I read a blog recently from a woman who lives in a rural area. Her suggestion was for people to take on small towns as a mission field and bring back stores and dentist and/or doctor offices. She talked about how the local general store was a place, not just for supplies, but a way to build community. She has a point that there are a lot of needs in our more rural areas. It sounds idyllic, until you look at the statistics and realize there is often quite a bit of drug use/manufacturing, or growing, in the case of marijuana for instance. It certainly could be a second career for someone retired to bring some services into isolated areas.
But then I looked at the comments. Most were in favor of the idea, but others, who lived there had a bit of a different take on it. One man explained quite clearly that many of those towns were built specifically for that purpose. There was a need for services within about a days ride, with a horse or a wagon. Farmers could come in and sell their produce and get other supplies, mail, etc. But the system began to break down as the automobile culture took hold. Many of those small towns are within an hour’s drive from services in a larger city, so in that sense they are no longer needed. In many cases, the younger generations did not stay in the small town, so it is simply a collection of aging holdouts.
So if you are looking at that scenario, and the town is dwindling and it is unlikely to find some new industry, or get a doctor, or even a hardware store to locate there, what then? Well, it seems to me that there could still be a ministry there, perhaps simply imported from the larger town 30 miles away. These are people who want to age in place. Like all people who age in place, they need someone to check in on them and make sure they are doing okay. They may need someone to bring them groceries, or take them to the larger town to shop or get their hair done, or to go to doctor or dentist appointments. Many people move into assisted living facilities when they can no longer drive. But a church with a few willing people with vans could help those small town folks stay in their homes a lot longer. And if all goes well, their friendships could help them make the transition when they are no longer able to manage on their own and perhaps need to move into the big town.
I know, it doesn’t sound as idyllic as breathing life back into the small towns by planting stores and services there. I’m sure there are places where that would work, particularly if the larger towns are a lot farther than 30 miles away. But if not, how about helping people just to stay in their homes as long as possible? It might take a partnership between churches in the small towns with those in the larger ones, assuming of course that there still are active churches. The point is, setting up a vanpool simply sounds easier than luring services into small towns. Or maybe I’m just crazy?