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Lifestyle of the Cross


Before Christmas, I received a little book titled Tail-Gate Tales About Heifer by Barbara Ann (Doak) West. Her husband, Rev. Mel West, sent it with their Christmas greetings. It is the story of their experiences with Heifer International. I was curious to learn more, so I asked to meet with Mel. Mel told me that Barbara wrote the stories in the 1970s and then put them in a file.

When he recently found them, she said, “That’s my book.” So, Mel decided to self-publish it. They worked as a team and created Tail-Gate Tales. Hearing Mel’s story, it occurred to me that this book is the natural outcome of the focus of their life together, a focus on the lifestyle of the cross.

Mel and Barbara were born 10 days and 200 miles apart. They both grew up on farms with families that believed giving was the focus of being a Christian. He and Barbara married after he was done with service in the Marines. He sent her a telegram asking her to come to Camp Lejeune, and she sent one back using her allotted words, saying, “Yes!” 10 times. They have been married for 77 years.

Mel’s call to ministry came while they were living near Golden City. He graduated from college with a degree in agriculture. Mel and Barbara then established a successful Grade A dairy farm. One day Rev. Bob Marble, a Methodist missionary to India, spoke at their church and visited their farm. Rev. Marble told Max, “Many folks can milk cows. Your heart and passion are needed in the Christian ministry, meaning you must go to seminary.”  They sold the cows, rented the farm, and Mel began his studies at Perkins School of Theology while serving an inner-city church. It was a significant change for his family.  

Once they arrived in Texas, Mel began to wonder about his decision. One day he turned to a favorite scripture and read, “He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34, NRSV). That was the answer. Mel realized that the cross is meant to be lived as a lifestyle. Mel said that when a human need, which forms the horizontal line of the cross, intersects the vertical line of your abilities, that is your cross for the moment. This revelation shaped his, Barbara and their family’s life together.  

From that point, they began an adventure in ministry that included 20 years with the Office of Creative Ministries, creating Mobility Worldwide, support of Heifer International and other mission projects. When Clarence Jordan spoke at Perkins, Barbara and Mel first learned about Heifer International. They began volunteering with Heifer in 1968. As Mel and Barbara became more involved with Heifer, she realized it was a project “by, with and for children.” Eventually, Barbara decided to write her book about her experiences. Mel shared his deep appreciation for how the United Methodist church encouraged and supported the ministry he and Barbara did together. He said they had had an abundant, satisfying and productive life together following the way of the cross. 

Lent begins February 22, and many of us will choose a spiritual discipline to follow as we prepare for Easter. One might be to reflect on what it would mean to live the lifestyle of the cross. What one step could we take to move towards centering the cross in our lives rather than wearing it as a necklace or hanging it on our walls?  

My visit with Mel has challenged me to think about this question. I am looking for one I need to focus on this Lent. There are many opportunities. Some churches have already begun work on various kits for the Festival of Sharing. The Conference is supporting a project to purchase solar panels for pastors’ homes in Mozambique, so they have access to electricity. There are local ministries in many of our congregations, such as Baby Grace, work at local food pantries and more. Your church could even start a project to raise funds for Heifer. Mel’s stories and Barbara’s book exude joy in finding a place to serve Christ by meeting human needs. Where might that place be for you this Lent?