John Drescher

Drescher: Reborn, a mountain man visits Raleigh

You live in a small, old house with weathered white siding at the foot of a mountain in eastern Kentucky.

One Monday morning in June, a group of two adults and five teens arrives at your house to start a week of repairs. They are part of Appalachia Service Project, a home-repair ministry started in 1969 by a Methodist minister.

You are Teddy Marshall, 57 years old, a former long-distance truck driver and musician slowed by a crushing combination of illnesses, including diabetes, cancer and a major heart attack.

You bond with the group from Raleigh. You’ve been down and haven’t played your guitar in months. But that Thursday morning in your small kitchen, the group convinces you to play and sing. A revival breaks out in your kitchen with dancing, clapping and the singing of religious songs.

You feel energized, reborn. As the group departs, you tell them you’d like to visit them in Raleigh.

Volunteers with Appalachia Service Project often bond with the person or family they are helping. The mountain people sometimes say they’d like to visit their visitors in their home cities. But there are many obstacles and eventually the afterglow from the camaraderie fades.

You talk about visiting in September but the trip falls through. To your new friends in Raleigh, a visit seems increasingly unlikely.

But then Thursday of last week you call your Raleigh buddy Wray Gillette, one of the adult leaders who worked on your house. You tell him you’ll be there Saturday night! And you and your guitar will be at church Sunday morning!

Ricky Miller, your friend since the fifth grade, drives you to Raleigh. Somehow near the end of your 400-mile trip, Ricky’s rusted 1994 Mazda truck gets funneled into the parking entrance to Crabtree Valley Mall. There’s a lot more traffic here than at home in Magoffin County with its 13,000 residents. But Ricky maneuvers his way out and drives toward downtown on Glenwood Avenue.

You arrive in time to eat barbecue Saturday night at church with Gillette and other people you know from their summer trip to Kentucky.

The next morning in the contemporary music service at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church, you are the guest of honor. You sit on a chair at the front and tell your story.

Your voice is soft and slow but the congregation is still and quiet. You say how your various illnesses had sapped your spirit. So much pain. But the banter with the teen volunteers in June lifted you out of your gloom.

“God used you all to uplift me,” you tell the congregation. “I had laid my music aside. But they inspired me so much.”

You play guitar and sing three songs: One you wrote about your visitors from Raleigh; a bluesy song you wrote called “Salvation Addiction;” and the gospel pop classic, “Put Your Hand in the Hand.”

The 200 people at the service stand and clap. “You Methodists can cut loose!” you say. “You can shout with the best of the Pentecostals!”

The Rev. LuAnn Charlton, who ministered to you in your home in June, stands behind you, places her hands on your shoulder and prays with the congregation for you.

Your head is bowed. After the prayer, you look toward the crowd. Anyone in the front row can see that there is a tear in your eye.