The traffic sped by us, easily exceeding legal limits by ten to fifteen miles per hour. The large, long semis appeared out of nowhere, covering us with their shadows as they sandwiched us between the white lines. Green overhead exit markers were obliterated by their size, leaving us to SIRI’s calm, directive voice: “Take next right in 800 feet.” Now, how to move over two lanes? We were headed from Minnesota to Georgia and were barely out of Illinois!

The end goal was to visit Jubilee Partners, the site of my volunteering in 1989 as part of the Overground Railroad, linking refugees between the Texas to Canadian borders. My son, Greg, was eleven then, leaving his northern sixth grade for the same grade at Danielsville, same grade but not an equivalent level of education. His memories of Jubilee life, however, were deep and life-changing, thus the return to share with his wife and two children. Robert and I drove. He and his family flew in, fitting their time into a school spring break.

Having a destination kept us mostly on Interstates, whizzing by signs advertising food, gas and hotels.  On the advice of a hotel clerk, we skirted Nashville rush hour by taking the back route.

We were relieved until we saw the detour sign. From looming semis to tractors on winding back roads, our speed and sight-seeing adjusted. The hills began to gently roll, revealing all manner of human habitations. From white picket fences encircling large pastures of green for a handful of horses to dilapidated posts corralling rusted cars, life came into view. Wendy’s and Arby’s were replaced by Maggie’s (Comer) and Ross Diner (Cartersville).

Cartersville was our last stop before Jubilee. I thought I had reserved a place with a pool. I had, but it was outside! The room wasn’t ready yet. I could see the housekeeper pushing her cart toward us.  “So, sorry, I can have done in 10 minutes,” she said with a strong accent.

She made a few more hesitant steps at explanation and I butt in. “¿Habla usted español?

“¡Oh, sí señora!” she beamed. And, we were off into Spanish-speaking land!

She suggested places to visit while she finished cleaning. There was a city park, the Etowah Indian mounds, an historical cemetery, not too far from her church, where she worked the soup kitchen once a week. Oh yes, many Latinos. Several hundred members in her church. Mostly Central American. She was from Guatemala. Had not been back. . .it was in God’s hands.  We finally waved goodbye, leaving her to finish cleaning while we discovered the Indian mounds, unfortunately closed for the day, and the cemetery, always open!

We arrived in Athens a day earlier than expected, so I called Don Mosley, one of Jubilee’s founders and “forever” Partners, to see if we could come ahead of time.

“Well,” he answered in a slow, soft drawl (yes, Don), “I’ll see if the room is ready.” Then, he filled us in on the evening’s activities.

“We are going to Comer to protest a state execution. Georgia plans to kill Willie Pye this evening. We have some Jubilee members, some Quakers and some town folks going. Others are protesting around the state. You are welcome to join us!”

“Of course, we’ll join you!” I exclaimed. “This takes me back!”

Jubilee’s history includes the Overground Railroad, Prison Ministry and burial for death row inmates, Walk in Peace – a program started in the 1980s, providing prothesis for victims of Nicaraguan landmines and now, gives safe haven to those in transition.

The protest, unfortunately, happened before the rest of the family arrived. What a memory that would have made! We did get a second chance for rich memory-making when we all gathered Palm Sunday evening to attend the informal church service.

Besides being multilingual and multicultural, Jubilee is ecumenical. That evening, a gathering of several dozen represented, among others, Burma, Guatemala, Mexico, Cambodia, Minnesota and Georgia. The scriptures were read in four languages, but the key speaker came from a local Baptist church. For us “northerners,” Gary was part of our “southern + religious” experience. I told the kids church would run about an hour. When I saw Gary step to the lectern, I estimated about 45 minutes longer. 

I don’t know the accepted “PC” vernacular, so let me just say he was a cut off of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s cloth. He raised his gravel-bass voice, his strong, black hands and his Alleluias to the heavens and back. His wife led songs with her rich, melodic chants, her entire body embracing the messages. There was no major “Hell-n-brimstone” message, but the earth shook. Various congregants bobbed their heads in affirmation, occasionally calling out their agreement. Just as I thought the close was coming, he went into an altar call.

There was no time to explain to the kiddos, so onward we went. And, to Gary’s surprise, a Burmese man, came forward. Gary looked over at Don and said, “I don’t know what the protocol is for this here at Jubilee.” He must have gotten a nod, because on we went, accepting another life’s experience.

Onward we went. We walked the trails, sat in the meditation hut, played with year-old baby Jonathan from Mexico while his mom took English lessons. We helped weed the garden, gathered the eggs and pet the calf. We were reunited with 1989 friends, ate their scrumptious Cambodian food while the newly acquainted kids ran themselves ragged after a soccer ball.

Then, we morphed into tourists at Macon’s Hay House mansion, the Harriet Tubman Museum, the Ocmulgee Indian mounds and ate at the Rookery. These visits were part of our week, but Jubilee was and is, a part of our life. We are so grateful for their work and their welcome back.

Thanks Don, Carolyn, Robyn, Robbie, Chou, and Sovath families!

Some clips from our trip…. 

Please respond below: 

What past experience was a real life changer for you? What would you do if you went back to revisit the location? If you cannot go back, would you contact those people who enriched your life to let them know?