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He was born in 1918. Frank and Morrow worked a North Carolina dairy farm. Discipline. Dairy farming is about more than cows – fencing, feeding, calves, milking when it’s time, not when it’s convenient.
He first heard the words, not just the sound of them, when he was fourteen. Mordecai Ham spoke them under a tent in Charlotte. The teenager didn’t decide then and wouldn’t say now that he knew he would one day stand before other searching souls and speak the words himself. But he did know that what he had been made capable of hearing – from somewhere outside his own ability – would change his life forever. A new creature.
There would be no seminary degree, at least not in the traditional sense. But he would be faithful to say the words for five decades. He could still say them standing there on his stone steps in March on top of the mountain. I was there. I know. Ruth was undaunted by the local customs, fears, and expectations of a freshman college student. She came from China, a medical missions family, full of a loving heart for life and the living, with a beauty that was undeniable. He loved her from the git-go, a devotion only surpassed by his desire to say the words to any who would listen. Many would. She and they would share his time. It would be an earthly conflict so infused with limitations of time and space that she would have to learn to survive with a power far beyond herself. She did. I chewed on that nugget for some time while I contemplated the portrait at night, staring into the dark and seeing the shape of the clay, the composition taking form.
We conversed over the phone, Ruth and I. I worked with the clay shaping the nose and the mouth with lips separated just enough to suggest some of the words had just been spoken. All the time, I kept seeing her, not her face, but those things that aren’t seen with the eye. The unseen things that make us who we are.
The portrait began to speak to me – a strong, driven, sensitive, intense, faithful, gifted, unique man, through whose eyes I would always see her kindness, the devotion, never complaining, ever loving, rarely visible, but always there.

I simply don’t see any possibility for a time to work on the sculpture until after the first of the year. We’ll simply have to wait for a time when he is going to be at home. This will definitely be a case of outwitting and not submitting. But it is an idea whose time has come. We simply must find a way.

She would spring the idea on him when she thought it right to do so. She knew him, his ways. But as it turned out, she never did actually run it by him at all. I would simply bring the work to the cabin at which time he would get it all; the idea, the bust, and the intrusion. She knew him.
Up steep hills the heart races faster. To meet the challenge it always will. He said he was just another man. But some had but him on a pedestal and he lived on a mountain top. I never asked to be put on a pedestal and she chose the mountain, not me. I reminded myself, the potter molds the clay. Be malleable. Stay loose. Search for the things unseen. It will take form.

God in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
Westminster Confession of Faith 1646

Robert Thornwill Coit came to Meridian, Mississippi, in the early part of the 20th Century. The young minister had visions of the Korean Mission field. But there on the Mississippi-Alabama border he saw another vision – Cecile Woods, granddaughter of a once Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The young married couple served Korea through the Southern Presbyterian Mission Board, through which they met and became lifelong friends with Dr. Nelson Bell and his wife Virginia.
Dr. Bell was a missionary surgeon in China and his second daughter, Ruth, was near the same age as Cecile Coit’s fifth child, Millie. The bond – similar life experiences – was not easily broken despite time or space or geographical location. True friendship.
After Robert Coit’s death in the 1930’s, Cecile moved back to the States and lived in Richmond, Virginia. Later, after Millie and the other children were grown, she moved to the small mountain community of Montreat, just outside Black Mountain, North Carolina. Montreat became a summer gathering place for Cecile’s children and grandchildren. The Bell family retired nearby.
Millie married Jack Cotton Oates. The young insurance agent met his wife through his sister, a classmate of Millie’s at Agnes Scott College for Women in Decator, Georgia. The Oates family, including the youngest boy, Rob, spent many summers in Montreat with PaPa, though the grandmother was known by everyone on the mountain, including Ruth Bell, as Aunt Cecile. The seeds for the bust had been planted even then. Years later, Rob Oates was called to a small Mississippi town. I was there. He introduced me to his mother, Millie. She introduced me to Ruth. Ordinary people. Extraordinary providence.