Bear ye one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
- Galatians 6:2
East Millinocket, Maine, where our family lived some 40 years ago, is a one-horse town. Nestled near the base of Mt. Katahdin, the northern end of the Appalachian Trail and Maine"s tallest peak, the town existed only to support - and be supported by - the Great Northern Paper Co.
Times and salaries were good for the better part of 30 years. Most of the town worked shift-work at the mill that never closed - three 7-day periods starting with four-to-twelve, then a week of midnights, and finally, seven eight-to-four days. Workers and families alike adjusted to the rigorous schedule, and looked forward to their ritual five days off when the cycle was complete.
Those who didt work at the mill manned the town. We were there to build a new church - greatly facilitated by a constant supply of skilled men who squeezed in 6-8 hours at the church site between sleeping and whatever shift they were on at the time.
I knew the mill had been sold before I made a return visit to the town a couple weeks ago, but I didnt know a full thousand of the original 1,300-1,400 employees were now out of work. The new owners - the second company to run the mill since the departure of Great Northern - sent much of the workload to other locations, and re-hired only enough people to accomplish their much-reduced task.
The East Millinocket story is far from unique. From the textile industry in nearby South Carolina to the feared closing of Fort Gordon in our own locale, the changing economic scene of the times has caused similar personal and community devastation all across the country.
But amid the sadness surrounding the disappearing livelihoods, wiped-out pensions and necessary uprooting in that small community in Maine, there is a story that reaches to the heart of good people everywhere and, as the Apostle Paul told the Galatian Church, fulfills the law of Christ.
You should have seen the outpouring of support all across the state when that mill went down, exclaimed my friend. Truckloads of food, clothing and other supplies drove into town every day for months.
Nor were truck caravans the only form of aid sent to the stricken town. In February, elementary students 60 miles away at Bangors Vine Street School accepted an unusual challenge. Each grade level attempted to collect 100 items of food for the East Millinocket community by the 100th day of the school year.
Storage bins quickly overflowed, bar graphs made and filled in by the students topped the charts, and by the magic, 100th day, the total number of food items collected exceeded 1,000. The students were understandably proud of their achievement, and pleased when they received thank-you notes for their kindness from their counterparts at the Opal Myrick School in East Millinocket.
The early New Testa-ment Church, had a challenge, too. On the one hand they remembered their heritage, taught by the elders and Pharisees, that their salvation could only be accomplished by a prescribed set of rituals and rules. But Jesus said salvation was Gods gift (John 3:16), and the Apostles confirmed that, By Gods grace you are saved, through faith, not by your works (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Apostle James recognized this dilemma and wrote his brief epistle to reconcile the two views.
Yes, salvation is Gods gift and completely unearned, James reminded the early Christians, but Faith alone, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:17). True religion, he also writes, is this: to look after (people) in their distress (James 1:27). Paul wrote much the same thing to the Ephesians when, after assuring them their salvation was Gods gift, added, For we are Gods workmanship, created to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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