By Margaret Colson
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s story package about the lives and ministries of the Christ-followers at The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission in Monroe, Georgia, is the culmination of a year’s journey by writer Margaret Colson and photographer Mark Sandlin. They immersed themselves into the lives of the Christians at Conestoga Mobile Home Park and came away changed by the experience.
MONROE, Ga.—They are the forgotten people. The individuals you might not even notice if you passed them on the street.
They are in every community. On the fringes of neighborhoods dotted with white picket fences. At the end of gravel roads that seem to go nowhere. The people who wash your dishes at the chain restaurant. Change your car’s oil. Scramble your eggs at the local diner.
- Join the Conestoga Christians in giving and praying for the Gospel to be shared throughout the world. To learn more, visit Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and CompassionNet. Click here to financially support the work of nearly 5,000 missionaries around the globe.
- Read these Week of Prayer stories and learn how your support enables your missionaries to help churches like yours partner on the field, share Jesus through human needs ministries, disciple church planters to take the Gospel to their own people, reach people creatively through songwriting and broadcasts, and take the Scripture to a remote people in their heart language. Southern Baptists will observe Week of Prayer Nov. 30-Dec. 7.
They are the forgotten people to almost everyone except Pam Whitehead, who affectionately refers to them as “my people.”
Her people live in Conestoga Mobile Home Park in Monroe, Georgia, where a singlewide trailer serves as home base for the Southern Baptist missionary to minister to the real needs of her people as she shares about Jesus.
DESPERATION AND DARKNESS
When it comes to housing options, Conestoga, for many, is the last step before homelessness.
There, the potholed community road, knee-high weeds and household belongings tossed aside with every eviction seem to reflect the desperation and darkness that most park residents have known.
Just a few years ago, the mobile home community — sitting just a few miles from a charming and picturesque downtown — was notorious for violence, drug trafficking, transience, even satanic rituals.
Still, Pam, a preschool teacher, and her husband, John, a juvenile probation officer, were unexpectedly drawn to the park.
The couple, along with prayer teams, began praying over the park and its residents in 2002.
“The Father opened the doors wide through two and a half years of prayerwalking,” according to Pam.
The Whiteheads began slowly building relationships with the residents and by 2004 were planning a yard sale, block party, drug program, Easter egg hunt and family fall festival.
It didn’t take long for John, who had once described the park as the “doorstep to hell,” to say he was in over his heart with the ministry.
The couple continued to minister to the people in the park, offering church services for the first time in April 2005.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly until five days before Christmas in 2010, when John Whitehead unexpectedly passed away.
Tears of sorrow would flow, only to be replaced with tears of joy, as the now-widowed mother of four young adults, including her youngest son with Asperger’s syndrome, sensed God’s call to continue the ministry.
Local pastors began taking turns preaching at the mission on Sunday mornings; when they’re unavailable, Pam leads a group Bible study.
“Pam is a person of vision and a person of commitment,” according to Allen Hill, interim director of missions for Appalachee Baptist Association and a former IMB missionary to the Philippines.
NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
The believers at The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission understand the importance of prayer and ask you to join them in praying for our missionaries. Here are a few other prayer requests on Pam Whitehead’s heart:
- Pray for more people who need to know Jesus to move into the trailer park.
- Pray for believers who live in the trailer park to grow in their faith and boldly share Jesus with others.
- Pray for volunteers to come to the trailer park to prayerwalk, help with Vacation Bible School and children’s camp, preach, make door-to-door visits, etc. For more opportunities for service, email Pam Whitehead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pray for Pam’s strength, energy, rest, good health, wisdom, discernment, spiritual growth and obedience to God.
- Pray for a doublewide trailer for the mission to meet in.
- Ask God to provide the mission with a minivan for ministry.
Slowly, with the ministry presence in the park, conditions began improving.
“Probably everybody thinks the people in Conestoga are nothing but a bunch of thieves, drunks and drug addicts,” says Barbara, who lived in the park for several months with her husband.
“And they’re not. There are a lot of good Christian people that live there who are trying their best just to pay their bills and put food on the table, just like everybody else.”
Still, this ministry is not for the faint of heart.
Since her husband died, Pam has faced many challenges and frustrations. Undaunted, she smiles and calls each experience “another adventure.”
When the roof collapsed on the doublewide trailer where the ministry was housed, Pam simply moved the congregation elsewhere. For seven months, the Conestoga believers intermittently met either outside or in the home of a member, before being given a fixer-upper singlewide for the ministry — dubbed The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission.
The day Pam was bitten by a resident’s pit bull, she seized the opportunity to share God’s Word with the dog’s owner, Linda. It was a small open window for the intrepid missionary because Linda moved a few weeks later, with no forwarding address.
That’s the way it is in the park. People come. People go. No explanations. No forwarding addresses.
“I never get to tell my people, ‘Bye.’ They are just gone,” Pam says.
She has learned to make the most of any time she has with the residents.
In the past 10 years of the mission’s existence, many Conestoga residents have become Christians. Still others have recommitted to a faith that had grown cold through too many of life’s harsh winters.
The Conestoga Christians are learning to take the little that they have — what might be considered nothing by many standards — and do something for God.
With Pam’s encouragement, the believers have “adopted” a family serving in South Asia with IMB. They pray specifically for each family member as well as the people group the family is trying to reach with the Gospel.
GIVING FROM NOTHING
If you’re interested in receiving The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission newsletter, email Pam Whitehead and she will add your name to the distribution list.
“It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are,” says Pam. “You can still have a heart for the lost and the nations, and you can act on that, following the Father.”
Since 2007, The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission, through Pam’s persistent leadership, has set an annual goal of raising $100 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. For these residents, that’s huge.
“I wanted the goal to be one they could reach, but challenging at the same time,” explains Pam.
Although it usually takes the group six months to meet the goal, in 2014 they collected $100 in about two-and-a-half months; and the sacrificial gifts, usually given in the form of loose coins, continued rolling in for a few more weeks.
The giving is joyful.
“One of the little boys in the park came running in one day, screaming and hollering and waving his hand, saying, ‘Miss Pam, I have 50 cents! I have 50 cents, and the people over the ocean can hear about Jesus!’” recalls the enthusiastic missionary.
“Little is much in the Father’s hands,” she says.
By the end of April, the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters given by the Conestoga Christians totaled $128, an all-time high.
“It’s like the widow’s mite in the New Testament,” says Hill, who now serves as an IMB trustee.
“So often we just give what is ‘left over,’ but these people give everything they have.”
Colson is freelance writer who lives in Georgia