It was 12 years ago this month that we moved into a rental house in beautiful, historic, small-town Thurmont Maryland - although officially the house was in Graceham, which is a teensy antique hamlet just on the outskirts of Thurmont.
Prior to that, we'd been living in a trailer on property we owned in another part of Frederick County. We had been planning to build a house on that land, but our plans changed when the decision was made, in late 1999, to pursue full time missions work instead. In order to make the big move possible we needed to sell our land, and we needed to move into less rustic living conditions - you know, a place with amenities like phones and internet access.
The first day after the holidays of 1999 I bought a local newspaper and checked out houses for rent. I found one in a good location with a price we could afford, and called on it. Judy, the woman who answered the phone, explained that her church owned the rental house, and that her husband (a trustee of the church) would be the one to show us the house. As you might imagine, as a prospective missionary the idea of renting a house from a church was appealing to me. In the course of my conversation with Judy I learned that she homeschooled her children (fellow homeschoolers often feel an immediate kinship). We hit it off nicely, and had a pleasant chat. At this point I still didn't know that my son Russell already knew her husband and her oldest son, Eric, through the Awana Program at our home church. We found that out when we met with her husband to view the rental house.
Later in the day, I spoke with Judy's husband. He told me exactly where the house was located, but also said that there were several other people interested in renting the house, who were in line ahead of us. I drove over to see the exterior of the house and the yard. I was convinced that it was perfect for us - and I was certain that one of the other two families would snatch it up first. Russell was delighted with the location of the house, because Dalton, another one of his friends from Awanas, lived just a couple of houses away.
That evening we met with Judy's husband to see the interior of the house. He told us that both of the other families had chosen not to rent the house. One of those people mentioned that they wouldn't want to live there because the house was situated next to a cemetery. That surprised me, as we saw the cemetery as an asset - you'll never have quieter, less intrusive neighbors!
So, we got the house. There were some immediate benefits to living in that house - like picking cherries, pears, and grapes in the yard. Twelve years later, our decision to rent that particular house, in Graceham Maryland, during our last year in the states is still having ramifications - in very good ways!
The house belonged to Graceham Moravian church, and is situated directly across the street from the church. Although we didn't regularly attend services at the Moravian church, they still totally treated us like family. In fact, they still do twelve years later! We've been back to speak at the church several times, their adult Sunday School class collects funds for our ministry work, and their church collects donations every year to contribute to our Gifts for Gracias Christmas Project.
During our year living in that house, we were invited to participate in a homeschooling co-op which was held in the church building. That was such a blessing to us. It was a busy year for me, and it would have been hard for me to commit to a regular gathering like this - except it was right across the street! My kids enjoyed the social aspects, and I had some of the homeschooling burden taken on by the moms who taught co-op classes. I also had the opportunity to develop some friendships with other women in the community, which I likely wouldn't otherwise have had, since I only lived there a year (including Judy, who answered the phone when I first called about the house, and our neighbor Anne, mom of Russell's friend Dalton) .
Right now, we have a young guest staying with us, helping with the Christmas gift project (and with whatever else is going on around here from moment to moment). Katie is from - you guessed it - Thurmont Maryland. We got to know her family while we were living there, as they were part of the homeschooling co-op. Of course, Katie was only 5 at the time, but she says she remembers us when we were part of the group. Of course, she also knows us from more recent interactions: when members of our family go back to Maryland for a visit, we frequently stay with Katie's family. Plus, Katie's home is our Maryland collection location for donations when we do our annual container shipment. She helped collect, package, and load the donations on that end, and now she's helping put together and distribute the gifts on this end. Pretty cool, huh?
All of these blessings and benefits came to us, over the course of the past twelve years, from our move to Graceham/Thurmont, when all we thought we were doing was renting a house. Do you see why we think Thurmont Maryland is exceptionally cool? And don't you think it was pretty amazing how God put us in that place for our last year of living in the US?