Our regional newspaper, the Asheville Citizen Times, ran a lead article yesterday on the population growth in western North Carolina. The statistics show that more and more people are calling this part of the country home. The counties of Clay, Henderson, and Jackson led the way by growing in the ballpark of 20% over the past decade. Other counties such as Buncombe, Macon, Cherokee, and Transylvania also experienced substantial growth. As a matter of fact, in a listing of eighteen counties only one county, Mitchell, saw a population decrease over the past ten years. Guess where I live.
I could write a book on all the factors that have contributed to Mitchell’s -0.7% decrease. For that matter I could probably even specifically name a fair number of the folks who created the decline from 15,687 residents to 15,579, especially the ones who left us by way of death. I could talk about NAFTA, the Bushes, the Clintons, and Obama. I could describe once thriving furniture factories now standing like ghost towns. I could explain how our high school went from being 3-A when I was there over twenty-five years ago to being 2-A to now being 1-A. But what’s the use? The situation is what it is.
We’ve got some local folks who are working hard to make Mitchell county a hot-bed for tourism. I wish them well, but I’ll be amazed if it ever happens. We’ve got some others who are mad as all get out that big companies and big government have conspired to send America’s job overseas. I hear what they are saying and agree with it, but the average corporate C.E.O. or politician really couldn’t care less. And then there are those residents who like our county just the way it is and don’t want anything to change because they’ve got the local setup licked. They remind me of so many of our local, “family run” churches: “As long as me and mine are fine, I really don’t care about anybody else.”
But there is one other thing that I know about Mitchell county: I know it is where God has placed me and, as such, I am to be Christian “salt” and “light” right here right now (Matthew 5:13-16). Call it “blooming where you’re planted” or “lighting a candle in the midst of the darkness.” This is where Tonya and I are to live out a happy marriage. This is where she’s to teach middle-school math. This is where we’re to raise our two boys. This is where I’m to pastor a little church called Disciples Road Church. This is where I’m to write posts for this blog. This is where I’m to do a local radio broadcast each Sunday morning. This is where I’m to help coach Ryan’s middle-school baseball team. This is where I’m to do the same for Royce’s Upward Bound basketball team. This is where I’m to vote. This is where I’m to pay local taxes. This is where I’m to know my neighbors. This is where I’m to………..
Who knows? Maybe one day God will do some uprooting and plant Tonya and I somewhere else. Then again maybe He won’t. At this point I can see the future playing out either way. But no matter how God leads in the days to come I understand that His will is perfect and His plan is best. As Adrian Rogers, the longtime pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. used to say, “God’s will is what you would want for yourself if you had enough sense to want it.” Well, I’ve got enough sense to want it, even if it means staying on in a county where the population numbers are dwindling. And, at least for now and the foreseeable future, that’s exactly what it means.