The first stop on my trip was Manchester, Georgia. Manchester is near Warm Springs and Pine Mountain. It is five hours from Jacksonville and a breathtaking area to visit. My fifty-three year old cousin, Doug, was critically ill and in the hospital. I went to Manchester to visit Doug. I walked into the hospital room and quickly backed out. I thought I was in the wrong room. I did not recognize Doug. He had lost weight. There were wires everywhere. He had a mask on his face. As I backed out, I heard Doug call, “Cheryle.” I recognized his smiling voice. He removed his mask. “Come in.” I spent the afternoon at the hospital with Doug, his wife, daughters, grandchildren, his sister, Brother Jimmy (his pastor,) and his parents.
Doug was the song leader at Faith Baptist Church. It was Wednesday and I decided slip out quietly and go to his church for a prayer meeting. I was surprised when several relatives decided to join me at the service. There were only eight people in that service that night. Half of them were related to Doug.
Brother Jimmy introduced me to people when I came in. I sat down and watched them as they caught up with each other’s lives. “Where are you from?” someone asked. “How long will you be here?” someone else asked. “I am so sorry about Doug,” a member offered comfortingly. “We love him. He leads our music, you know.”
“Cheryle will be traveling all over the country,” Brother Jimmy explained. Suddenly, I was the center of attention as everyone wanted to hear about my trip.
“Is your husband going?” someone asked. “How can you travel by yourself?” a member fretted. “I can’t believe your husband is letting you do this,” someone said incredulously. I tried to assure them that I had my husband and God’s blessing for the trip. They were working hard to believe that God would call a woman on such a journey. This response of love, interest, and reservation was to become familiar to me over the next few months.
Everyone was surprised to see Doug’s family walk into at the prayer service. “We couldn’t let Cheryle come by herself,” Uncle Preston boomed. Cousin Luann walked to the piano and the service began with singing. They sang older hymns joyfully with their southern accents. Some of the singers may have been slightly off key, but it lifted my soul.
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. KJV
Brother Jimmy began listing the prayer needs. “Doug is very sick. We need to pray for his wife, Karen. She is still at the hospital with him. We need to pray for Cheryle’s safety as she travels.” He asked a person on the front row to begin praying. “I expect everyone to take their turn and I will end it,” he said firmly.
Everyone prayed as they felt led. It reminded me of old-fashioned Baptist prayer services of my childhood. I missed them. I let the sweet intimacy of that small fellowship envelop me. They prayed humbly and honestly for friends and family members. “God, help my daughter. I think she is in trouble,” a member begged. “Help my husband. He needs to know Jesus,” someone else cried. “Keep Cheryle safe. Help her husband while he is alone this summer. Help the people she will be meeting,” a stranger prayed. I felt so blessed to hear this sweet woman praying for me. I was to hear many strangers pray for Pocket Full of Quarters over the next several months. I never grew tired of it.
There seemed to be no pretense or secrets in this church. They laid their burdens before the Lord with no shame. They were clearly a family. Every single person prayed for Doug and his family.
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (from New International Version)
Uncle Preston's humble prayer moved everyone to tears. “Father, my second boy I’m sending you. I thought I could not stand it when I lost Bill. You helped me to understand the purpose of losing Bill. It hurts to be sending you a second son. I’m not going to question you. What you do is your business. I had so much fun with my boys. I come to you asking a favor. It will help if you give me understanding. It helped when I finally understood why Bill had to die so young. I ask you to give me this same peace now.”
To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. (from NKJV)
He paused while he collected himself. “I thank you for my beautiful daughter Luann. She is the ‘the apple of my eye.’ I thank you for all of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I love my lovely wife, Margaret. You have been so good to me. Take care of Cheryle as she travels. Keep her safe. Send her many people that need your love. Send her stories of your faithfulness. Give her wisdom as she writes. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
The pastor closed the prayer by asking for Uncle Preston’s understanding. After praying, we sang again. “Cheryle is a musician,” Uncle Preston bragged. She and Luann can sing a duet.
“I don’t sing,” I protested.
“Get over to that piano!” he ordered. I joined Luann at the piano and we played together and sang. Uncle Preston led us in his favorite hymn, “Amazing Grace.” They were kind enough to sing my favorite hymn, "In a Garden." The pastor and his wife ended the service by singing a duet. We left laughing and hugging. Many church members took my Pocket Full of Quarters Card. They loved getting a “free” quarter. Some tried to return the quarter but I insisted that I wanted their pockets to be “full.” They laughed and put the quarter in their pocket.
The saints of Faith Baptist Church had truly come together for a prayer meeting. “It isn’t always this wonderful,” the minister’s wife reported. I smiled. God was working in the lives of this small fellowship. They loved the Lord God. They left this service prepared to face the week that lay ahead. They had helped prepare the Barlow family for what was to become the most difficult week of their life.