The Barn: a Story of redemption and restoration
Published 1:38 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Tracy K. Hall
There is an invisible line somewhere between Americus and Andersonville. Many of us have yet to determine where the line is. It is an area best described in mile markers. It is a place GPS has yet to find. On the Andersonville side of the line, a barn sits. Except this is no regular barn. This barn has earned its proper name, and it is to be respected with a capital B. So, the Barn sits, tucked away between mile marker number 24 and 25. If you must know exactly, the best thing to do is look for an orchard of pine trees to tell you to get ready to turn and an orchard of pecan trees to tell you you missed your turn. Right there, on that drive which has a white fence on either side of it, that is where you want to make your turn. Then just follow the drive until you see the Barn. It is not something you are going to see unless you have very intentionally set out to see it. And over the last couple of decades, countless thousands have been very intentional about seeing it.
In this Barn, there is something powerful going on. To come upon it is to be welcomed by a memory. The Barn has stood for well over 100 years. It was a home to about 40 mules used to farm the adjacent land. The farming days have long passed. The Barn remains. For close to 20 years there is a standing invitation to come hear of the One who loves you so much He gave his body and blood to be with you. Every breath of His life taken so you might live. His heinous execution and death endured so He could bring you home. He redeems and restores all things. That’s a pretty awesome Person to know. That is a Story which must be told, everything in creation tells it, including me and you.
His story has been told in many ways, never quite capturing all of who He is, but none the less the Story is told as best we know how to tell it. At the Barn, the Story is told through song. Southern Gospel music has been ringing out of those rafters for a while. In those songs of the Barn, on those faces of those Barn folks, in the actions of people from all over the country, there is an effort to tell of Jesus. It is a big mission, one endorsed by Jesus himself, and it is all set against, not the fine cathedrals all over the world, but against a little south Georgia Barn. Some folks will choose the Barn over the Sistine any day.
How did it come to be? Paul V. Hall bought a piece of farm property about 20 years ago. Not unusual, one of the buildings on a farm property is a Barn. It wore its 100 plus years hard though. At first it was just another building, much like a back-yard shed is another building on our property. Then, one Christmas, Paul went out to investigate it more. His children, wanting to see what he was up to, met him out there to find him doing what seemed like senseless work. With shovel in hand, he had begun to remove the dirt and manure of the last 100 plus years. Why was yet to be determined. As he kept digging, about 5 feet deep, he found the floor of the Barn. He then put on his engineer brain and took a look around. How much life did this Barn have left in it?
What would it take to just make a safe shelter for his tools? Paul took it step by step. He was in no hurry, he has always been one to favor redeeming standing resources, to bring about a restoration, but it was simply an extra building on his property, with some pretty cool left-over farming equipment hanging from the rafters. But a space it was, and one that each step revealed a little extra potential.
When Paul was finally able to make out the wood making up the Barn, it was heart pine. He even went so far as to count the rings and got up to about 100. No doubt that pine was cut from the property after it had stood sentinel over the land home to the Barn. It is a likelihood that pine stood living for a century before it went into its next life as a contribution to the Barn. Paul could be found out there doing things which would make no sense to anyone looking on. He was unveiling a story. He admits he didn’t even realize at the time he was writing a chapter to the Barn. His son Seth would join Paul, digging out mounds and mounds of dirt and manure. Once this news got out, folks would show up because the sky is the limit on what such a fertile soil could grow. As Paul and Seth would dig, shovel to the outside and go in again, neighbors were coming to pick up those dirt piles in hopes of growing something beautiful. And the steps kept being identified and taken on. Why though? It is not unusual for Paul to find work for the sake of work. His wife Jeanie and his kids can tell you Paul believes work is good for the soul. This appeared to be just more of the same. Perhaps at one point it was more of the same.
Except there was another story going on. Paul and several others were part of a gospel singing group. Local fare, offering their telling of Jesus’ story. There were some favorite spots to sing and while calling themselves SweetWater Ministries, the group would invite others to join, and a little concert of sorts would break out. It was a good time to hear some favorites. The Lighthouse, Beulah Land, The King is Coming, Amazing Grace, on and on—again, any little offering to tell the story. But a consistent spot to hold these little Storytellings was becoming more difficult. It was in this quandary Paul went to bed one night. In the night, another Story began to unfold. What if the Barn could serve as home base? What if the Barn could be the stage on which the Story of Jesus was told? Paul’s step by step progress took on a bigger significance. It was now more than a redemption and restoration of just another building on the property. The Barn was being born. Again.
The birth would take a team. The team showed up. For whatever reason, people came to take a turn at redeeming and restoring this space to serve in a ministry. The cleaning teams came in, the food crew came in. The engineers came in, the builders came in, the straw came in to serve as a floor, and soon enough there was something more than 100-year-old memories to behold. There was work done by many a hand. And soon it was to a point the Halls could have family Thanksgiving in the Barn. It was cold. There is no heating or cooling a 100-year-old mule barn. Paul was never one for conditioned air anyway.
The sings began to happen pretty regularly, there was a Story which demanded to be told, and the storytellers were singers. SweetWater and their friends came together to tell the Story pretty often. But what if there were other storytellers? What if there were others who could use this mule barn for a stage for their Stories of Jesus? It’s a different venue, but the venue itself told of redemption and restoration. There came a crazy idea. What if a group who typically sold-out venues would come to tell the Story in the Barn? It was crazy enough to be intriguing. SweetWater’s pianist, Elaine Hargrove, began to make some calls. What would it take to get a professional group to the Barn? Elaine found out, and she, Paul and others, committed to the cost and opened the doors to the public to come hear the Story in a way all of them would say they could never deliver.
What do you charge people to come a mule barn and hear a piece of this Sacred Story? How would this happen? They decided to charge nothing but a willingness to show up and be a part of a Story. The Story. Soon professional groups showed up. Some of the names include The Dove Brothers, The Dixie Echoes, The Old Paths, Gold City, The Lefevers, Little Roy and so many more. As they came the Barn soaked into those Stories and began to grow: a formal stage, a concrete floor, tables, electricity, a new roof, stained glass, timbers for a large cross, plumbers and fixtures for a full kitchen and bathrooms, musical equipment, little white lights to set a tone, new additions, lighting, pews, workers, old school barn doors, fueled heaters and huge cooling fans and on and on. And the Stories kept coming. Hands are raised in praise as the Story is told. There is redemption is this Barn. There is restoration in this Barn. There is joy celebrated. There are struggles acknowledged. There is a time set apart to take a place in the Story which is Jesus. Every second Saturday of the month a new piece of the Story was written. If you ever want to hear a Story of walking in faith, then talk to Paul and all the Barnies. Talk to the singers as they travel hours and hours to tell of their Stories of Jesus. Talk to the ones who found themselves in a pew looking for a space to simply breathe.
Paul and what feels like a million more have written a line in the Story, but the Story belongs to Jesus. Even if no word is spoken, there is a Barn, redeemed and restored which refuses to remain silent. Paul will see 79 Christmases this year. He and SweetWater have loved this story. But they will honor it is now time to let another take the stage and tell the Story. It is a firm belief everything and everybody tells us something of Jesus. Paul and SweetWater believe those Stories are needed. Again, it is what is asked of us, to tell this Story. So, they have extended an invitation. In the last concert, Paul announced it was time for someone else to set the stage. Paul would begin telling the Story in a new way for a new season. It is time for another to choose how to tell the Story of Jesus in this place. While Southern Gospel might not be the language you use to tell the Story, your Story is still welcomed. No, not simply welcomed, it is needed. Paul has never considered himself as the owner of Barn. It belongs to his Father. Paul’s story is far from over. He too celebrates his redemption and restoration every time he enters the sanctuary of an old mule Barn. Paul knows while many are redeemed, there is a daily need for restoration. So, he invites you to tell your line in the Story of Jesus. Paul has opened the doors of his Father’s barn for the next Storytellers. If you feel that might be you, then call and tell Paul. He understands that each journey is taken step by step. He has lived that. So, the invitation stands, there is a need for storytellers. You have a great Story, are you willing to tell it? Paul has a venue for you. He wants to hear your Story. Please give him at call at 229.942.8936. You never know how steps form journeys. There is redemption and restoration to yet be seen and heard. It is a new season, it is a new face telling the Story, but the Story will always end in redemption and restoration. How much Life does this Barn have left in it? An eternity.