Take a good look at these two ladies. Study their faces, for if you look closely, you can see audacity, compassion, and iron determination.
They are two of America’s most inspired educators, Alice Lloyd (right) and her protégé, June Buchanan (left). Mrs. Lloyd was the founder of what became Alice Lloyd College, and “Miss June” carried on her work to the age of 100.
In 1916, in the middle of World War I, Mrs. Lloyd came to Knott County, a remote section of Eastern Kentucky, to help provide an education for the mountain children there. All she had was vision and gumption—and some early and powerful ideas on direct marketing. She would send appeal letters to her friends back in her native Boston, incorporating them in her grand project to bring ”a light unto the mountains.”
She must have been persuasive because, over time, those letters built not only an elementary and junior high, but later a senior high, then a two-year college, and finally a fully accredited four-year college.
All this transpired along Caney Creek in a little town she dubbed “Pippa Passes,” for a character she loved out of a famous Robert Browning poem of the same name. Alice Lloyd College and the June Buchanan School, a K-12 Christian preparatory school, are still going strong, having become legendary throughout central Appalachia. ”ALC” is a work college, offering a cost-free experience for students in a 100-county swath in five states, in exchange for each student working on campus, defraying costs to enable more scholarships.
Hope Believes, Despite the Doubts of Others
But it wasn’t easy building a school in such rugged country. For starters, in what can now be seen as a hilarious moment, Mrs. Lloyd had built a large meeting house on her campus to introduce the kind of community “town hall meetings” that were so common back in Boston. She just wanted the community to come together to solve common problems. No big deal, right?
However, when Mrs. Lloyd hosted her first such gathering, she noticed something off. While a significant local crowd was gathered near her new community building, nobody was going inside it. They were just standing around, looking warily at her. She finally asked one of her local supporters what the problem was. He told her, “Mrs. Lloyd, we’re still at war overseas, and they see that heating oil tank under the porch. They worry that you’re a German spy, and that you’re going to blow us all up!” Over time, they came to trust the lady who came to spend the second half of her life with them.
While she had only good intentions, Mrs. Lloyd did have a secret weapon or two, the biggest of which was hope. Towards the end of her incredible life, she suffered a debilitating stroke, literally crippling her ability to keep typing those support letters back to New England. Alice Lloyd, who was always bringing up character development to her students, began then to embody that sometimes underrated virtue of hope. She prayed to God continually that He would help her recover from her stroke. She asked the Lord only for strength to return to just one finger—so that she could continue typing her appeal letters back home.
Hope Holds On
Her consistent prayers were granted. Not only did she get to continue her letters, her story was picked up by the famous This is Your Life television program. Friends of the school bundled her up and took the octogenarian Alice Lloyd to Hollywood, where she told show host Ralph Edwards and his vast national audience her story. With a genuine lump in his throat, Edwards looked into the camera and asked his viewers to each send $1.00 to help save Mrs. Lloyd’s school and life’s work.
They responded en masse—with nearly a quarter of a million dollars in mailbag after mailbag to Pippa Passes. In the 1950s, that single plea, based entirely on Mrs. Lloyd’s hope that her school could continue, was more than enough to save Mrs. Lloyd’s mission to the Appalachian people. Because others caught Mrs. Lloyd’s highly-contagious hope for the students of Appalachia, thousands of teachers, doctors, lawyers, and business people have received a quality liberal arts education and later returned to their home areas to serve others, just as Mrs. Lloyd hoped they would.
How’s that for the power of hope, of trusting at last in God and not only ourselves?
A Footbridge to Other Christian Virtues
In an extended recession like we are facing now, with people having a difficult time finding work after months of searching, promoting hope can seem rather saccharine, even unfeeling. Indeed, God sided with Job over his friends when they chided Job for feeling devastated at his many losses. Setbacks and tragedies are all terribly real, and to ignore a friend’s losses isn’t being much of a friend at all.
But at the right time, we are wise to remember the stories of those who have gone before us, including even Job, who finally was ready to look again with hope to the future. The cynic in each of us can feel sheepish cultivating that old childhood virtue, but there’s a reason that, when all else leaves us, hope remains.
The reason is simple: Hope is the slender, but sturdy footbridge that gets us across the abyss; it’s the virtue that helps us to get to the place where more virtues can finally be entertained again. As such, it is the oftentimes necessary “gateway virtue” for faith, love, perseverance, and joy.
Singer/songwriter Paul Simon captures it as well as any when he says at the end of his famous song, “Train in the Distance:”
What is the point of this story? What information pertains? The thought that life could be better is written indelibly Into our hearts and our brains.
Or, in Christian parlance, hold on, hold on until the third day. There is much tragedy in this world, but Jesus’s open tomb remains the final word. If we take Him at his word, He claims to want to give us life and give it to us abundantly.
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