Remembering A Ruling Elder

Eulogy for Robert Shapiro (October 20, 1956-September 14, 2018)

Robert Shapiro was a Renaissance man. He was a gentleman, displaying his Southern upbringing—and he was a scholar. He learned Greek in order to read the New Testament in the original language. He read widely and voraciously (particularly political biographies, such as ones on Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and James A. Garfield). Having a great curiosity about things, he would inquire and research, with the result that he could discourse on virtually any topic. In these and other ways, Bob Shapiro evidenced his sharp mind and incisive thinking.

Bob Shapiro loved all things Shakespeare. Yes, he enjoyed seeing other plays, too. But for more than fifteen years, he and Patty were fixtures at the Shakespeare Tavern in midtown Atlanta. They not only volunteered countless hours, but they also sometimes made special contributions just so one of the Bard’s obscure works could be brought to life on the stage.

Bob Shapiro was a connoisseur of fine food and fine wine. He had trekked globally, having visited far-flung places such as Australia, Singapore, Israel, and Europe. His travels often were for business, but there were also plenty of occasions when they were for sheer pleasure. He and his wife were found on many a cruise on the high seas and on majestic rivers.

He was always up for an adventure and for trying new things. He was a sportsman and an outdoorsman. He had scuba dived in the Caribbean, and hiked a significant portion of the Appalachian Trail—many of those miles while he was battling his illness. In high school in Ft. Pierce, Florida, he played catcher on the baseball team. And, of course, he was an avid fan of his beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

And speaking of Georgia Tech, that’s where he met the love of his life, Patty. Somehow, in the midst of his studies, he had fallen in love. Bob was not quite twenty when he and Patty tied the knot in September 1976.

But it was during his early days at Tech that Bob had the most significant experience of his life, when he came to faith in Jesus Christ. As you might guess from his last name, Bob’s father was from a Jewish background (though he was a non-observant Jew). His mother was Roman Catholic, and so, while growing up, he attended the Catholic Church. But his personal commitment to Christ came in college. Upon his conversion to Christ, he immediately began studying the Bible and also searching for the church that he believed was most in conformity with Scripture. He eventually found his way to a Bible-believing Presbyterian congregation, and he became convinced of the truth of Presbyterian doctrine, including the doctrines of grace (God’s sovereign predestinating love of His elect) and church government (representative rule by elders). Later, he would become conscientiously committed to historic Presbyterian worship, including the practice of exclusive psalmody without musical accompaniment.

From the beginning of his Christian walk, then, Bob was a churchman. He not only loved Jesus, but he also loved Jesus’ mystical body, the church. Wherever he would move—from Georgia to Minnesota to New York to Georgia back to New York and back to Georgia (he worked for I.B.M., after all, and “I.B.M.”, you may recall, used to stand for “I’ve Been Moved”)—he would always seek out a good church, and would always seek the good of the church. There was a time that he would drive himself, his wife, and young family close to two hours one way each week, because that was the distance of the closest congregation where he could worship without violating his conscience. The Shapiros were graciously hospitable, and numerous times not only hosted people for meals but also housed them, when, say, missionaries were passing through and needed a place to stay.

That commitment to the church continued when the Shapiros took up residence in Cumming, Georgia, in 1993. His vision had always been for the establishment of a faithful Presbyterian witness in the Forsyth County area. Towards that end, he participated in efforts within four branches of the church—the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America—to found a congregation there. (With his typical sense of humor, Bob said he would have liked to have named the congregation Second Cumming Presbyterian Church.) In 2010, his efforts were rewarded with the organization of Northminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. Upon that occasion, Bob was ordained to ecclesiastical office and became the congregation’s first ruling elder. Even though the Northminster congregation dissolved after a few years, seeds from that work were planted in inner-city Atlanta, and Bob supported and was committed to Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship.

As a ruling elder, Bob demonstrated faithful service not only locally but also regionally and nationally. He was on the ruling body of the Reformed Presbyterian mission church in Pageland, South Carolina. He served on the Reformed Presbyterian Board of Pensions, and also was on a committee of the Synod tasked with studying how to increase participation by ruling elders in the meetings of Synod. Twenty years ago, while still a layman, he became President of Presbyterian International News Service and Editor-in-Chief of its newspaper, Presbyterian & Reformed News, a publication which sought to effect reform within the Presbyterian Church in America by means of a straightforward recounting of its story. When the annals of church history are written a hundred years from now, undoubtedly historians will note the significant role played by Robert Shapiro, whose name appeared prominently on the masthead.

Bob was elected and ordained as a ruling elder not only because of his knowledge and personal piety, but also because of the way he had exercised godly rule in his household. He and Patty raised their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. To evaluate a man, look at his family. In considering Bob Shapiro, what does one see? One sees a loving and adoring wife, six strong children, and a multitude of grandchildren who are also being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The Shapiro family is strong because its patriarch was strong. And he was strong because of his faith. It was his faith that was the organizing principle around which his life revolved, whether thinking of his being a scholar, a Shakespeare aficionado, a connoisseur of fine things, a sportsman and outdoorsman, an adventurer, an expert salesman, a volunteer for numerous organizations, a churchman, a husband, a father, a grandfather. Bob Shapiro loved life and he lived it to the fullest. However, he did so with a view to the glory of God. If you want to know what made Bob Shapiro tick, look at his faith.

But as Bob would be quick to point out, the real strength was not because of himself. His faith was not faith in himself, but faith in Another—a trusting in the blood and the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. As Bob lay dying in the hospital, and right after portions from the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians 15, were read, he mustered sufficient physical strength to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” And that affirmation from Job sums up the life and the faith of Robert Shapiro. Amen.

Submitted by Frank J. Smith


The Atlanta Six

Two years ago, in June 2016, Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship had the pleasure of welcoming to The Bluff a group of seven volunteers from one of our Indiana churches who styled themselves the Atlanta Seven.  It comprised seven people who each shared a heart for downtown ministry and wanted to be of service to us and the people to whom we minister.   Fast forward two years and now, in July 2018, we were thrilled to welcome a group of six volunteers, five from Indiana and one from Kentucky, which we dubbed the Atlanta Six.  One person from the Atlanta Seven, namely McCheyne McNamee, the son of Elder Gary McNamee who led the 2016 delegation, was now a member of the Atlanta Six, as was Jenny Decker, the sister of Joy Decker, another member of the  2016 team.

The leader of the team was Parker Hilliard, who recently came under care of Great Lakes-Gulf Presbytery, which was his first step towards achieving his career goal of becoming a pastor.  Joining Parker, McCheyne, and Jenny, were Josh Erney and Trinity Myers, the thirteen year old daughter of Captain Chris Myers who, with his family, spent two years supporting our ministry by travelling the hour and a half to Atlanta from near Fort Benning for worship services almost every Lord’s Day.

The sixth member of the team was Tré Cranford, who had been ordained in another denomination, but is now a ministerial candidate in the RPCNA, spearheading a new church plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

It so happened that we had been thinking about replacing the carpet in the duplex, and when the offer of a missions team was made, we tied that project in with a Vacation Bible School.  So plans began to bring a group of young people to Atlanta, and Parker took the lead, with the Columbus, Indiana, session overseeing and funding the effort.

When the team rolled into the driveway of our home on Saturday evening, July 14th, we were delighted to find that Jenny had completed a college course in interior design and was the perfect person to guide everyone else through the somewhat daunting task of carpet replacement.  Prior to the team’s arrival, some initial work was done: Pastor Frank ordered 1100 square feet of random carpet planks which are similar to carpet squares, and which, unlike wall-to-wall carpet, do not need professional installation.  Because of their being random, they were very cheap.   Also, prior to the team arriving, Pastor Smith arranged for two of our local attendees (along with a husband and wife whom he knew as a result of his teaching at Georgia Gwinnett College who volunteered their time) to remove most of the grungy, worn out and badly stained old carpet, which speeded up the floor prep on the Monday morning.

Before Monday arrived, however, the team played an important part in the Lord’s Day services.  Tré preached for us both morning and evening, and Parker led the adult Sunday School class.  Everyone introduced him or herself, interacted well with our congregation, and was very quick and ready to deal with any and all issues that arose, from keeping children under control during worship, to talking calmly while witnessing to a variety of people including a homeless man dealing with schizophrenia as well as drug addiction issues.

On Monday morning the floor planks, tied up in bales just like hay, were picked up by Pastor Smith and McCheyne in a rented pick-up truck.

After the planks were hauled into the duplex, Jenny and other team members arranged them from a random mass into colour-coordinated piles so that they could be laid in attractive arrangements.   Here are Jenny and Trinity starting on the worship room:


Simple patterns went down pretty quickly, but more sophisticated patterns took much longer.  Here are some examples of finished rooms:

While Jenny, along with Trinity and Josh, worked on the carpeting on Tuesday, Pastor Frank, Parker, Tré, and McCheyne went door-to-door in pairs distributing about 500 flyers advertising VBS.  In the afternoon they elicited the help of two of our regular young ladies, Miyani and Diamond, both of whom enjoyed the experience.

Between putting down the new flooring and starting VBS, the team took an afternoon off and drove to a local beauty spot, Amicalola Falls, which, at 729 feet, is the tallest waterfall in Georgia and the fourth highest east of the Mississippi.  Here is Josh’s obligatory “selfie”:

Vacation Bible School, on Thursday and Friday afternoons from 4:30 to 7:00, went very well, with 42 people in attendance on both days.  On Thursday there were 25 children and 17 adults, and on Friday we had 24 children and 18 adults.  We include adults in our VBS because so many of our local people enjoy taking advantage of any opportunity to learn.  The team prepared for this by having Parker lead an adult class on how to study the Bible, while the other members prepared lessons for the children which revolved around a skit each day.  The adults wanted to see the skits, so their classes were held during the children’s game and craft times.

Each day, the whole group warmed up with some singing, including a song based on Joshua 1:9: Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

On Thursday they, somewhat hilariously, told the story of Moses pleading with Pharaoh to “let my people go”, complete with representations of the plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea.  Emphasis was put on the fact that the Lord was sovereignly in control of these events.

There were also games and crafts for the children, and Chick-Fil-A kindly provided chicken sandwich boxed dinners for thirty of the attendees.  Pastor Smith brought in Burger King cheeseburgers to make up the difference in numbers.

Friday also went well with a continuation of the adult class, and a different story for the children’s class, this time depicting Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.

Much effort was put into creating a brick wall comprising lunch bags stuffed with newspaper which would fall down at the appropriate time:







Tré was the narrator, and he made sure that the children understood the significance of this historic event.


It is difficult to express the appreciation we feel for the Atlanta Six and what they achieved in one week.  Not only did they perform, exceptionally well, all that we asked of them, but whenever they became aware of anything that needed doing such as touch-up painting, or cleaning, or repairing all kinds of things, they just got on with it, including laying fresh new vinyl flooring one of the bathrooms.  They even dealt well with providential mishaps and irritations such as a flat tire.

Everyone on the team worked extremely hard, putting in very long hours, on one occasion pulling into our driveway at two minutes to midnight!

We give thanks to the Lord for sending us such a talented group of young people who showed such tenacity and creativity in getting so much done.  The result was an amazing renovation of the interior of our building, which had become quite shabby and was not a good example to our flock or our neighbours.

In addition, the word of the Lord was faithfully preached through another servant’s voice, and instruction in how to read the Bible was given.

Parker, Josh, McCheyne, Jenny, Trinity, and Tré were a wonderful example to the people to whom we minister in terms of their godly conversation, their warmth and even the fact that they remained cheerful, showing a real sense of humour throughout the whole week.

We are also grateful to the Columbus session for their generosity in designating a portion of their missions budget that covered not only the team’s expenses, but also the cost of the new carpet!

We have now negotiated the terms of our lease for the coming year, and the owner of the duplex has agreed to a monthly rent of $950 per month instead of the $750 we have been paying.  This is still less than the going rate for the area of $1100 per month.  This lease, however, will expire at the end of August 2019, at which time, given the gentrification of the area, the owner may decide to upgrade the facilities and change from having monthly renters to weekly renters at $1,000 per week!  So please be in prayer for us that between now and then that the Lord will lead us to new facilities and, if it be his will, to something which we can purchase as our own.

Christ’s Dominion over the Bluff

Our guest writer is Dr. Greg Burgreen, a professor at Mississippi State University.  A ruling elder in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, he is a member of the Birmingham (Ala.) Reformed Presbyterian Fellowship.  The following article, which describes his experience in Atlanta when he first visited APF in November 2017, appeared in the RPCNA’s denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, in its January-February 2018 edition. How Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship is ministering to a forgotten community

As soon as my daughter Lily and I stepped into the meeting room of the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, we anticipated that this would be an experience involving the conventional and the unconventional. We were standing in an L-shaped living space in one side of a rented duplex. The room had rows of mismatched chairs arranged to accommodate 50 or so attendees.

The setup was quite unconventional and did not fit the standard RP model of worship. Or, did it? Both sections of the room had its chairs oriented to face the centerpiece of this unconventional sanctuary: the pulpit. Front and center in this affair is clearly the preached Word of God. How conventional and traditionally Reformed.

We were warmly greeted by Penny Smith, who said that her husband, Frank, was out and about collecting folks from the neighborhood. Dr. Frank J. Smith is the minister of this outreach effort, which was begun in 2010. Soon enough, Frank arrived and called Lily and me down to take a 9-cent tour of the area. I climbed into a dilapidated 12-passenger van that had seen its better days long ago. “Ding” sounded a hotel service desk bell that had been duct-taped to the dash of the van. Frank explained since the van often was filled with noisy children, eight dings meant to buckle up and two dings meant “QUIET DOWN!” There were only us three in the van, and two of us were too wide-eyed to require two dings.

Frank chauffeured us through the 20-block communities of English Avenue and Vine City. One easily could spot deep decay in the physical and cultural aspects of the area. As we moved through endless stop signs and traffic lights, Frank informed us that this area of Atlanta is known as the Bluff.


As we drove, I noticed the people we passed. They did not walk; they shuffled. It was as if they were burdened with ankle shackles. Frank was a nonstop tour guide speaking of the area’s history and local interests, including the life and fate of C.J. Johnson, a college baseball star years ago.



To the east of the Bluff, separated literally by one street, were several of the icons of success and grandeur in Atlanta, including the Georgia Tech campus and the now-imploded Georgia Dome adjacent to its impressive replacement stadium that sports a huge Mercedes-Benz emblem. This stark division was a classic urban example of the Haves and the Have-Nots.


In typical Southern tradition, the Bluff is dotted with different houses of worship on every corner, including a building run by a Nation of Islam organization faithful to the original founder and another building run by those loyal to the Farrakhan-led Nation of Islam. Many of the churches are attended by Bluff outsiders and have essentially abandoned the local community.

All along our circuitous route Frank was sharing that “we worshiped there, we held Bible studies there, I preached in that church, I know this pastor well, so-and-so lives here.” Frank knows the Bluff.

In fact, Frank has invaded the Bluff. I began to realize that Satan owns most of the Bluff, and the destroyer has done his job well. Destruction and decay are all around. I also realized that the driver of this dilapidated van is an ambassador of King Christ and a visiting member of the victorious kingdom. This human representative of the true owner of the Bluff had arrived several years earlier and was now freely driving all over it, recounting how the King’s ownership of the Bluff is being exhibited.

For example, the Atlanta Fellowship has openly worshiped in the elements on the front steps of the formerly majestic, but now burned-out St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Fellowship has held open-air Bible studies in the Vine City Park. The Fellowship was invited to hold its meetings in a storefront building in the center of the Bluff by its Muslim owner. Frank was invited to preach in a local Baptist church in order to demonstrate that racial epithets spoken against him were without merit. So, as ridiculous as it seemed, the railroad-engineer-cap-wearing, large sunglasses-bespectacled, duct-taped-bell ringing driver of this trashed van is and has been exercising Genesis 1:28 spiritual dominion over this satanically decimated patch of Atlanta. Pastor Smith has been actively and boldly redeeming the claims of Christ in the Bluff through the calling and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

After making her own rounds to collect folks, Penny called Frank to ask if we should start the Sunday school as Frank, now without us, was making his second collection run, being slightly delayed by our last-minute tour. The L-shaped living room was now bustling with 35 or so people. And what a group this was. Half white, half black in numbers. People from every background. Children running to and fro. Infants in the arms of mothers. Apart from the Smiths, I counted at least four other faithful helpers: Amy Work, Sean and Anne McPherson, and Michele Haag. These helpers are solid young men and women who have heeded a call to invest their talents and energy into this ragtag group.

                                                            Miss Amy and Micah

Sean led an absolutely masterful Sunday school class, eliciting much interaction from the congregation, who answered well and asked solid questions, such as about the relationship of God’s sovereignty and our free will. You would know the questions well—they were the very questions we all have asked at some point along our journeys toward theological understanding. This group is being grounded in biblical truth with a Reformed theological rigor. Upstairs, the children were being catechized and infants cared for by the squad of faithful helpers.

After Sunday school and a short time of loud and lively fellowship, the worship service began. All parts of the various family units were in attendance. I appreciated that Pastor Smith intentionally placed corporate recitation of weekly memory verses and Westminster Shorter Catechism questions prior to the formal call to worship. This was so that any present, including the children, could participate by reading the questions to the group, who responded with the answers, and no consciences were bound in reciting non-inspired catechism passages during formal worship. The service itself was exactly what one would expect in a Reformed Presbyterian church: preaching, singing, and prayer saturated in Scripture. Basic, simple, and sufficient. Highly conventional.

The worship service was also highly unconventional. There were some who understood the principles of the Reformation, the regulated liturgy, and the practice of exclusive psalmody. But there was also a second group who had no background in these matters, who likely have never uttered the word soteriology, and who would likely not know what the acronym EP stood for, much less be able to debate the propriety of exclusive psalmody in corporate worship. Yet here in the worship service in this L-shaped living room were these two groups of people sitting under the same ministry of the Word, singing the same psalms, and jointly praying as one people before the Lord.

Lily and I were warmly welcomed by the Smiths and the faithful helpers. But the extent of the hospitality soon ended, not because they ceased to be hospitable, but because we felt the need to give rather than receive hospitality. As those who have tasted the goodness of the Lord and experienced His kindnesses, Lily and I felt the burden and the pleasure of welcoming, engaging, and serving the various people in this crowded room of our Father’s house.

Some of these folks are the forgotten ones of our society. They needed to feel welcomed. They needed to know that they have a standing and hearing within this small room in which the Lord of hosts was present with us for worship. Were there distractions during the service? Plenty! Movements, crying, whispering. Some of the movements were from the faithful helpers and Penny, who were unobtrusively attending to the needs and mishaps of the people in order to keep the service proceeding orderly and quiet. When I say quiet, I’m excluding the amens and other affirmations heard during the sermon.

The pastor faithfully reminded the people of their biggest problem: it is not their relationships, not their housing needs, not foreign aggressions, but it is their sins before a thrice holy God. One realized many were indeed listening as evidenced by the sudden silence. At various crescendos of the sermon, such as when the pastor was relaying the words our Lord declares in His legal action of justification, “not guilty, not guilty,” all noises in the room ceased. One could hear a pin drop. And one could hear the relief and gladness of the people as hushed interjections of “amen,” “praise God,” and “thank you, Jesus” were voiced. This relief, gladness, and joy also translated in a mighty way into the singing from this group. It was loud. It was robust. It was heartfelt. I could not hear myself singing, and I was singing for all I was worth.

This was perhaps the most alive worship service I have ever experienced. There is something amazing occurring in Atlanta at the Bluff. This is no liberal, feel-good-about-my-selflessness social justice ministry. This is no unbiblical exercise of Marxist liberation theology.

This is the pure-and-simple gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed to a forgotten, discarded, and destroyed community. It is the gospel preached to all men everywhere.

The message is delivered with faithful words, but the message is also communicated in practice via the Fellowship’s genuine embrace, love, and service to the people of the Bluff. The message delivered in the power and uncompromised truthfulness of the Holy Spirit. The worship is confessional. The worship is Reformed. The worship is regulated. The worship is pure Acts 2 worship.

In the midst of gifted students at Georgia Tech who are cramming advanced material to excel on their Monday morning exams, in the midst of the throngs of faithful fans cheering the Atlanta Falcon football warriors in the shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in the midst of international businessmen who are strategizing future fortunes and powers across the street from the Bluff, on every Lord’s Day, there in the small L-shaped living room of the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, for a few short hours and perhaps, for some, for eternity in the next age, the roles of the Haves and the Have-Nots are gloriously reversed. I pray that those in the Bluff who have responded to the call to “come out of her” and bend the knee to the true owner of the Bluff will come to fully understand this grand truth and great mercy. May our Lord be pleased to continue to bless the efforts being invested in downtown Atlanta.

Penny’s Pen: Blessings and Encouragements

We have had a very exciting start to the New Year, with an average attendance of 34, which is more than 25% higher than this time last year.  A significant part of this increase in numbers has come from newcomers right here in the Bluff.

A new and exciting development is that on the first Lord’s Day in February we launched a morning worship service in addition to our regular afternoon/evening Sunday school and service.  With seventeen in attendance in the morning, and twenty different individuals coming in the evening in addition to four “overlaps” which included Pastor Frank and myself, we ministered to thirty-seven people with a total attendance between the two services of forty-one.

Another new development has been the activity of one of the members of our fellowship, Robert, who spends a number of days in Atlanta each week, and has been enjoying talking to residents of the Bluff as he is out and about.  He has engaged many people in conversation, even to the point of taking the hungry for a meal and sharing the gospel with them.  Over the months this has led to a number of people starting to attend worship on the Lord’s Day and continuing on a regular basis.  One of those men recently professed faith in Christ as a result of the witnessing of this man, and under the preaching of Pastor Smith.

Robert has now begun a mid-week meeting for men from the area, and at the conclusion of the first one, they decided to meet again the next morning for breakfast and continue the conversation. He engages in this type of activity almost every day that he is in the neighborhood, thereby exercising a kingdom presence there.

One man who meets with Robert regularly was someone that he had known from twenty-three years ago when he owned a motorcycle shop and this man was one of his customers.  He ran into him providentially when he was driving in the area and now they are working together to reach more of the neighborhood for Christ.

We have been extraordinarily blessed by encouragement from a number of people who have visited for worship whilst passing through the area.  One of those men, a member of a group of Reformed believers in Birmingham, Alabama, which is desiring to be taken under the care of a presbytery in the RPCNA, wrote a very descriptive account of his visit which, along with photos, was published in the January/February issue of our denominational magazine, the Reformed Presbyterian Witness.  For those who do not receive this magazine, we intend to post the article as the next Penny’s Pen.

An encouraging note came from Chandler Fozard, a truck driver passing through from Texas, who wrote the following on his Facebook page:

I want to tell you about the Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship, a congregation of the RPCNA.  APF is in one of the worst neighborhoods in Atlanta.  To say it is a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood would be an understatement.  Dr. Frank Smith, a tall, slender, highly educated yet remarkably humble man is the pastor who took me on a ride along.

Every week, he and another member drive through the community picking up people in an old, worn out van and a personal vehicle.  “While I was picking up a person there,” he said, “I heard pop, pop, pop, and I turned around and saw men exchanging fire directly behind me.”  The tour continued, “That’s where one member was stabbed and stumbled down the street to his death.”  One of the people who helps told me the pastor helped rescue one lady from the neighborhood from the arms of her drug dealer.

 It worships in one side of a duplex in the same neighborhood.  (I promise you I know people who couldn’t bring themselves to cross the threshold and grace the church with their presence.)

There is no seeker friendly stuff here, no dumbing down the music or the message.  The pastor faithfully leads worship like he would anywhere else.  Do you know how cool it is to see an old guy with a hardened expression, dreadlocks and a cane sing a Psalm a’ capella, and sing well!

Chandler asked us if we would provide a link on our website to his prison ministry, which we are happy to do.  It is as follows:

Yet another encouragement has come from our new friends, the Hollo family.  Ben, who recently retired from the Air Force and now flies for Delta Airlines, was excited to discover an RPCNA ministry in Atlanta where he is frequently passing through.  Though living in Florida, their entire family was able to worship with us one Lord’s day in February.  We have met with Ben on multiple occasions both in worship on the Lord’s day and mid-week for lunch and we have all rejoiced at the encouragement and blessing God has provided us in each other.  Ben writes the following:

Having worshiped in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and been one of the original families in the Enid congregation, moving to different churches with the Air Force I have long desired to sing the Psalms in worship.  Therefore, I rejoiced at the Lord’s provision and the opportunity to worship at APF.  As many have mentioned the church is a unique mix of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds.  I was thoroughly impressed by God’s work in the lives of the poor, needy, fatherless, and downtrodden people who worship there as well as the love for the body of Christ and faithful service of those driving in from the surrounding area.  The adult class before worship was remarkably simple, presenting foundational biblical truths to spiritual babes.  But then Dr. Smith’s preaching was full, expositing God’s word in a manner that would convict and encourage any lifelong believer yet with a clarity that everyone in the room could understand and attain to.  And what a sweet thing to sing the Lord’s song together.  This is the gospel in action, and praise God for the work he is doing at APF.  Also, if you have the chance, encourage Frank and Penny as they do the dirty work of putting Psalm 41:1 in action!  Psalm 74:21.

As a final encouragement let me finish by sharing with you the comment from a lady visiting from out of state:

I was so happy to have been able to visit and see what God is doing in Atlanta through the RP work there. My heart was captivated by the evidences of his mercy in those in attendance from the Bluff and surrounding area. I won’t soon forget those faces and their stories- and the sight and sound of them all, including all those precious children! singing Psalms to God with such reverence and joy. It broke my heart with joy and hope. I trust my memories will stay refreshed through future visits. 

As much as by the “regulars” from the area who attend, I was captivated by the quiet commitment of those who are helping you there; the children’s workers and those who help with transport, and help with a hundred other things, I’m sure.

 . . . May the Lord bless and bring more and more increase from the labors there; “hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion.”


The Italian Chef, the English Chef, and the French Chef

[We are pleased once again to welcome to “Penny’s Pen” our guest blogger, Miss Amy Work, who serves as our Sunday School Superintendent.]

It takes a village to raise a child. I am part of the village for the girls in my Sunday school class. I only see Miyani (age 16) and Diamond (age 12) once a week for a few hours, but an idea has been bubbling around in the back of my mind for a way that I could do more to address specific needs and weaknesses I observed. I wanted an opportunity to show the girls a healthier way to eat and how to do some basic cooking. I also noticed that practicing table manners would benefit the girls. I knew that they could also benefit from learning various domestic duties. And, listening to the kind of questions they’d ask and comments they’d make during Sunday school, I am convinced that we need to address some specific issues from a Godly point of view. So, I invited them to come to my place for an evening of cooking together, eating together, cleaning up together, and studying together.

A couple weeks in advance, I broached the idea to the girls and their parents, all of whom enthusiastically agreed to the girls’ night out. I sat down with Miyani and Diamond to go over food allergies and likes and dislikes. But then we ran into a little trouble.

Me: “Ok, I thought we’d cook something called Barbecups. It’s biscuits filled with barbecue flavored beef and—”

Diamond: “I don’t like barbecue sauce.”

Me: Sigh. “Ok. We’ll make you a couple without the sauce. Also, we’re going to have some vegetables. What kinds of vegetables do you guys like?”


Me: “Do you like corn?”

Diamond: “Yes!”

Miyani: “No!”

Me: “Hmm. Ok, Miyani. Do you like peas? Beans? Asparagus? Broccoli?”

Miyani: “No, no, no, no!”

Me: “You don’t like any vegetables?”

Miyani: “I like collard greens.”

Collard greens? I’ve seen those on TV, but I’m not sure I could even pick them out in the grocery store, much less cook them! Plus, I’m pretty sure collard greens is something everybody has a different way of making, so I’d never make it the right way. And I bet anyway that Miyani would like it cooked would be unhealthy! Uh-oh.

Me: “Ok. We’ll come back to vegetables. So, we’re also going to have salad. We’ll have lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers—”

Diamond: “I don’t like cucumbers!”

Miyani: “I do!”

You get the idea. No matter what I said, one girl liked it and the other didn’t. It was a discouraging start. We ended up sticking to the original plan and I just explained that sometimes we have to try a little bit of something, even if we don’t like it.

I spent the next week making final preparations, most of which consisted of a lot of prayer. I was so excited about the event that I had trouble going to sleep the night before. The day at work seemed to last forever, but finally I was able to leave and drive down to Atlanta.

I picked up the girls from their apartments, and we headed to my place. We chattered about the days off school they’d had because of weather, books they’re reading, and the fact that, no, Miss Amy is not going to teach Miyani how to drive on the highway! Miss Amy needs her car!

When we arrived, Diamond was so excited about being at my place, she insisted on closing her eyes as she stepped in so it would be a surprise. I don’t think I disappointed! I gave the ladies the grand tour and kept laughing at their comments.

“This is exactly like what I imagined your apartment to look like!”

“It’s so peaceful here!”

“Everything is so decorated!”

“Is it always decorated like this?”

“There’s a picture of your mom! And your dad! Do they ever come here?”

They were interested in everything. I showed them my room and my bulletin board where I have several of Miyani’s drawings on display. I showed them my keychain collection of goals I’ve accomplished and some of my childhood toys.

Then we got down to the business of cooking. Miyani was in charge of browning the meat and Diamond and I tackled making a tossed salad. Miyani had never heard of browning meat, but she took to the task quickly after a short demonstration.

Diamond and I washed the vegetables and I gave her a knife to start slicing the carrots. After a little coaching, she was on a roll and slicing like a pro. I complimented her and she said, “My mom never lets me do this. I don’t know why.” I fought down a small moment of panic when I realized I had given her a very sharp knife before asking how experienced she was. But I figured I had plenty of bandaids and the best way to learn is by doing. And then I handed her the cucumber to cut up, too.

As she sliced away, I popped a piece of cucumber in my mouth and crunched in satisfaction. “Mmmmm,” I said. “This is what you get to do when you’re the cook, and we’re the cooks!”

Diamond raised an eyebrow. “Can I try one, too?” she asked.


She tentatively put a cucumber slice in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. Then both eyebrows shot up. “I do like cucumbers!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know why I said I didn’t!” I had to laugh.

In fact, there was a lot of giggling that went on as we sliced and diced, stirred and mixed. Miyani declared she was an Italian chef, so Diamond became an English chef and I was a French chef. We proceeded to narrate what we were doing in our respective accents. That is, until the giggles made it hard to understand!

There was also a lot of mess-making. Run-away carrot slices made a break for freedom across the kitchen floor and barbecued beef dribbled down the stove. But, the girls learned my favorite cooking adage: Good cooks make a mess! So each time some messy mishap occurred we laughed and declared what good cooks we must be! Diamond was fascinated by the designs on wash cloth, napkins, and paper towels we used to clean up our messes. “Miss Amy,” she said to me later. “Your house is like a dollhouse. Everything is decorated—even the paper towels!”

When our meal was ready, we sat down and put our napkins on our laps like proper ladies. I even let the girls light the candles so we could dine by candlelight. Wanting to make sure the girls were comfortable with this new dish, I was going to show them how to eat it with their hands. “Oh, no, Miss Amy,” Miyani chided. “We’re ladies. We have to eat it with a fork and knife.” I laughed again. Here I was so concerned about teaching these ladies proper table manners and they had shown me up! So, like ladies, we ate with forks and knives.

I was so pleased with the girls. They were polite, respectful, eager to please, and quick to help. I had envisioned a battle getting Miyani to try some of the corn, but she took a small helping without complaint and finished it all. Diamond even made sure to eat all of her barbecued beef, saying she didn’t want to be rude. Everybody helped clean up and did so cheerfully.

Next, it was time to bake brownies for dessert. More messes were made, but they were chocolate messes and a lot of fun to clean up! Diamond was excited to use a spatula that was also decorated!

While the brownies baked, we sat down to do our study. Diamond cuddled up with a couple of my stuffed animals and both girls were attentive and interested.

I am using the book, Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh. It covers a range of topics teen and pre-teen girls may face such as, “Beautiful girls are worth more,” “I can’t overcome my sin,” “It’s not really sex,” “I need a boyfriend,” “God is not really involved in my life” and “Having a career outside the home is more valuable and fulfilling than being ‘just’ a wife and mom” to name a few. We covered the introduction and took a little quiz to see in what areas of our lives we may be believing unbiblical lies.

The evening ended with packaging up samples of our cooking for the girls to take home to their families. I drove them home and watched to make sure they got to their apartments safely.

It had been an incredibly fun time and I am still thanking God that everything went so smoothly and pleasantly. I was, however, pretty tired. How do you parent people do this all day every day?

Still, I am very much looking forward to next month and will pray, as I have been, that our times together will be glorifying to God and will cause us all to grow.

Now, what shall we cook in February? Hmmm…

In Memoriam: Rose Lee Hillman

In the last issue of Penny’s Pen we reported on the celebration of Miss Rose Hillman’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake.  She was 55 years old.  But now, it is my sad duty to tell you of her death.

Rose started feeling poorly in early April but, however sick she felt, she still dressed up and came to church for as long as she could.  The last couple of times she attended it became obvious that she was in considerable pain, specifically, she told us, in her side.  She was eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer and she passed away on June 23rd.

Everyone remembers Miss Rose as being a very sweet person.  She was loyal and faithful, and had a servant’s heart.  She worked hard and was always volunteering to be of help in whatever way she could.  And she did so with a big smile.  She is sadly missed.

When it became obvious that her life on Earth would soon be over, Rose’s family asked Pastor Frank to conduct her funeral service, but that didn’t work out because, when she did pass away, it was only a little over a week until we left for a vacation in the UK.  So it was conducted instead at a funeral home.  However, when we returned to Atlanta, we held a memorial service for her at our church building, which four of her family members and a friend of the family attended.

The sermon at the memorial service was entitled “Counting our Days”, an exegesis of Psalm 90, verse 12.  This psalm, which was originally a prayer of Moses in which he reflected on the shortness of life, urges us to be wise in how we live.   Utilising the entire psalm, Pastor Frank talked about what it means to count our days, and why we should do that.  Rose, he told us, lived 20,234 days which may seem like a big number but, in point of fact, it is a finite number, and every second moves us closer to the end of our days.  And, of course, when our days are up, we enter eternity.

Knowing this, we count our days so that we may seek wisdom.  What is wisdom?  Pastor Smith made the point specifically to those who live in the Bluff, especially the children who were present, that on one level, wisdom means not getting into trouble: for example, not getting addicted to drugs and not doing stupid things.

But the wisdom of which Psalm 90:12 speaks is much deeper than that.  True wisdom, he averred, is based on knowledge of God.  It shows itself in repentance of sinful deeds, and in faithfulness.   Miss Rose, he said, showed faithfulness, not only with her servant’s heart but with her faithful church attendance even when she was in physical pain.

True wisdom is found in the word of God, and Miss Rose also showed her commitment to this by hanging on every word that the pastor spoke.  And, even though she was illiterate, she would be able to join in the singing by hearing and lip-reading so quickly that she could reproduce the words immediately and sing along with us.

Towards the end of the sermon Pastor Frank made the point that Miss Rose, in her simple way and with her simple commitment, was wiser than many people in this world who may have a lot of knowledge and intellectual ability but reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Finally, he said, we should all count our days and respond to the gospel now, because we don’t know how many days each of us has left.

If you would like to listen to the whole sermon, please go to:


Downtown Update

Over the last twelve months we have had to say goodbye to some old friends and hello to some new ones.  We were very sad to lose the Myers family (Chris, Misty, Trinity, Houston, Elissa and Anastasia) in May when the United States Army transferred Chris, who had been recently promoted to the rank of captain, to Fort Lee in Virginia.  The family had been an invaluable asset to the ministry for more than two years.

We then had to say goodbye to Paul Struwe, who, with a big heart for inner-city ministries, used to travel about 45 minutes from his home in Dallas, Georgia, to be of service in whatever way he could.  For many months he taught the teenage Sunday School class and was beloved of everyone in the Fellowship.  Paul moved to North Carolina to take up a new teaching position in a school in Gastonia.

Having lost these seven people in such a short space of time, we felt very thin on the ground in terms of helpers, with only Pastor Frank and myself, and our three stalwart Sunday School teachers.   The Lord was most gracious, however, in bringing a new family, the McPhersons, to join us.  Frank first heard from Sean McPherson while we were on vacation in early July.  It was while we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel, looking out over the breakers of the Atlantic Ocean at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, that the surprise phone call was received.  Sean told Frank that he and his wife Anne were intending to move to Georgia which was very exciting news, of course, and we were thrilled to welcome them to the ministry in late July.  Starting in August, he has been teaching the adult Sunday School class, and has demonstrated not only a deep theological understanding but also a tremendous knack for patiently answering deep questions.  Anne has been serving as our regular precentor, and also is a substitute children’s Sunday School teacher.

As you already know, since June 2015 we have been worshipping in one half of a duplex, which has worked very well for us.  Our Sunday School teachers are particularly thrilled as they have their own rooms that they can decorate, and in which they can store their teaching materials.  The occupants of the other half of the duplex, however, turned out to be your friendly neighbourhood crooks!   The first of two sets of neighbours comprised a ten year old girl living there with her grandmother because her mother had passed away.  At some point a male friend of the grandmother moved in and problems started to develop.

On arriving at the building one day in the middle of a week in early April a year ago, we found a heavy-duty extension cord running from the neighbours’ side to our outside light fixture.  To begin with we tried to be gracious and allowed them to continue to use our electricity until the weekend.  After that, we threw the circuit breaker to that light whenever we left the building.  A week and a half later as we got to the church on the Lord’s Day, I noticed a number of bits of pink attic insulation on the floor in the upstairs hallway.  At first I couldn’t imagine what it was doing there, but then it dawned on me, with a shiver, that someone had entered our locked building via the attic stairs since we were there last.  It was one of our helpers who suggested that the most likely explanation was that someone from next door had cut a hole in the attic wall separating the two halves of the building and had accessed our side in order to steal electricity.  This was confirmed after the service when someone climbed up into the attic and reported that there was, indeed, a hole big enough for a man to climb through.

We said goodbye to these people when they were evicted in the middle of the year and shortly afterwards we said hello to the new family that moved in―a man and a woman and seven children.  To begin with we had a good relationship with them.  We were happy to have their children come to Sunday School and church and they were not too badly behaved.  Very quickly, however, another couple moved in with four children.  The man was quite an unpleasant character and the children were very badly behaved, which rubbed off on the first family.  Then the grandmother of the first family moved in, making five adults and eleven children living there.

The children from next door came to the Vacation Bible School which was held in June courtesy of a group of seven members of the Columbus (Indiana) RP Church (See Penny’s Pen dated June 24th, 2016), and every week a few of them came to Sunday School and/or church.  Sometimes we were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers who “invaded”, and, because they lived next door, they wandered in and out as they pleased.  Some new rules had to be written to prevent serious disruption of the worship service.

As time went by, our relationship with the adults really deteriorated.  The grounds became a real mess, with enormous amounts of trash which grew every week.  Many Sundays when we arrived Miss Amy or I would walk around picking up trash, often ending up with a bag-full.

The water bill was paid by the landlord because there was only one water meter.  We aren’t sure what the neighbours were doing with regards to water, but the landlord ended up with a $6,000 bill.  Even taking into consideration the high cost of water in the city of Atlanta, this was extraordinary.  The landlord had the water turned off for a while which really angered the men in the house.  To do that was illegal, however, so he had to turn it on again.  Eventually these families were evicted, leaving a dreadful mess behind them which was quite costly to clean up.  As a parting gesture they turned all the water taps on full as they left the house.  Thankfully the property manager came by the next day and turned them off.  When we arrived on the Sunday, however, we found that water was pouring onto the ground from beneath the kitchen and running down both driveways.  As the door was unlocked we went in and found that someone had torn out the kitchen sink leaving it in the living room, and had stolen some of the pipes leaving the main pipe gushing water without any way to turn it off or cap it.  One of our men had a tool with which to turn it off at the street.  In addition, a truck parked on the property which the owner had purchased for the property manager to use was stolen.

Not surprisingly, the owner, a church in the Los Angeles area, decided to sell the building.  So we now have a new landlord and an uncertain future.   We are hoping and praying that we will be able to stay on here, at least for the time being.  And one would think that, even though our lease calls for a monthly rent of less than the going rate for the area, the new owners would be more than happy to have us continue as tenants given the fact that we actually look after the property.

We have started a building fund so that we can raise funds in earnest for a property of our own.  One challenge is that, with the increasing gentrification of our ministry area, prices have gone up rapidly.  However, as Pastor Frank has said, “Nothing that half a million dollars can’t solve!”

We celebrated two birthdays this year―the first was a celebration for Miss Rose’s birthday in January, when we surprised her with a birthday cake:

           The second was in March when we welcomed the arrival of Wynter Nicole Franklin, whose              mother, Tawana, is a regular attender.  Baby Wynter is pictured here with her mother during her first visit to APF, and with big brother Cornelius:








Those of you who have visited Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship will remember Jenario and Miyani Robinson who, along with their mother, Miyoshi, have been part of the group since shortly after we started ministering in this area in 2010:

Our prayer requests include the following:

– That Tawana would continue to seek the Lord and that she and her other children would soon be able to enjoy the blessings of the covenant as expressed in Christian baptism.

– That Jenario and Cornelius would soon find work.

– That those to whom we minister would be protected from the fiery darts of temptation.

– That one or more workers, such as a ministerial intern or pastor assistant, would be raised up.

– That we would be able to acquire our own permanent location.

Overall, the number of people attending the service on any given Lord’s Day is down relative to last year.  But this is a community that moves around a lot so we never know for how long we will have the opportunity to minister to any given person before he or she moves on.  Even Jenario and his family have moved nine times in the six-plus years that we have known them but, thankfully, always to somewhere close enough that we have been able to pick them up and bring them to church.

Even though we are averaging fewer people in attendance we do feel as though we have a stronger core group, which gives us the time to minister to individuals more effectively.  With fewer undisciplined children attending, and with the addition of a nursery/cry room into which the service can be piped by intercom, our worship services have been quieter and more reverent.  This has been much appreciated by the adults who are thereby developing a deeper knowledge of biblical doctrines and the application of them to their lives.

Penny’s Pen: Father Knows Best? Maybe Not!

Proverbs 1:8-9

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

As mentioned in the study notes of the Hebrew Greek Study Bible, these instructions are “addressed to the young to warn them of dangers that they, by reason of their inexperience, know nothing about.  [T]he emphasis is upon training in the home as a means of moral protection.  It will prepare the young person against temptations from immoral people and the end which results.”

But the question is, what kind of instruction does any given father give?  And what kind of law does any given mother lay down in her household?  Are they gold chains around the necks of their children or are they millstones?

King Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, consistently uses the words “wisdom”, “knowledge”, and “understanding”, insisting that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of such wisdom.  He was, undoubtedly, not only lecturing his son (and, by implication, future generations) how to live, but was providing an example for him and for us all to follow.

Children who hear godly instruction from their fathers and godly law from their mothers are being taught how to seek knowledge and wisdom.  They fear the Lord and they trust him to direct their paths.  Godly parents teach honesty, kindness, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, modesty, and how to develop a gentle and quiet spirit.

Such is not often the case among residents of the Bluff.  We have found that parents have, themselves, been raised in loud, messy, chaotic homes in which a spirit of anger pervades, voices are constantly raised, children are yelled at, and there is no useful discipline.  Occasionally there is also serious abuse, even rape by a family member, which happened to one lady we know when she was ten years old.  In many ways these women are victims of the circumstances in which they were raised and they do not know any better.  So their children tend to be incorrigible, loud, inconsiderate; they often dress immodestly, steal, show no gratitude and almost never do as they are told.

Besides drug and alcohol abuse the most prominent and obvious problem in the Bluff is sexual sin.  The concept of staying celibate before marriage is essentially unknown.  When one of the ladies in the fellowship resolved to break out of her immoral lifestyle, she began to be taunted by neighbours who accused her of being a lesbian.

When I have mentioned that we know a number of young people who kept themselves pure before marriage and take seriously their vows to remain faithful to each other until death, I am greeted with wide, uncomprehending eyes, and utterances of disbelief.  When one of the members of our Board of Advisors was taking two local men home, he happened to mention that he had been married for 43 years, and the two men, in concert, said “to the same woman?”  When the reply was in the affirmative, the men were genuinely shocked.

This situation impacts the notion of fatherhood in our ministry area.   To be sure, there are fathers of a sort―the kind for which having a child is merely the unintended consequence of lust and conquest.  Very rarely does the arrival of a baby result in any kind of concern for the future of the mother or the child.  Or, heaven forbid, giving up one’s current lifestyle, finding a job and raising a family.

Here are a few examples of fatherhood in the Bluff:

  • One of the ladies to whom we minister suffers from serious health issues. She had a man living with her who was the father of one of her two children and who, for a while, brought a mistress into the home, even though the two children were also living there.  He also stole her Social Security Disability income.
  • While we were still meeting on the steps of the old church building, a prayer request was received for an eighteen year old young man who was very thin and sickly and was now in hospital with two gunshot wounds he had received the previous week. He had already fathered two children.
  • One day when a young teenage boy who attended regularly was missing from the Bible study that Pastor Frank was conducting, the mother told us that his step-father had taken him into the city to teach him how to hustle (i.e., how to get stuff without having to pay for it though not necessarily stealing). Thankfully the man is now out of the area and the young man is nineteen, doing very well, training for a job, and recently told his mother that he wants to provide for a real family one day and stay pure for marriage.

Here are a couple of examples of motherhood in the Bluff:

  • From May until just recently, the other half of the duplex which serves as our church building housed five adults and eleven children. Some of these children responded to several months of Sunday School and church attendance with improved behavior.  Most, however, did not.  On one occasion one of these children stole chewing gum out of the purse of one of our Sunday School teachers and ran with it towards her home.  The teacher ran after her and told the mother what had happened.  The mother rebuked the child―not by telling her that it was wrong to steal, but that she hadn’t been sneaky enough.
  • The step-mother of one thirteen year old boy who lived with his father and step-mother in a rooming house near our meeting place would sell herself on the streets on a regular basis. The boy had come to Vacation Bible School in the summer and since then had seemed to enjoy coming regularly to Sunday School and the service, sometimes taking good sermon notes.  But it was obvious, although not surprising, that he had a total disrespect for women.

Over the years I have heard some excellent sermons in which young people are admonished to learn from their parents.  But these sermons are being preached in contexts in which parents take seriously the admonitions of King Solomon.   For obvious reasons, preaching such a sermon in the Bluff and telling young people to learn from their parents would be inappropriate when these parents are teaching contrary to the will of God.

However, the children who attend our fellowship regularly are hearing and, in some cases, memorizing the catechism and Scripture verses.  They also see the modeling of faithfulness by our helpers and other Christian families who attend occasionally.  They hear sermons which have application to their lives, and we can only pray that, by God’s grace, the messages will take root in their young hearts even if we are not privileged to see the fruit ourselves.

In addition, our Sunday School teachers are doing a wonderful job teaching basic Christian doctrines and how to apply them in ways that, in a Christian home, would be reinforced by the parents.  Sadly, for many of the children to whom we minister, not only is the Biblical message not upheld in the home, but in many ways it is undermined.

And so it continues.  One generation after another, unless and until the Lord intervenes.  May He use Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship to bring wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to the children and the parents, that they may be able to enjoy a life of dignity and decency in Christ.


Penny’s Pen: As the Saying Goes . . .

. . . it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  August the twenty-first, that is.  Even though, as Christians, we understand that God is sovereign over all things, and that even terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days are foreordained and intended for our good and to drive us closer to Christ, we insist on kicking at the pricks and allowing ourselves to become depressed when we find ourselves having to deal with such days.

Such was the situation a few Lord’s Days ago.  It was a grey and dismal day, but dry with no particular signs of rain as we left the house.  On the way to the building Frank indicated that he was not feeling all that well―a little bit shaky, a little too hot, definitely under the weather but willing to carry on.

We arrived at the duplex only to discover that we had left our “Atlanta Box” behind at the house, and there was no time to go back and get it.  The Atlanta Box contains such not-so-minor things as the sermon outline and the bulletins, and sundry other things such as printouts for little children to use during the worship service and large-print Scripture printouts for those who need them.

There was a spark of hope, however, because I always carry a spare copy of the sermon outline in my Bible.  “Where is your Bible?” says Frank.  “In the Atlanta Box,” say I.

I immediately took the blame for this state of affairs―in fact I suffered a full-blown guilt-trip because I had been the one lining up the things we need to take, near the car, ready for Frank to load them.  I felt crushed at my incompetence and immediately felt physically sick and, shortly thereafter, somewhat shaky as well.

Frank, however, found some notes on Genesis that he had prepared for a Bible Study and said he could preach from those.  So, again, we decided to carry on, and he left in the van to go and pick up the family that lives furthest from the church building.  When he was about five minutes into the drive he called to say that he was feeling so unwell that he needed to come back and pick me up to travel with him to help him concentrate on driving.  As I waited for him I realised that maybe we should think about calling off the service and getting to our family’s house (where we were going to be spending the night) so that he could lay down.

As we discussed this, Frank received an extraordinarily distressing text message from someone who used some horrible, disrespectful language followed quite quickly by something else which was distressing in another way.

We laid a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor in the worship area and Frank laid down.  Struggling in his own mind about what to do, he decided to call a trusted friend for counsel.  He got to his feet as they talked, and I, now close to tears and weak with guilt, laid down in his place.  There was an air of spiritual darkness in addition to the darkness of an approaching storm.   A nearby clap of thunder added to the drama and the heavy rain started.

The handle on the back door turned, and as the door opened I leapt to my feet, very grateful to see Miss Amy arrive.  Not surprisingly she was a little bit stunned at what she saw and I think her words were, “This is ridiculous!  This is a bad idea.  You cannot carry on.  Everyone will understand.”  Those words were similar to those that Frank was hearing from his trusted counsellor, who reminded him that though it would be a hard thing for him to call off the service, it would be an act of faith in affirming that the Lord is the one in charge of the ministry.

Shortly after that our two other Sunday school teachers arrived and concurred with the decision, and we set about calling people who would be driving to the service, including our own family.  Several of them were already on their way and had to turn around.  Frank was then able to call those who would be relying on him to pick them up.

It was a happy Providence that we were going to be spending the night with our son and his family because they were able to welcome us warmly and shower us with tons of TLC―just what we needed.  Frank, it turned out, just needed to rest.  I just needed to calm down.

I am not proud of my “melt-down”.  But I learned a lesson.  I may be full of confidence in the Lord’s promises in an academic way, but I showed that evening that, to all practical intents and purposes, I was unable to act upon them.  I know that this ministry will continue to put us in trying situations and I trust that I will be better able to deal with the pressure in the future.

The following Lord’s Day we felt physically and spiritually refreshed, and we arrived at the duplex in good shape.  We were warmed by the love and concern that our congregation showed us and we had thirty souls in attendance.   That evening was not without drama of its own, but, by God’s grace, I remained spiritually strong and able to fulfill my duties with a cheerful demeanor.

But God really is sovereign, and we need to understand this not just academically but absolutely, as we reflect on each trial and see how it does indeed bring us closer to Christ, upon whom we can absolutely cast all our cares for he absolutely does care for us.  Even on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

Penny’s Pen: A Tale of Two Neal Streets

The temperature in Portland, Maine, on July 1st was a balmy 79°.  Balmy, that is, compared with the 90°+ temperatures we had been experiencing off and on since late May in Georgia.  Pastor Frank and I were visiting the city on a short vacation following Synod in order to add three more states (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) to the forty-two that Pastor Frank had already travelled by train, leaving only one remaining (Oklahoma) of the forty-six states which are served by Amtrak.

Portland train tracksView from Amtrak’s train No.19, the Crescent

When we are away from home Pastor Frank and I also enjoy visiting local church buildings that have some special significance, and in Portland, this was the Orthodox Presbyterian building on Neal Street, located in an historic area of the city.  Not having a car, we travelled into the city by train and bus and thence by foot the half a mile or so along Neal Street to Second Parish OPC.

Portland 2nd Parish church

Second Parish Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Neal Street, Portland

We had not spoken to anyone at the church to tell them that we were hoping to stop by, so we were quite delighted to find the pastor there.  He was glad to see us and was very willing to show us around and share some of the church’s history.  The original church building, with its beautiful white spire which had towered over Portland, had been too costly to maintain and, without a thought for its historic value, was demolished in the 1950’s.  Their current building is a more modest red brick edifice but still a very attractive building which meets the needs of the congregation well.

Neal Street, Portland, is located in an old section of the city as evidenced by the charming row houses with their elegant facades, bow windows and stately front doors.   It is a delightful and very photogenic avenue lined with mature shade trees on one side of the narrow sidewalk, and adorned with small bushes and flowering shrubs thriving in the little patches of soil and sunlight on the other.

Portland Neal Street

       Portland doors

In Neal Street, Atlanta, other than a few exceptions, the buildings are in bad shape.  Many, such as the one pictured below, have been abandoned and boarded up.  Others are falling down or have burned down.  Several children from Neal Street used to attend APF, and they were among the Neal Street Atlantaworst behaved group we have had to deal with.  They were very destructive, causing hundreds of dollars worth of damage to the front porch of the small Baptist church from which we were renting at the time.   We referred to them, for understandable reasons, as the Neal Street Gang.  On one occasion an eight year old in the group struck out at me as I was taking his cell phone away from him following several attempts to stop him playing with it during Sunday school. These children were warned repeatedly about their behavior and their parents were informed.  Every so often they were told that they could not attend for one week.  Even then on one occasion, they showed up after the service, adopted a very menacing attitude and demanded snacks.  Eventually they decided they didn’t want to come back and we never saw them again.

Neal Street, Portland,vis-à-vis Neal Street, Atlanta:

In Neal Street, Portland, children can be assured of a decent education.  In Neal Street, Atlanta, children attend schools which, from our experience, can leave a young person able to read only at a fourth grade level when he or she graduates from high school.  In Neal Street, Portland, children do not have to fear the possibility of a sibling being murdered.  In Neal Street, Atlanta , there is always that possibility.  We have had children attend our ministry who have had siblings injured by knife attacks and killed by gun violence.  In Neal Street, Portland, children are, generally speaking, part of a family that includes both a father and a mother who are neither criminals nor drug addicts.  In Neal Street, Atlanta, most children are born to unmarried parents, many of whom have committed serious crimes.  And they have so many half brothers and sisters, half aunts, uncles and cousins that the construction of a family tree would be well nigh impossible.


In light of eternity, the residents of Portland’s attractive, affluent Neal Street and their children who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ are in no better a situation than are the residents of Atlanta’s impoverished Neal Street who do the same.

We  know that others have been called by God to reach out to the prosperous Neal Streets of this world.  However, having received our own calling, we continue to strive to reach the children and adults of “our” Neal Street and the surrounding ‘hood known as the Bluff.  And as we do so, we want to express our gratitude for your financial support, your notes of encouragement, and your prayers as we sow with tears even as we look for the harvest.