It should be no great surprise the countless ways God interweaves our lives with the lives of others and in particular with fellow believers. What we consider as coincidences or chance encounters God had planned all along to encourage us and make us know how highly He values our investment in others.When Cathy and I became acquainted with Gordon and Jeanette Jones in the 1980’s, we did not envision how our friendship and association with them would connect us with so many and stretch out to involve a friendship even 35 years in the future.
In previous posts (A Divine Appointment in South Africa, Jan. 2014; Dr. Jones and the Spitting Cobra, Jan 2014; and An African Elephant Opens a Door, June 2017) I describe a few ways God has opened doors to Cathy and me. Until we met the Jones’s when they were on furlough in El Dorado I could not have told anyone where Zambia was located. I wasn’t particularly interested in the country because we knew no one there nor anyone going there. Gordon and Jeanette changed all that. They had been medical missionaries with Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) in Zambia for about 20 years when we met them, and we developed an instant connection. In addition to the relationships already noted, there was yet another connection to be made to Zambia, Luampa Mission Hospital and the Jones’s right here in Branson, Missouri.
About 5 years ago the Van Haitsma family joined First Baptist Branson, and began attending Sunday and Wednesday night services regularly. Their oldest daughter April who had been a student at the College of the Ozarks had begun a dating relationship and finally married Corey Huddleston, the older son of my best friend Tim and his wife Teresa Huddleston. At the time we met the Van Haitsma’s, Corey and April had celebrated the birth of their first child, Palmer, and Cathy and I wanted to take a gift and be introduced to Palmer. They were in the process of building their home on property immediately adjacent to April’s parents and during the interim were living with them.We took the gift one afternoon to Scott and Melinda’s home. Scott, who is a building contractor was not at home, nor was Corey who was teaching at his school that afternoon. Melinda, April and Palmer were there and welcomed us.
Their beautiful country home is in Reeds Spring which is a 15 minute automobile drive from Branson. Upon arrival we were warmly greeted and invited for a short visit in their spacious living room. Following brief introductions Cathy asked Melinda where she and Scott were raised, thinking they might be native SW Missourians. She said they both were missionary kids and were raised literally “all over the world.” She said Scott was raised in Zambia. That caught our attention because of our connection to the Jones’s, so I asked her more questions concerning Scott. I told her the only missionaries we knew in Zambia lived and served for over 25 years in a small mission hospital in Luampa. “That’s where Scott grew up!”, she exclaimed. It was several weeks later when I had a conversation with Scott I got a few more details of his connections with the Jones’s and his life in Zambia.
Scott’s parents were also missionaries with AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship}) which was the sponsoring entity of the Luampa Mission Hospital in Zambia. His Dad Roger was in charge of all maintenance at the hospital and served there for 5 years from 1975 until 1980 when they transition to another location. When I initially asked Gordon Jones the location of his hospital he said, “Luampa is 300 miles out in the bush and 350 miles from the supermarket in Lusaka!” (capital city of Zambia). During most of the years I knew Gordon and Jeanette they were with AEF, but in 1998 that organization merged with a larger organization called SIM (Sudan Interior Mission) in order to broaden its’ scope and outreach.
Scott spent his early formative years from age 9 to 14 years old in Luampa deepening his love for ministry to people who need to know Christ as Savior and Lord. He related he enjoyed scrubbing in and assisting “Uncle Gordy” and “Aunt Evie” (Evelyn Hattan) in the operating room on many occasions and frequently went on hunting trips with Uncle Gordy to get fresh meat for the hospital patients and staff.
Evelyn Hattan was a Registered Nurse at the hospital for over 20 years, and is the person who provided the photo above of the hospital staff taken in the mid-1970’s. She is located on the back row of the photo facing toward her left. Dr. Jones is on the back row next to the end on the right side of the photo. At the time of my last correspondence with Evelyn over 4 years ago she had retired to Spokane, Washington to be near family. It is my understanding she has now departed this life.
I am no longer amazed nor surprised when connections of acquaintances and friends are made in our Christian lives. God interweaves us with others in order to encourage and challenge us in our ministries. Cathy and I are so grateful for our friendship with and co-labor involvement with Gordon and Jeanette Jones during those years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Our life in Branson, Missouri since 2005 has been wonderful and full of ministry. We fully anticipate God showing us many more connections with His saints He knew about all along.