St. Augustine, Florida
Christy Love was driving Sandy and me crazy! She was pacing the apartment in heat and crying loud and deep! There was no way to distract her. Our neighbors would soon complain to our apartment manager and we could lose our apartment. I told Sandy I was putting her outside. If she didn’t come back then that would be that! We couldn’t put up with her being this way.
I looked out the window and she already had three male cats pursuing her; I couldn't watch. By evening she was waiting at the back door of the apartment, ready to come in. A can of cat tuna was gone within seconds before she curled up on the sofa. The next morning she was howling again so I took her outside as I went to work. At the end of the day she was back. That went on all week when she finally settled down and became our cat again.
In nine weeks Christy Love delivered five kittens; three gray ones, one yellow, and one white. The last kitten was still born so Christy Love shoved her off in a corner of the box. I learned from a book to gently sling the still born kitten, upside down and back and forth, so any mucus could fly out. When Christy Love heard the kitten mew she grabbed it out of my hand and started licking it.
Both Sandy and I graduated from N.O.B.T.S together in May of 1975 with his divinity and my religious education degrees. That same week we learned about a missionary outreach opportunity at a deaf school in Florida. We made the phone call and we were invited to come to St. Augustine, Florida for a visit and interview.
The following weekend we were at the Florida State School for the Deaf and Blind where Stevie Wonder went to school and graduated. The huge, manicured campus was beautiful and quite impressive. The deaf and the blind students lived there for nine months out of the year. I felt sorry for the little first graders being so far away from their parents, but they seemed happy among their like friends. We also visited the local Ancient City Baptist Church & staff where we would bring the deaf and blind students, first grade through twelfth grade, to Sunday School and church.
The deacons of the church were nice but not very friendly. First, they questioned Sandy then me. One question they asked me was whether I would work outside the ministry and the question startled me. Were they expecting me to not work, or to work? It would depend on how far a $10,000 salary lasted ($5,000 from the church and $5,000 from the Florida Baptist Convention). I was too afraid to ask what they meant, so I said probably not since Sandy would need my assistance with the 180 deaf and blind Baptist students. (Evidently, my contribution to the ministry would be for free like most minister's wives.)
After passing the Florida Baptist Convention’s intensive interview and battery of tests, we returned to New Orleans wondering what to do. We prayed for God's will for us. The year salary offered to us seemed like a lot compared to what we were living on at the time but it also was the same salary a teacher made in nine months. After a week of talking and praying we made our decision to accept the call to become home missionaries and let the Lord provide. We couldn’t believe we would be roughing it in the quaint and lovely city of St. Augustine!
I drove the long 700 miles behind Sandy who drove aU-Haul to Florida. The kittens were bigger now and two of them kept climbing out of the box and I kept putting them back in. Rabbi, the white kitten with a grey cap, slid over the hump and under my feet so I grabbed him before he got under the brake pedal! A couple of times I almost hit the back of the U-Haul truck!
The small town of St. Augustine seemed prettier this time for some reason. The Lion's Bridge, the lighthouse, the Matanza Bay, the palm trees and flowers everywhere were up lifting! We had paid the first month’s rent on an apartment we picked out on the second visit, but when we arrived the bigger apartment next door was empty. We called the landlord and she let us see it. The three bedrooms and the turquoise stove that matched our kitchen table sold us! Sandy put the kittens in the back bedroom and made a kitty amusement park with boxes and wood planks he found.
Christy Love took off out the front door and down the steps toward the little woods, loaded with palmetto plants. We unloaded the small truck and returned it to a U-Haul place. We had supper at a Pizza Hut and headed back to the apartment to crash for the night. Christy Love was anxiously waiting for us on the porch when we drove up.
We dearly loved Carson and Tiny Britton who pastored the Ancient City Baptist Church. Physically, they reminded me of Burl Ives and Mammy Yoakum from the movie, Little Abner. I never knew my grandpas so this wise and loving Carson filled their place. With her quick wit and brute honesty, Tiny wasn't your usual run of the mill pastor's wife. She helped me see it was okay to be myself! After being away from home for seven years, we couldn’t get enough of this couple's company.
One time, Carson made a profound statement that haunted me occassionally. He said, “Don’t be surprised when Tiny and I retire in a year or two, that a new pastor will clean out the present staff for new one!”
Brother Britton’s prophetic words sat like an unwelcome guest on the back porch of my mind!
The bus dropped off 70 deaf students at the church on the first Sunday! They were so quiet even with their flying hands and occasional giggles. (I never knew the deaf giggled exactly like the hearing.) My eyes couldn't keep up with what they were saying! I got tickled at this cute, little deaf boy and girl who were twins. I asked the sister, with glasses, what was her name? Before she could finger spell her name, her brother, Jack, jerked her around, raised her blond hair and pulled out the tag on the back of her dress with the name, Jenny, in black, permanent marker.
The church let us use an old, two story house called the Foy House for Sunday School classes. It was across the quiet street from the church. The older students climbed the beautiful steps to the upstairs where a hearing couple who knew sign language would teach them the Bible lesson. The younger children stayed downstairs with Sandy, his deaf lady secretary, and me, working in several Bible learning centers that changed every fifteen minutes.
After Sunday School, the younger children were bused back to the deaf school. The older children walked quietly over to the main church for an interpreted sermon for the deaf by Sandy and me. The few blind students sat with the regular congregation.
Everything went smoothly on the first day and each Sunday following went well! We loved our new work!
As I took the children back to the dormitory on the school campus one evening from a devotional time, a little deaf boy patted me on the arm and pointed to the sunset. He smiled the biggest smile and signed the word, GOD, over and over! I smiled and said yes and signed, "God loves you"! This was a sweet inclination that we were finally getting through to the deaf.
By the end of the first school year, in 1976, we were attached to the children and we hated to see them go home. They seemed to love learning about Jesus and we loved teaching them through the week and not just on Sunday. They were polite and obedient almost all the time. We were told it would take a while for the deaf children to accept us into their deaf world, since we were hearing. We would need to be patient and earn their love, trust and acceptance. We used signed language and tangible things like pictures to help the deaf students know how Jesus loves and watches over them like this one of a shepherd who loves and watches over his sheep.
We taught the children that GOD loves all people whether you're deaf, blind or hearing. He allows blessings on the just and the unjust. God loves each person He has made and He sends people to show them the way to Him. Jesus is patient to let you learn how to trust and love Him. He will not force you to accept Him, but he lets you decide for yourself what you think about His Son coming to Earth to live and die for them.
Have you made that important decision, yet, to accept and follow Jesus? Now, would be the perfect time for you to get it settled. Read this prayer and if you believe it in your heart repeat it aloud the second time and Jesus will come into your heart and save you forever! The Christian life is sometimes not easy and you will fail but now that you will have the Holy Spirit in you He will help you everyday with all those daily problems.
I believe you are the sinless, Son of God who suffered, gave all your blood and died on the cross 2,000 years ago for my sin. I believe you arose alive from the grave on the third day! Please, forgive my sin, come into my heart, and save me! Lead me in all I do, think, and say. Help me read the Bible and find a Bible believing church. Thank you! Amen.