Smiles, handshakes and hugs from Malvernites

Have you met Rita Myers yet? Well, if you attend any of our churches in the area you probably will soon. I met her a year ago this month at a lunch held for the Malvern High School football team at a church I was attending. As we were putting the lunch together we became fast friends.
I don’t believe she has ever met a stranger yet. She is the kind of person that when you meet them, you feel welcomed, like a long lost friend from grade school or a cousin you didn’t know you had. Rita spent her childhood summers in Malvern visiting her grandparents and has returned to settle the legitimate heirs of some family-owned property. However, as she was commuting from her home in Georgia to Arkansas, she found Malvern to be so friendly that she has decided to make her home here for awhile.
When she began visiting here, she attended Full Counsel Church with neighbor Brenda Simpson and was at first feeling a little cut off from the world, seeing as how she was not from here and so much had changed. In 2011 she was searching for her maternal grandfather’s grave and passed the Malvern Seventh Day Adventist Church. Rita had never attended a Seventh Day Adventist church, but decided to go. As she put it, “I was a little nervous but was greeted with warm smiles, handshakes and hugs.”
Pastor Graybeal, who submits columns for the Malvern Daily Record’s sermon page on Fridays informed her about this feature and she started buying the Friday edition. Darris Mitchell, whom she met at the Senior Adult Center, added that if she wanted to know what was going on all the time, she should definitely subscribe.
“They were right,” Rita told me. “I can’t function without the Malvern Daily Record.” That is how she found the North Main Church of Christ, which is listed among all the churches in our Saturday’s Devotional page.
As before, she had also never attended a Church of Christ, and was a little nervous. “I walked in, but once again, I was greeted with smiles, handshakes and hugs.” Because of these warm welcomes, Rita decided to live in Malvern while finishing her project.
“I would still be commuting from Georgia to Arkansas had it not been for the warmth I felt from these two churches and every church I’ve attended since moving to Malvern.”
The sense of being cut off and isolated quickly went away as she saw folks from these churches around town in the post office, stores and banks. The connection was forming. “How wonderful, I received the same warm smiles, hugs and handshakes wherever I go,” she emphasized.
Friends and neighbors fixed up her grandfather’s house for her by painting, hanging curtains and adding some outdoor furniture. Soon followed a microwave and frig.
“All essentials like brooms, mops... even a plunger were provided,” she laughed. So, in January of 2012 Rita traded in her Georgia driver’s license for an Arkansas one. Debbie Hastings at the Revenue Office was the first to officially welcome her ‘home.’
As she continued settling in, so many good Samaritans have come to her aid for the usual problems that eventually bother us all. When her car broke down a few times in the last two years, Ricky Purifoy, Autumn Frase, Mary Fraction, Pearl Rogers, Lois Thomason, Robert Felty and Mr. Reynolds all assisted however they could. This led to getting to know Judy and Jesse at Auto Zone and the folks at O’Reilly’s.
Experiencing our winter power outages, Rita was invited to stay with her neighbors, the Mitchells and was checked on by more good Samaritans, Lester and Marie Newman from the OADC Prison Ministry.
The list of encounters is almost endless as Rita came to know more of her new community. Then she set herself a goal after seeing the population sign for Malvern... “The sign stated 9,021 on one end of town and 10,318 and the other, and I thought that’s about the size of the organization that I worked for in California... so I set a 2012 goal to attend every church in Malvern,” said Rita. Her totals from earlier this year are 52 Malvern churches and 10 others. While many would find this accomplishment to be the highlight of the story, finding the same warm and wonderful welcome at every church is the real glory.
“I love the signs all over town that read “Jesus Is Lord Over Malvern, AR”. I love how the churches come together to celebrate Holy Week. I love how churches come together for the Malvern Bible Studies. I love National Prayer Day in Malvern. I love how the churches honor mothers, fathers and graduates on special days of the year. I love the weekly Bible readings with Ritta Gonsalves – a Seventh Day Adventist. I love how Malvern supported the Lady Leopards – the elementary school children and teachers all cheered them on. I love how Malvern allows me to live my favorite poem.
“The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss.
Let me live in a house by the side of the road where the race of men go by. They’re good, they’re bad, they’re weak, they’re strong, wise, foolish, …so am I. Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat or hurl the cynic’s ban? Let me live in my house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.

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