When I was a little girl Daddy was in the Army. Moving as often and as far away as his job required often made time with extended family scarce. Some seasons of my childhood my relationship with my grandparents, aunts and uncles was reduced to phone calls and frequent letters because Europe was just too far away. I was too young at first to know that people spent more time than that with grandparents and then as I got older the realization that God made up the difference with other very special people kept me from feeling short-changed.
I’ll never forget being invited over to spend the night when I was 8 years old by Mrs. Jill to learn how to cover photo albums and to play with the new Jaime Beth. Or answering the door on my 10th birthday to find Mr. Syl standing there, in the rain, with flowers for me. I fondly remember Mrs. Rita and Mr. Syl moving in with us when Momma became sick and Daddy was in the field. The thing is, she didn’t call and ask, they just showed up. When Momma all but broke her ankle, Mrs. Cami and her brood moved in and we had the best time! Trips to Switzerland and late night story swapping on the porch and hikes to see the glaciers. The memories roll on and on…
Here’s the thing, we weren’t kin. Our connection was only through the local church we attended. Not the generic church on the post, but the solid European Baptist mission church on the economy. At a very young and impressionable time of my life, I got to see the church be what it’s truly meant to be: family. Distance forced us to overcome our differences, to speak truth without turning our backs on one another, to love each other right where we were. And did we ever have fun together!
A special church must have special leadership and this one did. Elwood and Myrt Orr were a different breed of people. Pastor and Mrs. Myrt, as they were fondly called, didn’t have to preach or teach about following Jesus (though they did) because they lived it out daily. I remember the first time I met them. I believe it was a Saturday and we were cleaning the church which met in an attic of an office building. Pastor came in and began cleaning windows in the nursery. I asked what his name was and what I should call him and he responded with such a grin, “just call me ‘Pastor’ like everyone else does.” Retired from preaching in the southern USA, they didn’t take the call to this european church lightly. They weren’t there to just preach on Sunday and tour the country during the week. They came with the heart of missionaries and they loved us.
God couldn’t have sent a better leader for this hodge-podge, homesick group of people. Most of the members were young, newly wed and so far from home. Many of them were immature and life was forcing them to grow up the hard way. Quite a number of these couples gave birth to their first and/or second child during this time. They needed parents and God sent a loving and hard-as-nails pastor to fill that void. We kids needed grandparents and God sent a loving and fun pastor to fill that void. And Mrs. Myrt was ALWAYS right by his side, consistently pouring out her life into us and just as committed to the truth as Pastor was.
One special memory in our family: We’d been gone all day that Saturday and came in late to a blast of cold air. Our home had been broken into and trashed. Daddy made only 3 phone calls (if I remember right) within ten minutes of being home, the MPs, his commander and Pastor. Pastor got there first and didn’t ask if we needed him to do anything. Standing there in his undershirt, slacks and jacket, obviously straight from his bed, he simply said he was taking us kids home with him and loaded us into the car. From chaos to peace immediately. The next morning we were fed an excellent breakfast, dressed for church and tagged along as if we belonged to them. And for that special time in our life, we did.
Time and orders eventually pulled us all different directions to new duty stations and many of us returned “home” closer to our families. But for years the Orr’s would send out a Christmas letter updating all the Kitzingen church folks on each others lives. It was always my favorite because for 10 minutes we were connected again and that memory of sweet family belonging would return.
God, in His mercy, allowed the Orr’s to settle near us so that as I grew up they continued to hold their special place in my heart. Recently, I had the joy of visiting this dearest of couples again and to introduce my 2 youngest children to them. What a wonderful day! So many memories flooded my mind as I watched Pastor play with my children with the same vigor and kindness as he had all of us so many years before and Mrs. Myrt’s tender attentiveness to the silly stories of a child moved me almost to tears. They still have the heart of missionaries, they still love – just because.