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  • Baptist Beacon

Blazing a Trail

by Mike Durbin

PLYMOUTH, MI – Mrs. Sabra was 89 years old when I became her 21-year-old pastor. She was born in 1890 in New York. As a young woman, she moved with her husband about 1200 miles to Deepwater, Missouri in a horse drawn covered wagon. She proudly showed us an old black and white photo of the wagon that took them to Missouri. She is the only person I ever met who moved halfway across the country in a covered wagon.

Her story intrigued me, so I looked up some information about that time in history. According to the 1910 Census, the population of the United States was just a little over 92 million. Mrs. Sabra would have been 20 years old.

The automotive industry was growing, but in 1908, there were less than 200,000 cars on the road. It was the year Ford Motor Company produced the first Model T. It took 12.5 hours to assemble and cost $825 - way more than the average person could afford. In the first month of production, they only made 11 Model T’s.

In 1913 Henry Ford developed a system of using interchangeable parts and perfected the moving assembly line. By 1925, Ford Motor Company was producing up to 10,000 cars a day and the cost of the Model T had come down to $260. Henry Ford set out to make a car “so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one - and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

It wasn’t until 1909 that the United States had the first mile of paved cement road in Detroit. The automobile was going to radically change travel in the country, but it hadn’t taken off when Sabra and her husband moved to Missouri in a covered wagon.

By the time we met her, Mrs. Sabra’s husband was buried in the church cemetery. I remember the first time we went to her home. She had nicely typed descriptions on every piece of furniture she brought with her on that covered wagon decades earlier. There was a note on her dining room table, on her bed, on her hope chest, and on something I’d never seen before - a pump piano.

We had a wonderful meal and a fascinating conversation with Mrs. Sabra that Sunday afternoon. After a while, she asked if we wanted to take a nap before the evening service. The conversation that followed was hilarious, but we didn’t laugh in her presence. She wanted Shar and me to rest in different bedrooms. We said, “Mrs. Sabra, you know we’re married, don’t you? We’ve been married for a couple of years.” After a little more discussion, she put us in the same bedroom, but it was the only bedroom in the house that didn’t have a door on it. I guess she thought Shar was going to get frisky!

I was fascinated by the contrasts in Mrs. Sabra’s life. She was a woman who left the most modern city in the United States, just about everything and everyone she knew, for a place she’d never been in a covered wagon. It took incredible courage, optimism, and faith to make a journey like that.

I don’t remember how many other families made the journey with them. It’s easy to imagine them and any other travelers circling the wagons every night. They sat around the fire eating, talking, laughing, singing, and dreaming together of life where they were headed. Then they rested for the night.

Circling the wagons must have felt great after a long, dusty day on the trail. They needed to eat, rest, and take care of the horses, but the journey was never about the circle. The next morning, and every next morning, they broke camp and hit the trail. There were miles to travel.

Finally, they arrived in Deepwater. Sabra and her husband built their home, had children, and raised cattle. This incredible, trailblazing, pioneering, never quitting woman, along with her husband, started life together with a dream and the few things they could pack in a covered wagon. They built an amazing life together.

I’m thankful that God allowed us to meet her. By the time our lives connected, 89-year-old Mrs. Sabra was a little bit more about circling the wagons than blazing the trail. She was looking back, nostalgic, thankful for a life blessed by God, and wanting to tell her story. Her 21-year-old pastor, Mike Durbin, was thinking more about breaking camp and hitting the trail.

The contrasts between us were vast - young and old, rich, and poor, married and not, wise and inexperienced - and yet, Jesus brought us together in the amazing mosaic of His church. And I love it! As we approach Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for the incredible people I have met in Christ’s church and the stories that surround their lives - people like you. Happy Thanksgiving.



Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.



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