Walking through History

I have always been intrigued by history. Half of my family comes from the mountains of Kentucky, and every year I have taken a road trip down to the little town of Pikeville with my grandmother to visit family members and explore the mountains’ nooks and crannies, and sometimes abandoned houses, too. During one trip, we learned that our family stems from the McCoy family, one of the rivaling sides of the great family feud. I guess you could say feistiness runs in our blood.

While vising Pikeville, I always loved the creaky wood floors and antique furniture my great, great aunt would have in her home. My cousin Larry’s place is propped on top of a mountain. Growing up I would watch his old barn slowly crumble to the ground. My mom used to say, “If you only you could see this as a working farm, how it used to be.”

I wish I could step back in history and learn how my family lived. They owned half the mountain that made up the town, running general stores and farms. I’ve heard stories of visiting with family and making fresh chicken and dumplings, a family favorite.

This past weekend I traveled to Boston with my history of missions class. We drove from one side of Massachusetts to the other, and then back again. We followed the footsteps of early American missionaries, including Adoniram Judson, a first American foreign missionary, D.L. Moody, a great evangelist and author, and John Elliot, known as the “apostle to the indians” who worked among Native Americans and translated the Bible into Algonquian.

We studied about these missionaries all semester, but visiting through their homes and churches, smelling the rustic air, walking across the same creaking floors and seeing the worn, yellowing paper added a human element to these men we had only read brief biographies about. They were real people who left behind continuing legacies and physical tools still being used today to spread the Gospel.

If only walls could talk. I wish I could have experienced the exciting time of missionaries emerging in America and watching Judson and fellow foreign missionaries leave the Salem wharf as they began their venture to India. I wish I could experience the active U.S. Custom House and hear the clacking of hooves from horse-drawn wagons filling the street of downtown Boston. I wish I could have experienced the excitement of the city as freedom was forming for the colonies.

It was a humbling experience, following the footsteps of these men through the results of their labor so long ago. I wonder if they ever imagined how Boston would look now, hundreds of years later with tall brick buildings and hustling people. I wonder if the missionaries ever imagined their message inspiring the formation of Christian institutions, like my own, or their Bible translation being used 100 years later to bring more people to Christ.

I’ve loved learning about my family history in Kentucky. I’ve been able to admire family I never met for their hard work and appreciate where my heritage comes from. I wonder if they ever pictured a family descendant like me visiting their home and enjoying chicken and dumplings 100 years after their time.

I think we forget how much we can influence the future generations ahead of us.

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