When my phone rings in the early morning hours, I don’t panic and wonder what in the world has happened. A feeling of calm prevails. Things are as they have always been. There’s Dad.
I have a story I need to tell while it’s fresh on my mind, before I forget, he tells me. I grab my pen, the closest piece of paper, and listen, feverishly writing all that he shares.
It was back in the old days in rural Georgia when I was preaching at Ohoopee, he began. This was down around Highway 19, where you’d go through Wrightsville, meander over to Tennille, and then on out to Sandersville, where there were cotton fields everywhere and all the roads were red clay. And Ohoopee was a church of miracles. A cured drunk who loved the Lord led the singing, and the first time I stepped in there, they were singing “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks,” only he pronounced it Jurdan’s. And, as they say, “he weren’t wrong.”
There was a fellow by the name of Noah in the church, married to a lady named Nora, and Noah was having trouble finding where to dig his well. He needed help finding water. And back in those days, people were people and folks’ existence was all about helping their neighbors out.
Another couple in the church, Elvis and Helen, heard about it. “I’m coming over to hope you out,” Elvis told Noah, and when I heard that, I went over there too.
It wasn’t uncommon in those days to hear regional idioms and think of them as words misspoken, but these weren’t misspoken words – this was intentional language packed with meaning. Elvis was coming to hope his neighbor out.
Elvis said he had a divining rod – a hickory branch – that he could use to help him find water. Now Kim, believe what you will, but Elvis walked the grounds with that stick, and suddenly it tremored. I saw it with my own eyes. Right there, he said, was water. They marked the spot for the well and dug right there.
“Where exactly was this spot?” I was curious and had to know.
They called this area Possum Scuffle, he explained. It was back over in Harrison by Raines Store where they called it Deep Step and Goat Town, where a lady named Margaret Holmes had a cannery for black eyed peas and collards. They were the best you could get then and still are today.
“I believe you, Dad,” I assured him. “I’ve read about this. It’s a real thing.”
I had flashbacks to visiting the Foxfire Museum in Clayton, Georgia at the foot of Black Rock Mountain last April, where I saw in the holler the ways of a simpler way of life with a harder work ethic and more relying on God to bless the land – and people depending on each other – and wished that part of the world still existed.
Who am I to doubt a divining rod?
Now, I’m telling you all this because I’ve had one of those mornings where I’ve been playing with words, and I know you do the same thing, he continued. I’m still dwelling on the shipwreck passage in Acts 27, and there’s a Biblical connection I’ve discovered. Luke is the most likely author of the book, and he describes the ship being in a storm out in the Adriatic Sea near Malta. They used stabilizing ropes. In mariner’s terms, these are called hawsers. Today, we also call them helps, or help ropes.
I began to see where he was going with all of this. “Ah, I see. So hoping someone out is like using a help rope. Help is a hope rope.”
Exactly, he confirmed. Hope ropes tie it all together and make things possible. In Acts 27, the imperiled ship could have been dashed, save for the hope ropes.
That’s exactly what we need today in our communities – – to hope our neighbors out. We need to adopt the mindset of rural Georgia thinking back in the good days when folks extended not just a hand, but their whole selves – – divining rods and all.