Sunday, November 25, 2012

Love and Tears at Leburn, Kentucky

Irene and Alvin (1942-2012) Yoder
A seven-hour trip on Friday with my brother to eastern Kentucky’s coal country transported me into another world.

The occasion was my 70-year-old cousin Alvin Yoder’s funeral. Alvin, with his beloved wife Irene, their six children and 40 grandchildren, was a devoted part of his conservative Valley View Mennonite church located along Ball Fork Hollow, an active congregation with a regular attendance of some 140.  Their modest home in this region of all hills and hollows is just down the winding road from the church .

At Saturday's memorial service at Hindman’s Funeral Services the family was joined by some 500 friends from Alvin’s mountain community, his extended family, and from his family of faith, some from hours away. On the Thursday and Friday evenings before, hundreds of other people from the community and elsewhere had waited patiently in long lines to pay their respects and offer their love and support to Irene and the family, people whose lives Alvin had touched as a caring neighbor and through his heating and cooling business.

Sitting in the packed auditorium at the memorial service I found myself a part of a mass choir in which all of us were expressing praise and affirming faith in heartfelt four-part harmony. The majority of women present wore plain modest dresses and white prayer coverings, and their men dark suits with distinctive clerical-style collars, giving the appearance of a gathering of a monastic community. The disciplined practice of their faith, one that affects every part of their lives, does in fact resemble that of a religious Order. They are clearly a counter-cultural community of sturdy families making a statement about how God impacts every part of their lives every day, from morning to night, from life until death.

Such communities offer food and comfort to each other as well as to their neighbors when someone dies, bringing with them empathy, love and lots of tears.
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