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Edgefield has always been a “honeyed” word in my home. From the time that images were implanted in my three-year-old awareness, I envisioned a quaint Southern town of charm and family affection.
My father John Lake–no middle name–was born in the County, June 11, 1870. As a “preemie,” he was not expected to live “until morning” as his grandfather/doctor predicted. Taken to his grandmother’s room, it was she who pronounced that God had given her a minister and that he would answer that calling.
The oldest of twelve children, John became the male head of his household, his father having been wounded in the Civil War and, as a result, was never able to take that charge. John was an avid reader, and at the end of each farm row, he spent moments resting and learning. At the age of eight, he became a page in the Legislature, sending his earnings to his mother and siblings. The Charleston Citadel presented him with a scholarship; he graduated in three years.
Upon reading THE LEPERS OF MOLOKAI, the story of a Belgian Catholic Priest who spent his life among these destitute people, a voice–as John recalled–spoke to him asking if he would be willing to do the same. His response was, “If a Catholic Priest could do this, so could a Baptist minister.” At the age of sixteen, Edgefield Baptist Church had bestowed upon him the blessings of dedication as a minister of the Gospel. From that time forth, he wore the small testament, vest-sized, over his heart, which the fellowship had presented upon his ordination.
Under the auspices of the YMCA, John sailed to China to prepare for his mission. After observing his first leper, he KNEW that his ministry was to begin in that place. He called upon Dr. Woo Ting Fang, acting President of China, to urge from him the gift of an island, which belonged to a fishing company, but not in use. There he would sail around the coast to find lepers, who had been driven from homes and families. The island, however, was infested with Communists, who often threatened John. He spent nights in robber dens, having learned their language and presenting his motive for being among them. With the help of some contractors, he built a pier and buildings–dormitories, eating facility, and a church. A doctor joined his project and brought with him news of an injection for lepers, which was sapped from a tree in India.
John returned to the mainland to raise money for his work. As the guest speaker in Atlanta, at the Southern Baptist Convention, he met Virginia Lake, of North Carolina. As they became acquainted, they realized their kinship–thirteenth cousins. They were married soon afterwards and attended the Seminary in Louisville and then proceeded to China. My sister Virginia Austin was born in Hong Kong. Returning to America for another furlough, news arrived that the Bamboo Curtain had fallen. John sustained a broken back in an auto accident, never to return to his beloved lepers.
It was in Maryland, where my family settled to form a corporation for soliciting moneys for his work, which might have survived, that I was born. From that headquarters, my parents set up another venue in Georgetown, Ky., where he could preach and accept monitorial gifts for his mission. Another “door” opened for us to move to Kansas City, Missouri, for him to continue his powerful “speakings” as he encouraged young people to pick up the mantel and go forth “into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
At the age of 79, my father lay in bed most of his declining days and talked to me about death, which would be HIS FATHER’S HOUSE OF MANY MANSIONS. (This is still my favorite Biblical text.) Upon his death, we traveled to Edgefield to bury him in the church cemetery. Friends prepared a warm, inspirational service there. We were back in lovely Edgefield–as we had visited upon past occasions–and were hosted by gracious family and friends.
I have visited his grave only a few times during my “growing-up” years. Only three years ago, my husband and I viewed his resting place and the John Lake room, which overlooks that spot. Memories of Harold and Lela Bland Norris, Genevieve Norris, and Hortense Woodson flooded my heart although they were no longer there in bodily form, but still in spirit form.
My granddaughter, who graduated from a culinary school in Charleston, met a friend who lives near Edgefield. To my surprise, I found on Facebook pictures of my Jennifer standing beside her grandfather’s stone that he had brought from China. Even the past became the present.
To my delight, one of my college friends, Suzanne Mims, whom I recently contacted, has invited me to see Edgefield again. This is an anticipation that is waiting to happen soon.
Your lovely little town will always be a portrait of the genteel style of the South, with its visions of recounted childhood stories and visits.
Rosa Florence Lake Havens
February 27, 2012