the middle of the circle dance. And “Goatie” showed up.
- The focus of the Mill Pond vision is on fostering community.
This is something that requires a certain amount of infrastructure. A community will need resources. It’s important that we develop this community in a way that will be sustainable. Currently we envision opening a kitchen business that might be able to employ a person or two in a hard life-situation who would benefit from working through their issues in community.
So we are dreaming about a kitchen. In a farmhouse that is 150 years old. The team accomplished a load of work in a short time, pouring a dozen footers into the floor in the farmhouse where – Lord willing – the kitchen will someday be. A critical piece to establishing a kitchen, which is needed for both residence and ministry self-sufficiency.
But these folks are not just “hired hands”… they were able to put their skills and heart into the process… and have come up with even better ideas than we had in terms of how to see the vision realized in the space and buildings we have. So, going forward, we are really seeing this as something each of us holds a piece to.
We’ve been asking the state department of Transportation for years about cleaning off the dumping ground that the steep bank of Wreck Island Creek had become over time. But they, multiple times, told us it couldn’t be done… they didn’t have the equipment or expertise. But the newest “Friends of Mill Pond Road” (3 moms and two boys) accomplished what VDoT said “couldn’t be done.” We are still getting mileage out of telling how these moms and kids put the locals to shame.
- The Mill Pond vision’s goal is a community that lives out a particular set of values: Kingdom values, that gives people a fresh look at “things as they are.”
All these folks, including us, already knew each other. But over the course of the week we felt a real sense of a TEAM developing. People were not just doing “chores,” they were grasping a picture of the significance of their actions. They began to see how they fit into a bigger landscape. And that got them thinking about some pretty deep things.
One of the things we’ve found here has been a burial ground, most certainly for slaves that would have worked the plantation that was here in colonial days. The group did a marvelous job of cleaning it up. We really want to restore a sense of dignity and worth to the lives of these people who had everything – even their own names – stolen from them… and now they’re part of the land God has given us. The parallels to the efforts that we, along with others at PPC, have been making together to oppose human trafficking were inescapable and deeply moving.
- The impact the Mill Pond vision seeks is to have people be changed in particular ways when they return from their time here.
Nine-year-old Ryan later said that the prayer time we had around the graves was “the most important thing of the week.” All the time we were working on the grounds, he had been thinking that someone needed to pray. As we put a cross in place over the graves, made by bamboo that the boys had cut and lashed together themselves, it was evident that the reality of human mortality, and the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, came together for him.
His mom also spoke of how moving that time was. She’s been very supportive of efforts our folks in Europe participate in. She said the time in the burial ground, working to see these former slaves “gathered to their people” (namely, us), helped her to tie together threads in her life that combine to form a life-long cord of passion for justice and opposition to slavery, that she h
as felt since she was a small child. She and Liz had a great time talking through what some of these realizations mean, and drawing them together into an organic whole.
We shared hard work, prayer and reflection on Scripture together. And we relaxed, had fun, and even danced together.
And we even cried together: Everyone loved Sasha the poodle-lab dog. She was 11 years old, and had always lived in a suburban home. She ran, ran and ran around the Mill Pond with the other dogs, culminating in lots of fun at “the dance” the night before the team’s departure. Then, overnight, she died in the Mill House. We were so sad to have a family’s dear pet die in our home. But we were so touched to hear her family say that, before she passed, “she had the best dog days ever.”
As we shared time the final morning, we asked our PA friends to, in three words or less, summarize their time here at The Mill:
- Come get refreshed.
- Peace Joy Love.
- Vision sharing.
- Realizing. Seeing. Experience.
- Fun. Adventurous.
- Beauty. Humbling. Unusual (that was Ryan talking about the goat).
- Transforming. Thankfulness.
- Unified fellowship.
The last phrase, was spoken by a dear friend who does not yet understand Jesus to be Lord, who took part with us in the week. At breakfast, I had read from John 17 how Jesus said that the unity among His disciples would be the way that people in the world would know that it was truly God who had sent Him.
Thanks, PPC, for your unified fellowship in service of the Gospel. Thanks for helping us show the world that Jesus IS truly sent by God and really IS the way, the truth, and the life.
And for authenticating that claim with your love, unity, vision and heart. You are wonderful neighbors!