By: Paul Marhoefer
I’ve been working for the trucking outfit I’m with for twelve years. We don’t have the fastest trucks on the road, but you don’t have to worry about your check clearing the bank. Things run pretty seamlessly over here. We run dedicated lanes mostly, with ninety percent of our freight going to repeat customers. Still, every now and then, I find myself wondering what it would be like to cut a new trail, take a load to somewhere different, maybe break up the monotony a little. Well, I got my chance to do just that the week before Christmas, when I was dispatched to Early County, Georgia with half a tractor-trailer load of relief items bound for Jason Mulenkamp of the Glenmary Home Missioners.
Jason, the son of an Ohio trucker, gave spot-on directions – left on route 62, to the town of Blakely, go right on Church Street. Look for the strip mall on the left across from the Dollar General. As I wheeled into the strip mall, there was Brother Jason with an impressive crew of volunteers. “I have specific orders that you are not to unload this truck. We’ve got this,” he said with a grin.“I volunteered in 2008”, the missionary explained.” I felt God calling me to do this [full time]. I’ve learned a lot. I still learn a lot every day. How to be grateful for the little things. We’re called home missioners because we minister here [in the US]. Most of our work is in Appalachia.”
Founded during The Great Depression, the Glenmary Home Missioners is a Catholic organization that works with other denominations to serve the unchurched and the poor, mainly in the South. “We run a couple of transient shelters”, Muhlencamp continued. “A lot of work around here is seasonal. You’ve got the cotton gins, the peanut crop.” One of the least populous counties in Georgia, with a land mass of 516 square miles and a total population of just 11,000 people, Early County, with its dependence on seasonal agricultural work, has a per capita income of $25,929, less than half the national average of $65,423.
“There’s still a lot of crack cocaine around here. And meth. That’s a terrible drug. One guy came (walking) to our office pulling a little red wagon. Said he was going to Tallahassee. That’s about eighty miles from here. We helped him get clean, then he relapsed. Last I heard, he was clean again,” he recounted.
Later, when the unloading was completed, the mission held a Bible study in an old storefront which served as a type of church and warehouse. The room was interdenominational, interracial, and highly interactive. It was led by a Baptist minister named Brother Darrell, who would read a scripture, and then kick it around the room. Real people with real problems were weighing in. People battling addictions, turmoil at work, and depression. Somehow, I felt right at home there. I decided to stay for a few extra minutes, e-logs or not. I hadn’t been to a service like that in a long time. It did me good.
Later, when I decided to write about this very special group of volunteers for Movin’ Out, I did some research on Early County, Georgia. Turns out the county has a deeply troubled racial past, and was the subject of the 2019 documentary, “Fair Game, Surviving a 1960 Georgia Lynching.” In the documentary an unnamed Christian missionary was credited with helping to save the life of a twenty-four-year-old Navy vet, James Fair Jr., a black man who was falsely accused of rape and murder, tried without the benefit of an attorney, jury, or phone call, and sentenced to the electric chair, all in the span of three days after he was arrested. Yet there was this Christian missionary who handed James Fair Jr. a Bible and a pen in his jail cell and whispered “Write down your mother’s phone number.” The mother, who resided in Bayonne, New Jersey, was completely unaware of her son’s predicament. She sprang into action, enlisting the help of many, to eventually overturn the conviction.
Today we live in an era of great political and racial division. Yet, there, in the storefront of a small town in southwest Georgia, was Brother Darrell, Brother Jason, and about twenty other people of different races and creeds discussing the parables of the Bible, applying the truths of Scripture to the brokenness of their lives. America could learn a lot from the Brother Jasons and Brother Darrells of the world.