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ChurchEphriam Bales
By Daniel Pann

Ephriam Bales--really, that was her name.

I met Ephriam up on Roaring Fork River, while in Tennessee. My preacher friend asked if I wanted to go trout fishing somewhere behind Gatlinburg. Why not? It was just a short distance from his house and we were having a slow day.

His S10 sputtered down HWY 321 passing the world famous BBQ pit no one knew about, in addition to gazing at Macel's breakfast nook. Smoke rose out of the mountains as cedar logs, along with various hardwoods, wafted their fragrances our way.

My friend turned left, right, left again, slowed for this stop sign, ran another, looked in his rear view mirror and said, "Oops, guessed I missed thatun Dain."

Fortunately, cars in the opposite direction missed us as well. After nearly choking on my sunflower seeds throughout the remainder of the trip, we finally arrived.

Fishing was slow, (I had zero, he had four) so we stopped at a historic spot. It was an abandoned farm established in the late eighteen hundreds by a man named Bale. Situated back in the hills, and miles from town, this place was impressive. Even more impressive was the man's determination, family and history.

He and his wife had homesteaded this 70 acre farm, cut out of the Tennessee mountainside, cleared by hand, and constantly protected from Indians, predators, snakes, and natural disaster. They raised seven kids in two ten by ten log rooms attached by a short porch.

By now, nature had taken back what was once hers. Trees had overtaken cleared land and Laurel grew wild alongside rushing mountain streams. Broken stone walls and faded rutted trails, along with abandoned buildings, were the only evidence of past civilization.

His wife's name was Ephriam--a short squatty woman according to the picture on the marker. One more thing ... she was ugly. You know how people say someone fell from an ugly tree. This poor woman must have hit every branch. Still I admired her for her courage, resolve and loyalty in the face of difficult times.

Ephriam and her husband worked together for 40 years, until time and death took its toll. She stood proudly in the doorway posing for the photo now displayed on a weathered marker, looking all the while like she could throw and pin you in short order. A homemade dress, brogan boots, and a scarf wrapped around her furrowed brow, showed what everyday life may have been like. There was a firm, yet hollow look in her eyes, that showed a flint-like resolve, tempered with loneliness.

I wondered if Ephriam had lost any children in this harsh place. If maybe they were too far from any help, friends or neighbors. I considered how often she saw another woman, shared a cup of tea or exchanged a bit of gossip. I wondered if family was all she had. If so, she was an honorable lady to stay as long as she did.

I read or heard where the government moved in and took the place. All that investment, all that pain ... maybe all those tears.

Have you ever felt that way when serving the Lord? How about when doing your best in the realm of church work and things seem to unravel? You know, the wheels fall off the bike? All that investment, all that pain, and maybe all those tears. Remember the words of encouragement from Scripture: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9 KJV)

I said "goodbye" to Ephriam Bales and walked away. It was a stark reminder that all we have on this earth is temporary. It's what we do in preparation for eternity that counts. Are you prepared? If so, keep serving, keep seeking and keep looking up.
Dr. Pann is the author of "A Pregnant Woman Beat Me' and 'Fished All Night For Nothing' (Review at http://reviews.faithwriters.com/Archives/April2006-2.php). Dan and Cindy live in southern Michigan with their adult children and two grandchildren. He can be reached at www.drpann.com