We’ve been sharing a few stories of how people have been touched by spending time at The Mill Pond: whether “passing through” or “moving in.” My “day job” is a leader in mission in Europe, focusing on mobilizing resources and networking to equip the church to engage their communities and cultures, particularly relating to marginalized people. How that works and how that connects with living at The Mill Pond has mystified more than a few people. The heart of our mission work in Europe is reflected in our interactions along the creek in Virginia… we think they actually “inter-inform” each other, when the light hits them the right way…
Our dear friend Adria Day volunteered to share her experience, hoping it will help you “get the picture” —
I’ll always remember the first time we pulled up to the Mill Pond for a Sunday afternoon visit. After following a winding gravel road for some time, we saw the creek transform into a wide, refreshing waterfall spilling into the pond below. Looking up from his book, Jim waved to us from the long porch of the Mill.
“This is where they live?” a little voice from the backseat questioned in disbelief. Shouts of “Awesome!” and “Will they let us swim?” followed from our other children. After we were greeted by a parade of barking dogs and mewing cats, we were embraced by Liz, who offers deeply warm and therapeutic hugs.
I didn’t know then that there is no “time” at the Mill Pond, so I began my apologetic reassurances that comfort many people when they see our little tribe of children tumbling out of the van, “Thanks so much for having us; we can’t stay too long, though.” Liz followed with “Are you kidding me? The kids are going to love running around here, and we’ve got plenty of food!” I laughed nervously when Jim began, “You’ll soon discover what a time warp this place is!” He wasn’t kidding. Even though we barely knew each other, I think our family stayed through lunch at the house and dinner over the fire pit, then we ended up giving our kids a bath after dark before packing them up in the van.
My husband and I immediately knew that this place and these people were special, but we had no idea just how much they would minister the love, peace, service, and mind of Christ to us over the next four years. Each time we went out to The Mill, we learned a little more of their stories – Liz’s many adventures growing up, Jim’s unique ponderings and profound articulations of spiritual truths, and their ministry in Ukraine together. Matthew and I always left inspired to keep pressing into our journeys with Jesus.
I soon learned something that refreshed me to the core – nothing is off the table for discussion with the Bakers, and more importantly, no people are off the table when it comes to friendship with Jim and Liz. To me, their openness reflects the love and peace of Christ. His perfect love truly does drive out fear: fear of others, fear of differences, and even fear of our own weakness.
As we continued to meet either at The Mill or at our house in Lynchburg, I saw the beauty of Liz’s hands of service. Her hands always carry baskets of fruit or vegetables to give away, little dishes of spices and sauces to enhance each meal, mugs of tea or coffee, or glasses of wine to share with friends and neighbors. When I was sick at home this spring with four kids, one a nursing newborn, and experiencing extreme pain from gallbladder attacks, her arms rocked my infant daughter to sleep and scrubbed the floors of my house. Her hands chopped up fruits and veggies to nourish me. Many times I was humbled and brought to tears of joy because it felt as if Jesus himself was scrubbing my floors, comforting my baby, expressing His love for me through Liz. He has truly anointed her hands.
I’ve also encountered Jim as a unique vessel of the Spirit in speaking words of life. Both Matthew and I have been genuinely affirmed and encouraged through Jim making room for the Holy Spirit to anoint his tongue. In fact over the past few years, my husband and I have sensed the call into a life of missions work. Conversations with Jim have truly helped us shape our vision and we’ve been able to put words to the Spirit’s leading. We’ve been reminded of the riches of God’s upside down kingdom and economy through stories of unbelievable ways He has provided for the Baker family. On a personal level, I’ve been challenged more through Jim’s words at dinner than I ever was sitting through Bible classes in college. He is a deep well overflowing with life-giving imagination and words.
As my family has increasingly opened ourselves up to our own neighbors, getting intertwined in the glory and grit of the human lives around us, the Bakers have been refreshers of our spirits when we sometimes lose heart or just need time together as a family. On many occasions they have offered their home as a place of rest and retreat for us. When our kids soak in the magic of the Appalachian setting turning over stones in the creek bed, catching frogs and trekking through the woods, I see their hearts soar. There, my husband and I have found ourselves laughing and holding hands and even kayaking upstream together deep in conversation. In our quiet moments alone at the Mill, we’ve been washed over in the love and presence of Jesus.
The beauty of the Mill Pond is really the beauty of Liz’s and Jim’s lives surrendered to God. They have made it a place where Jesus has His way and that means people who find themselves at the Mill experience His love.