I love you Siloam Springs!

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A deep appreciation and quiet joy gripped me as I drove to church Sunday morning.  The sun was not long in the sky and a crispness clung to morning. In the short distance from my home to downtown Siloam Springs several people were out running by Allen Elementary on a new walking path and by the iconic gazebo in City Park. This time they were individuals, but often one has a dog or entire families are out together.  Moms and Dads with strollers or with youngsters on wee little bikes bring a special smile to my face.

I admired the revitalized downtown from University to Main on Broadway as I drove.  Much has changed in the last eleven years. The Chamber of Commerce has moved—twice. Café on Broadway has expanded—twice. Are there any empty buildings on Broadway anymore?  The corner of Mount Olive and University is vibrant and proud, not a mere reflection of past glory. I have fallen in love with Siloam Springs.

In a few weeks I will experience Shakespeare’s words, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”.  Bishop Mueller of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church feels the kingdom of God is best served by moving me to a new place of ministry.  I feel blessed to remain able to “make disciples of Jesus Christ that make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and to have the Rev. Clark Atkins coming to this awesome community.  Consequently, this is my last column for the Herald-Leader.  I appreciate the trust and opportunity the paper has given me to encourage the best through the timeless truth of Jesus Christ.

Siloam Springs does not merely offer community life activities, but fosters a sense of community that is both attractional and beneficial to current residents.  John Brown University is a great partner in city trails, encouraging physical health through partnerships with the city for exercise and sports such as soccer.  The opportunities to enjoy free art displays in the Windgate Visual Arts buildings, medical care in the new nursing building, performances in the Berry Performing Arts, special events and training such as the Pioneer Citizen Award and Back to School Teacher Appreciation breakfast in the Simmons Great Hall, and the Annual Christmas Candlelight service quietly nurture the soul of our community.

Many JBU students from missionary parents in far flung parts of the world, those from other states, and many that grew up here choose to remain after graduation to work, raise families, and make their mark on the world.  Other communities are envious of the jobs, spiritual life, and community fabric that draw and keep people of such quality.

Civic groups add to the quality of life here and in many places worldwide.  Rotary hosts international students annually and gives some elementary students the only books they own.  Kiwanis and Lions Clubs support services to those in need while knitting together the community in pancake breakfasts.  Civitan reaches out but also reaches up by honoring those who serve the spiritual needs of our community in an annual Pastor’s Breakfast.

The Chamber of Commerce shares with potential new business’ the advantages for business and employees in the community.  Their Ambassadors meet so many exciting new ventures and talented, enjoyable business owners excited about their product and the community. They cheer these business owners and add another important thread to the fabric of our community.  If you have never attended a First Friday Coffee, you owe it to yourself to do so.

It is often said that Siloam Springs is in the Guiness World Records for having the most churches per capita.  Time and again these churches and their pastors celebrate God’s goodness together as well as through their individual missions.  In a divisive world their ability to find common ground for the common good is unusual in its frequency and depth.  To gather nearly 2,000 in a community of 14,000 on a Sunday morning to worship together instead of separately speaks loudly of the love and respect residents have for one another and their Lord Jesus Christ.

There is an official Ministerial Alliance.  That is not unusual.  To have several pastors meet weekly is.  Friends do more together than acquaintances.  Friends can learn from each other, challenge one another, pray together, and better shepherd their communities because they work together, know more of what is happening around them and better understand the activity.

I had a very bad case of flu when I was eight or nine; and it was Christmas.  Much of my Dad’s family came over to celebrate, but I was stuck in bed sleeping off and on with a heating pad.  I woke up with my head exploding and did something I never remember doing before or since.  I called out, loudly, “Mom.  Mom”.  The hall light flickered on and Mother rushed in, swooped me into her arms, and just hugged me.  My head still hurt but I was better.  I was in a safe place, a loving place, a hope filled place that life would be better soon. My mother taught me what love looks like.  I see that love in this community.

A child appreciates its mother’s acts of listening, care, encouragement, forgiveness, and counsel. They create deep bonds and allow love to grow deeper. Mutual appreciation flourishes. This is a picture of my relationship with this community. I love you Siloam Springs.

Mom always stood on the porch and waved goodbye when my time with her was at an end.  She never went in until I was out of sight.  Siloam, you will always be in my minds eye. You have nurtured me when I was down, encouraged me to lead through the Chamber, Rotary, and Ministerial Alliance. Quite simply, you have always been there for me.  What a town!

I leave behind a brick in the sidewalk downtime my staff placed there and a piece of my heart and soul. You have loved my family and me Siloam Springs. I want you to know, “I love you and God loves you”, too.

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