Paducah Road Trip
Friday, May 12, 2017
Joan and I were heading down the road towards Paducah, KY from Sparta, IL. We hadn’t eaten any breakfast, saving the calories for Kirchoff’s in Paducah. I would describe Kirchoff’s as a Jewish Deli but I would be wrong. The history on their web page gives no mention of Jewish heritage rather a great story of Franz Kirchoff and his young bride coming to the promised land from Prussia with his baking recipes in tow. The river boats would find him at the docks doing business. It passed on from generation to generation until 1957 to be reopened in 1997. Louis Frank Kirchhoff, the great-grandson of Franz, reacquired the property on Market Square to follow his own dream. Kirchhoff’s Bakery reopened for business in the fall of 1997 by the fifth generation of the family, Ginny Kirchhoff-Elmore.
After investigating a little Jewish history of Paducah I did call the restaurant to confirm, that despite Kirchoff being a Jewish name, there was no Jewish in Franz Kirchoff’s story. I am one of those that believe that God’s word concerning “blessing and cursing” touches on the Jews of the past as well as the present and the Christian. Jews prospered in Paducah owning 11 business by 1859. An order of General Grant’s during the civil war calling for the expulsion of merchants doing business with the Confederacy was only enforced for one week in one town, Paducah. The Jews left for Cincinnati with their leading citizen visiting President Lincoln and getting the order overturned. They would return but the South’s attack against the city would cause some to leave and never return. The Jewish community would grow and give Paducah legislators, leading citizens and successful businesses.
We caught the lunch crowd with a long line to order and every table a prized possession. Kirchoff’s comes highly recommended by any social media reviewer and we easily add our recommendation to the long list.
We met Pastor Buddy Ryals at his downtown “Potter’s House Church”. He had a break from work, gave us a peek inside with the old brick walls still in place. We took a few flyers and would meet with him and his wife later for dinner when she got off work at 6:00. I still remember Buddy coming to Wickenburg with his band and taking the time to pray for me as a new convert. He would later develop a “skater” ministry that he still exhibited up until a few years ago (age catching up with him). His wife has family in Paducah and his son pastors the Marion, IL church. He is re-establishing himself stateside after 10 years’ missionary work in Samoa.
Joan and I would drive a half circle out from the downtown area butted against the river. We ran into Nick, a young black student. I asked him if he would do a “one minute bible study” with me. He said yes, and picked “50 Shades of Sin”. After the bible study he let me know he was a Christian and he attended one of the “Ninth Street” churches (there are several). He had a refreshing spirit and a spring in his walk. I thanked him and he politely thanked me. Nick was followed by a young white kid who seemed a bit agitated. It might have been the clothes, the earrings or the demeanor; but I could tell a “no” was coming my way from the way he carried himself. I asked anyways and he said “no” as he walked by; he paused and turned to me and declared that he was an atheist. I normally resist the urge to press my “no’s” but I found myself asking him again. He explained that his parents did not allow him to talk to people about religious subjects. So, my agitated young man continued his journey.
Joan did “Clear Mind” with a young woman named Sonia. Picking “Clear Mind” is a perennially picked bible study. Sonia was thrilled to be interacting with Joan. They talked for quite a while. Joan called me over to be introduced. Sonia was thrilled to be 3 months clean. The proof: she pulled out a wad of cash and said she could never have held this much cash without using before. Joan prayed for her and she rode off on her bicycle to the store as Joan and I continued day tripping.
We drove by the factory where locomotives are still built in Paducah. It has been an ongoing adventure since 1925. I saw a young man cutting across the railroad lines. I went up to him and asked him if he would do a “one minute bible study” with me. Brenden, a young black man, politely responded and picked “Clear Mind”. In the south, including our home in Southern Illinois, I get a lot of “sirs”. Part of it is because I am getting older, but more of it is something ingrained in the culture. For black society of Paducah, it could be the lasting heritage of producing the first black artillery unit in the Civil War. I was told the further south you go the more polite and helpful people become. It would be proven to me on this road trip.
When I am given the opportunity to talk with people about the things of God via “one minute bible studies”; I am not looking to overcome them with my persuasive skills. I count it a privilege to be an ambassador for Christ and want to do Him right. I am looking to combine “imparting grace” from Eph. 4:29 with confidence in “the day of visitation” from 1 Peter 2:12. Brenden showed himself to care about his future; yet something about the loneliness of the location spoke of deeper turmoil. As we talked, I told him of Pastor Ryles and his church; but I also asked him if he had any relatives who were strong Christians. He did, and told me two names. I suggested that he share our conversation with them and see if they would speak into his life about his future. It left him with some hope and a plan.
When it comes to young people I am a nuts and bolts believer in futures. I believe they can make something of their lives with or without Christ. The best advice is always “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”. Young people need action, especially males. My advice is to start projects and finish them. Learn how to overcome and make things happen. What future does Brenden have in Paducah? Unless he is self-motivated, probably not much. The same ole same ole won’t cut it in today’s world.
Here is a quote from VMV Vice-President and General Manager Bob Pedersen (locomotives):
Unlike other industries, VMV isn’t worried about falling demand. Right now there’s one shift for 160 workers at VMV and Pedurson says he has enough orders to add another. But he can’t find the workers.
“I mean I’ll hire boilermakers, welders, electricians and with the sophistication going so much higher than it was a few years ago it’s hard to find, especially electricians, that can become familiar with the sophistication of the locomotive,” Pedersen said.
For Pedersen Sophistication means computers. Trains, like the rest of us, have entered the digital age. And someone has to piece all of that together. In a rural market it’s not an easy position to fill. But technological advances are not the only set back. There’s also the issue of finding committed workers.
“It’s not the easiest work in the world,” he said. “It’s rough work and some of the people don’t wanna come to work everyday. I mean it’s just something that’s happening to our economy that is very different than it was many years ago.”
I believe there is a connection between our lack of spiritual zeal in the Christian direction and our inability to fill these jobs. The world system works against Brenden walking with Christ and the picture is that the world system (the education system), will not prepare or motivate him to fill one of those jobs at the locomotive factory. Coming to Christ can begin to heal the damaged character that cannot or will not finish the job properly.
I talked with Charles and you guessed it; he picked “Clear Mind”. Something about our society. Charles was remembering back to better times. Church had been important and of course he still holds on to Christ, but the joy was gone. I talked of the hope of a better future and mentioned marriage, he froze. He had been there and done that and it was not a happy experience. Marriage and morals were abandoned by society over the last 50 years. Rich people have returned to the understanding that solid marriages matter; but for poor folks, without the advantage of money cushions, are still carrying the pains and wounds that go with immorality and divorce.
Will Charles be able to navigate life to a place of wholeness that comes with marriage? “It is not good that man is alone”. Will Charles find a help mate to spur him on to greater things?
We drive by a park where two young men have stationed themselves on a corner. They seem to know everyone who is driving by. Lots of waves, honks and shout-outs. I pull around the corner and walk up from behind them. I have been told that when I pull my phone out with its black cover it appears to some people to be a detective’s badge. I startled them and they checked me out as I opened my phone and asked them if they would “please” do a “one minute bible study” with me. They looked at each other and laughed. They picked “50 Shades of Sin”. Their names were Christopher and Eric; aged 17 and 18. They were just hanging out hoping for something to happen. They had their minds on other things so I wouldn’t be long. Could they tell me the message about sin? Yes, they could, it brings death. It was a sobering thought to leave them with.
We passed by a strip mall that had some folks in front of it. Joan began talking with Annie who was the girlfriend to Valentine who was the friend of Tim, the owner of the used clothing store. She did a bible study with all three of them. They chose “Clear Mind”. The conversation turned to business and money. When Rockefeller was the richest man in the world; he was asked: “How much money does it take to make a man happy?”. He knew the answer: “Just a little bit more”. Tim desired prosperity. His business and his employees needed it. Does God care? Does God have answers and direction? When Joan got a little specific, Tim retreated. He knew what he needed to do. His father was a preacher. The gap between what he knew and what he did concerning spiritual things became evident. We asked him what he wanted us to do. He wanted us to pray for him and his business; and we did.
I did “Clear Mind” with James, kicked out of school, just walking around with nowhere to go. Joan did the “Ten Rules of Dating” with Danielle, a church girl. I got a “no” from Lee because he was already a Christian. I decided to try and communicate why he needed to encourage me in my endeavors as a Christian brother. He listened and as I moved on he smilingly thanked me for the work I was doing.
We met Pastor Ryles at 5:30 so we could do a bible study with him watching before picking up his wife after work at 6:00. We found Brendon on his porch with two small children, his fiancé and her brother and his girlfriend. Young people, the future; it was all right here on the porch. I immediately liked Brandon. He had a winning way about him and showed no fear about doing a bible study with me. He chose “Pokémon”. We talked, he had lots to say. His future brother in law snickered a bit but chose to be respectful. The children were not used to being asked to wait until we were through talking before getting the attention they craved. They chose to allow us to continue.
Brandon’s father had taken him to different churches so he could see how man could interpret the bible in different ways. The lesson to be learned was to not trust man. I asked him if he could tell me the central message of those churches. “Have faith in God”. Not bad, actually good. I don’t know if I was winning myself to Brandon but he was sure winning me to him. We went on to present realities, work, kids and marriage. His fiancé and her two children had been with him since she had left her husband after the birth of the second child 4 years ago. She let us know she wanted to marry Brandon. His response was that she didn’t understand that life was “short and brutal”. The darkness of the statement shook me. I know his reality is difficult but I Know God can help him; and yes, it will be an uphill battle. I gave Pastor Ryles a chance to talk with him while I talked with the rest of the gang on the porch. Brandon invited Pastor Ryles to come and talk with him again. Gold for a pastor.
We met the Ryles’ at the Flamingo restaurant. It has a South Pacific atmosphere that brings a comfort level to them after their ten years in Samoa. We both shared how the strangeness of our homecomings to America were more disconcerting that our arrivals into Samoa and Zambia. Pastor Ryles is full of evangelism ideas and it is great to be around his enthusiasm (God in you). We had a relaxing dinner with good fellowship. The common bonds of the pastoral life make conversation easy.
We say our good byes to head home. They follow us down the road. Something is wrong and they are flashing their lights. It is a flat tire. They want to help but I let them know we can handle it and they go home as we change the tire. I really don’t want to drive the donut tire all the way home on the highway at a reduced speed. We try to find an open station that still changes tires. Too late in the evening. We stop at an auto parts store to see if they know of any stations. The slow-moving conversation centers around driving on donuts and how service stations have changed.
I am about to leave when one of the young men asked me if I need help changing the tire. I let him know I have already changed it. He asked if I found what caused the flat. It was a bolt and when I tell him he jumps into action. He gets a patch kit off the shelf and a pump. I bring the tire in, he patches and inflates the tire and charges me for the patch kit. During this process, his buddies come to meet with him. They help me while he helps other customers. Joan has gone to Starbucks. At one point, they are getting a little off color so I mention I am a pastor which instantly changes their demeanor. It’s hard to describe, but there was a shared knowledge among us of what is right and wrong (even as they were choosing wrong). I would thank our shining knight in armor and encourage him to treat his fiancé right as he heads into his future.
It was the “good Samaritan” kindness, without the active Christian faith; that would stick with me as we headed home. As I waited with the tire for Joan; two men leaving the store would pause and ask me if I needed help. That’s just how it is in Paducah, Kentucky. It is a city waiting for God to blow on the embers of an old Christian fire from years ago.