The Test

By Marion Duckworth

My husband, Jack, our two young sons, and I drove 3,000 miles from New York to the state of Washington to begin our first assignment as rural missionaries. Since the community had no church or parsonage, we’d be living in a tiny cabin in the woods with an outhouse “down the path.”

Upon arrival, we discovered the cabin was dominated by two voracious, wood-chomping stoves, one in the kitchen and the other in the tiny living room. The steps leading to the second floor were Bunyan-sized. But it was the sight of the metal bunk beds where my sons would sleep that crumbled my missionary bravado. The mattresses were as stained and grimy as ones waiting for collection alongside New York City garbage cans.

11_Duckworth_JNThe outhouse didn’t horrify me. Some of the bathrooms in country houses where I’d grown up were down the path. Wood-devouring stoves didn’t frighten me either. But how could I lay my children on those mattresses? At night, when I tucked John and Paul under the covers, I cried silently to God, Please, please provide clean beds.

When the chairman of our organization visited a few days later, he took a quick look around and asked: “Are you going to stay?”

Were we going to stay? We burned our bridges when John quit his job in New York and we sold nearly everything we owned. But our spirits sank when we learned someone fished a dead squirrel out of our 55-gallon drum water supply just before we arrived, so it was polluted. As a result, we had to haul water from the general store. Still, we straightened our spines. We are missionaries.

Family Life Adventure

The first Sunday, a congregation of six people huddled like birds in the school gymnasium. Jack’s pulpit was a three-legged stool under the basketball hoop. Sunday evenings, kids crowded the cabin’s living room, filled the space on the floor, and lined the Paul Bunyan staircase to learn about Jesus.

As the congregation multiplied, Jack and I tried to make family life an adventure. Baths on Saturday night in a round tin tub with the fire roaring and bath towels waiting; treasure hunts in the pantry among the home-canned food from the community “pounding”—or food shower—when we arrived; special treats when we drove over the mountain to town to buy supplies.

But there were still those nasty mattresses.

I was trying to shampoo my hair in the toy-sized kitchen sink when a woman in the congregation stopped by. She took one look and declared: “You can’t stay here.” Not long after, a logger named Vern came to call. An elderly neighbor of his was moving to a nursing home and needed someone to live in the house on her 100-acre ranch.

We walked through the house. It had a big country kitchen, an ample sink, well-behaved stoves, drinkable water, and an indoor bathroom where my sons could splash and sail their boats in the tub.

The crowning glory, however, was the thick, pristine mattress in the downstairs bedroom where my sons would sleep. I nearly wept.

As I lay beside Jack the first night in our new ranch home, I sensed God’s whisper, Remember, my child; you can always trust me with what you cherish most.

Marion Duckworth is a freelance writer living in Vancouver, Washington.

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