A native of Rogersville, I grew up in a family that taught and lived out compassion for those in need of help. I was taught at home and at church to be aware of needs around me and to share what I had with those who needed my help.
At UT Knoxville I met and married my husband, the late Tripp Elder, who became the Business Administrator of the largest church in Arkansas, First Baptist, Fort Smith, a five-thousand-member congregation. As Business Administrator, the church’s benevolence ministry was a part of his responsibility. It was there that we first began working with homelessness. That was in the 1980s. Fort Smith is in the literal center of the United States, and many transient homeless passed through. The church had gained the reputation of being compassionate, and we ministered to many, leading them to salvation in Jesus, meeting their immediate physical needs, and helping them to become self-reliant.
Rogersville’s homeless are somewhat different in that the vast majority of them are locals, requiring a different sort of ministry approach, with the ultimate goal still being personal salvation and self-reliance. All my life in Rogersville, we have had “street people,” and the community has looked on them with compassion and even with fondness. They are woven into the verbal history of our town and mourned when passed on from this life. And our question as believers becomes, have we entertained angels unaware?