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Johnny Jones, 6 February 2004

When I was a senior at Oklahoma Christian College, I started to wonder where I should look for a job.

When someone offered free transportation to a mission conference in Arkansas I was glad to go. I'd never been there before, and my budget didn't allow for trips. The only problem was money for food. My meal ticket was paid for at Oklahoma Christian College, where I attended school; but there was no money for meals on the trip. "Oh, well," I thought, with the optimism of the young, "something will work out."

"Something" was crackers and water, and the help of friends.  Without being too conspicuous, I could get those free while everyone else ate at restaurants. And some kind soul bought me something to eat now and then.

During the conference I wandered among the booths, looking at pictures of turban-headed African mothers holding pictures of bony children, and of men with shirt sleeves rolled up giving shots to long lines of people. It was a little too much for me. My mother thought I'd gone beyond the moon just by attending school in Oklahoma.

But then I found a booth watched over by a friendly, spectacled man sitting cross legged in a folding chair. The sign above his head said, "Target 66: We want families to move to Stamford, Connecticut."

"Do you want single people, too?" I asked him.

"Why, sure," he enthusiastically replied. "Many of our people are recent college graduates." To my surprise, he even had a Southern accent. "It's a new kind of mission effort," he went on. "We are going to move enough Church of Christ families in to found a congregation, then share the gospel with the people around us."

"Well, I'll sign up and see," I said, not daring to hope too much. Connecticut seemed such an exotic place. I'd not thought much about it since seventh grade history class. And Stamford was less than an hour, I learned, from New York City.

My home church sponsored an interview trip. In a high school auditorium I talked with a representative from the Norwalk Public Schools, who got me an interview with Dickon Hunter, principal of West Rocks Junior High. And Mr. Hunter hired me to teach math.

After all of us on the Exodus ( as it was called) were settled in and around Stamford, our brand-new church started looking for community involvement. So when someone suggested that our church help out in the Southeast Quadrant area, a poor, African-American section of town, there was a sense of excitement. We were to keep Sunrise Center open two nights a week.

It was perfect for a young, idealistic bunch of single people looking for something good to do - because there was lots to be done. The first thing we did was to paint the inside of the old church that was Sunrise Center. Soon after, we let the kids (aged three to eighteen) paint the tables and chairs just before our first Talent Show. One of the chairs, I remember, had a blue leg, a yellow leg, a red leg, a green leg, and an orange seat.

A Tennessee church funded Jack Vandagriff, a teacher from another junior high in Norwalk, and me to work at Sunrise Center full time the summer of 1967. One thing I remember from that summer was that I broke up a knife and glass fight in front of the Center, armed only with ignorance and anger. God saved me from this foolish attempt!

We never know what paths life has laid out for us. But if I hadn't been at that conference - if I didn't have my teaching degree - if I hadn't risked going to Connecticut - then my life would have been very different. Because, while working at the Center, I got to know another of our church members. But I thought his name was a bit odd for a grown man. It was Chip. Chip Jones.