Our Stories: To Some Much is Given
by Jan Campbell
I have always been curious about what in our daily lives influences the good and bad in people. So, I decided to share with our Connecters a few of the important influences that shaped my life.
While I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio; my roots reach back to the anglo culture of the Cumberland Mountains in Southeastern Kentucky. My Dad always called this place “God’s Country”. The Scottish, English and German people migrated to this area during the potato famine bringing with them King James English and their various cultures.
My mother was one of thirteen children living in a small log house with no bathrooms or running water. That was a new experience for a city girl but I loved pumping for water and washing up in cold water to face the day. As my parents were born and raised there, they knew everyone up and down that dusty road. And believe me, we visited everyone of them plus all the relatives. Everyone of them insisted we stay for dinner.
You couldn’t say no. The lady of the house donned her apron and ran after a chicken to put in the dinner pot to flavor the dumplings. To this day that is one of my favorite dishes. I have simple tastes. The family oohed over me until I felt good about myself. Of course I was always excited about returning to those old hills.
I visited other homes for hoe downs and good ole banjo music. The banjos were made from cigar boxes No one there could afford an instrument. We sat in front of home fires and sang the ole Scottish sad ballads of past years. I made molasses in wooden frames, climbed papaya trees and took my chances crossing rickety swinging wooden bridges. We pulled ole fashioned taffy and swam in the muddy creeks with the catfish which we caught with our hands. I also was marked by the respect the people showed their dead relatives and neighbors. They kept watch over them for three days and nights in their small homes. Don’t tell me that the poor don’t know what dignity is about. Their mountain top graveyards were always mowed and flowers grown. My family always sent money back to Brethitt to keep the graves mowed and to buy flowers for Memorial days.
I have spent some space here on my roots.. My values were influenced in part in this piece of heaven. There, I learned to hold family close and first felt that I was valued.
I came to sense that the simple things in life brought comfort and contentment. I saw how to treat all people with dignity and gentle caring and so much more. I am thankful to be a part of that hillbilly heritage.
At age 6, I was sent to a near-by fundamentalist church to learn good from bad. I found a second family to continue my up-bringing. I learned about treating others like I wanted to be treated and what equality of people really meant. They were outstanding teachers and warm nurturing people. I attended 11 years of Sunday services, prayer meetings, young peoples and missionary meetings, bible school and choir practices. Is it any wonder that I set my future on being a missionary of the gospel in Africa? Oh yes, I want to share one of my most embarrassing moments. It was probably the beginning of my empathy for the fanatical antics of religious youth. As my church did not approve of dancing, I had my pastor write a letter to my high school gym teacher requesting that I be excused from participating in ballroom and country dancing. And he did it. I will never live that one down. The sad slant to that is that I thought I was a dedicated Christian who was attempting to reach the higher road. It wasn’t until years later that I hung my head in embarrassment.
So off I went to a Christian college to study the sacred scriptures and the sciences of our enlightened culture so that I could teach the African what awaited him in the Christian way of living even if he wouldn’t be able to dance. I studied anthropology, linguistics, english and theology earning a Bachelor of Science Degree. I met my charming husband there who you will never guess, was one of thirteen children and was raised on a small dairy farm in New York State. See, I learn my lessons well. Actually, my mother learned well. I had one brother and no sisters.
Five years after graduation, we were assigned to be missionaries in Gabon, Africa. The Equator runs through steaming jungles and is located under the hump of Western Equatorial Africa. First, we had to learn French which is the diplomatic language used there. We were thrilled to study at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. We lived in a large chalet overlooking the Alps which had been turned into a boarding house by a large Swiss family. We had to bicycle down a mountain into Geneva for classes. We had a wonderful year and borrowed a car for a quick trip through Western Austria and Germany. We also drove through Alsace Lorraine in France and Northern Italy. Our daughter, Jodi was born in a Clinic there. It was a dream come true, to live and study in such a beautiful city as Geneva. Twelve months later, we boarded a plane for Paris and then onto Gabon.
Our mission home was located in the interior of Gabon on a station where nurses ran a health clinic and school. The station was surrounded by thick jungles. Our first task was to learn the local language which would take two years. I remember trying to study the required 8 hours a day while caring for an active baby. I loved every moment of the experience although I worried about keeping Jodi safe. I often woke at night to hasten to her room where I feared that army ants might be swarming over her. There were numerous diseases all around us. During this time, David became ill and lost 50 pounds. He traveled to clinics in the Congo to find a diagnosis. I could not go with him due to Jodi needing my care. He came back with an oil picture for me but no diagnosis. The picture hangs in my present home. When we were initially assigned to Gabon, I searched the literature for articles and books about the country. I could only find books by Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the medical doctor who chose to go to Gabon and care for the Africans. This man at the age of thirty had earned 4 Phds. in Theology. Philosophy. Bach and the organ. He saw an article in a magazine asking for doctors to come to Gabon. He wrote that he had been privileged to complete some of his goals and now it was time to pay back. He went back to the University to earn a medical doctor’s degree. He then went on a tour of Europe presenting organ concerts to finance his mission to Gabon. He built a hospital there and later used the monies he was awarded for the Nobel Peace Prize to build a leper colony on the hospital grounds. The Award was presented to him for speaking at meetings and writing articles to refute the use of the atomic bomb to destroy human beings and their environment. Ever since, he has been my hero. I visited his hospital compound with David to find that diagnosis.
I sat across the table from him at meals, listened while he played the piano and shared his interpretation of a portion of scripture at the evening meal. I watched him get up from his dining chair, walk across the room, pick up a cricket in the corner and gently put it outside in the grass. It was at this moment I understood what he wrote earlier about the “Sanctity of Life”. It was then that my I took a new path and my life began to change. And guess what? Later, I read that he was a member of the International Unitarian Movement.
I have another more personal Heroine in my life who lived a life that embodies all the values that I have been taught. Her name was Helen Furlow Smith who was my mother-in-law. She simply accepted all she met as valuable human beings. She lived on that small dairy farm in New York where she raised thirteen children. Her life was simple but meaningful as she reached out to her neighbors to make their daily lives easier. She sat with the sick, offered her yummy baked goods to cheer them, mourned their pain with them, took them for rides to lighten their sad days, shared herself and what she had with them. It was the small, daily acts she provided that made others feel they were valuable human beings. What more can we offer others?
Upon our return from Gabon to locate medical care for David, he returned to his studies and earned a Phd. in Anthropology. On a Fulbright Fellowship, we returned to Africa; where we lived in Cameroon in a mud hut with a lizard infested grass roof without plumbing or electricity. (been there and done that) We slept on cots and carried water from the river for our personal use. Cynthia had been born in Michigan while David studied for his degree. Now, there were four of us.
David developed an alphabet for the Kapsiki unwritten language. He reduced the language to writing and wrote an ethnography of the people. A chief for the Kapsiki nation even asked to marry Jodi, our blond, blue eyed 4 year old daughter. Cindy, our two year old was ill and David climbed down mountains which took two days to locate an English hospital in the next country. This adventure shaped many of my values
Now, I want to share a meaningful experience that I usually don’t discuss because I believed people wouldn’t be able to put it all together unless they lived my life. I woke up one morning and spoke aloud. “I don’t believe this anymore and I am not going to pretend I do.” I was rejecting beliefs that had shaped my life. While my words were bold, I felt sad because I did not know how others would accept my stance. I had to take this stand. For me there was no choice. My values were the same but many of my religious beliefs had changed over the years. I was still me. But I had a new world ahead of me. One to rethink and conquer. Many years after I had moved to Colorado on a Saturday afternoon; I drove by the UU church in Lafayette. I said out loud. “What a forlorn church”. I decided I would attend that service the next day. I had not seen the identifying UU sign so I did not know if it was a Catholic or Protestant church. I had not attended a service for many years. After hearing that this congregation accepted me as I was; I said to myself, “There are other people that believe like I do”. I had found another home on my journey.
After returning from our second tour in Africa, David became a professor in several universities. I decided to raise my girls full time. When Jodi turned fifteen, I returned to college and earned a Masters in Social Work. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone after hearing of my life. I was a juvenile probation officer for three years before entering the public schools as a social worker. That job was designed just for me. I have to smile when I think that Dr. Schweitzer’s and Mom’s influence over the years to see humans as equally valuable and therefore worthy of my time would guide my services for the next twenty years. I practiced with the basic assumption that the social and heredity problems I had to wrestle were based in our institutions not in people. For example, I knew that a truant child was not stubborn or bad but resisted going to school because of problems in the home or school. You then put your efforts into dealing with appropriate and more changeable problems. The social related problems that interfere with a child obtaining an education challenged my skills far more than any I faced in Africa.
I believe my life has been exceptional. Yes, I would change some of the sad times but am so grateful for the experiences and people who shaped my exciting life. I have traveled around the world. My girls are strong and capable. Jodi works in Ecology while Cindy is a lawyer and vice president of a world based corporation. I have three grandsons that I helped raise. They are as dear to me as my own children. I just wish I had some hints about what the next world, if there is one, will offer me.