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Christmas Eve Service is a Treasured Tradition

One of my favorite things to do each year is attend my church’s Christmas Eve service. But as beautiful as the church is with candles lit throughout, it’s not just about the beauty. And as wonderful as the songs are, it’s not all about the music. For me, pews lined with families from the newest member to the oldest, united again, sharing in the service together is something I treasure seeing and experiencing. College kids in for Christmas break, adult children, both single and/or married with children of their own home for the holidays, all to share in family traditions. And parents of all ages, feeling thankful to have their children close to them again.

Each of us have had our own experiences throughout the year, forever engraved on our hearts. For some, this was a year that brought new life, new jobs or school successes, or adventures filled with excitement and a vision of good things to come. For others, they may be thankful the year is coming to a close, for it was one filled with deep sorrow over the death of loved ones or relationships, loss of careers, or even simply, the loss of a way of life that was secure and comfortable, peaceful.

But on this night, we will worship together once again, for it is our love for Jesus that brought us together here in the beginning. As a family, we will see the beauty in the soft candle light as we worship in praise and song. We will hear the greatest story ever told, the birth of Christ our King, and be filled with the hope He brings for the coming year and all eternity. And after the service has ended, the candles all blown out and the house lights brought to bright, sometimes I feel sorry for the custodial staff because they can’t quickly lock up and go home until everyone leaves. For on this precious Christmas Eve each year, everyone seems hesitant to say good bye, needing to linger just a little longer, for one last hug, a little tighter.

As we age we know how very precious life is and how even a moment can bring a lasting memory; and even better, a lasting shared memory. Christmas Eve at our church is probably like Christmas Eve services everywhere; the evening is more like a family reunion, both for blood related families and the Family of God. Of course, the Family of God is blood related too, in the best possible way. And for this, we are mindful and thankful. I wish that each of you are blessed with hope, grace and love in the year to come. Merry Christmas and may God bless you beyond measure in this new year.

Staying on Mission

Often times, I sneak a peek at the end of a book to determine if I want to read it or not. I realize that normal people don’t do that but I tend to be on the eccentric side of things and I’m ok with that.  I am currently studying the biblical book of Revelation and there are many things that I struggle to understand but I do find it fascinating and captivating. And as a bonus, the Holy Spirit speaking through the writer John says in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” I am all for receiving blessings! But mostly, it makes me happy because it tells the future for those who follow Jesus; that He has already won the victory, defeated the evil one and conquered death for us all. So, that’s the good news.

That being said, there is also many an opportunity for my toes to get stepped on when I exhibit actions that line up with some of the churches that Jesus had stern words for, hoping to draw them back on course.  In his teaching, Seven Words for Seven Churches, Brandon D. Smith noted the following, “Jesus’ call for the churches in Revelation to repent and turn back to Him results in loving God and loving others. We love God with our entire lives, worshiping Him alone, and keeping our eyes fixed on His glory and goodness. We love others with our entire lives, pouring ourselves out like Jesus did on the cross, and sacrificing our own desires and intentions to see people reconciled to God. That is our identity. That is our mission.”

This is a worthy goal to attain. I know without doubt that I have failed at this many times when I’ve allowed self to get in the way. And as long as I put my desires above those of Christ I will fail again, but He lovingly guides me back with a course correction, reminding me of Whom I belong to and what is my mission. I so love that about my Jesus.

Chip and Joanna Gaines are Inspiring

David and I escaped to my parent’s cabin this weekend. As we always do, we sat on the porch (my favorite place in all the world) and talked about our dreams and goals for our future as we looked out over the lake. Throughout our marriage we’ve made many decisions while sitting on the porch with the clarity that comes from having no distractions and the deep level of peace found there.  We’ve also lifted up many a prayer, most in praise for the blessings bestowed on us, but also we agree in prayer about concerns that we have. Through it all, we have found God to be faithful in His time.

This weekend on the porch we talked of changes we would like to see in our home, which is badly in need of repair and revision. But when it comes to home repair and renovations, we’ve lacked vision because we couldn’t see the possibilities available to us in our own home. But then, after deciding to watch a little TV, we discovered a show on HGTV that I’ve heard many of my friends rave about for years, #FixerUpper, with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Wow! Have we been missing out. They are amazing! Together they are able to make possible what seemed impossible to us. Such talent! Needless to say, we did some catching up on the series and thankful for the opportunity to binge watch. Although I would love to have @chipgaines and @joannagaines share their vision and talent with us on renovations they would do to our house, truthfully, just watching their show has given us the hope and vision we dare to dream and stirred our faith that it can truly someday happen.

As a bonus, we also saw the episode where the Gaines family, with the help of their community, the Make a Wish Foundation, and the Tim Tebow Foundation, renovated a house for a couple with two special needs boys. Not only was the house made handicapped accessible to meet their needs, the house was designed to meet their dreams as well. It was an amazing show. In the Hurst house, we have great respect for @TimTebow and his foundation and the love and help he freely offers others. And clearly, the Gaines family has a heart for others as well. This episode brought tears to my eyes.

Now, once again, we’ve returned from the cabin refreshed and with a new vision. Sometimes we find answers to problems in the most unlikely of places. I must say though, watching #FixerUpper is addicting, but also educational and often times a warm fuzzy, all at the same time.

Article and photo by Rebekah Hurst

Stephen Ray Inspires Students to Persevere Sharing His Life’s Story

During the month of September, schools across the country place an emphasis on students aiming for excellent attendance, knowing that students who regularly attend school achieve more. In September of 2016, Stephen Ray was asked to be the key note speaker at the Coffee County Raider Academy Attendance Pep Rally in Manchester, Tenn. Sitting in the gymnasium stands waiting to hear the guest speaker, students were probably thinking “What can this man say that is any different than what teachers tell us daily, come to school, be prepared and your life will be better.” All that is true but it takes on a higher meaning when the advice comes from one who has walked in their shoes and has overcome the challenges that many of them face each day.

Stephen’s speech caught their attention from the beginning and held it tightly until the end and mine as well. Although he looks like someone who has had a normal life, his story is far from normal. Through no fault of his own, his school years were filled with poverty, sorrow, and self-doubt.  And for many students sitting in the stands that day, his story resembles that of their own. So quietly they sat, eager to hear how as a teenager he was able “change his stars” and put his feet on a path that led to success instead of the doomed life he expected to have. Before them stood a successful, confident man and one who overcame his past. His story is a “how-to” lesson many were eager to learn that afternoon.

After hearing his speech, I knew it was a story that needed to be shared with the masses. What follows is an excerpt from Stephen’s Raider Academy speech and afterward, the Coffee County News (CCN) interview, where he expanded on his story, describing his challenges and how he was able to overcome them.

“Good afternoon, Raider Academy. I want to take this moment to thank the administration, faculty, and staff for allowing me to come here this afternoon and I want to thank all of you, today you showed up. Attendance to many of you is something that’s only collected in those books that is in one of your teacher’s classrooms. Most of you, up to this moment, only know attendance as a word that is only used in these halls and classrooms, but I am here to tell you, that you are wrong. Attendance is something that will be collected throughout life and when you want something bad enough, you will show up.

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Stephen smiled as students laughed and applauded when he mentioned he was married to CCRA teacher Rose Ray. CCN Photo by Rebekah Hurst

So, who am I and what right do I have at all to talk to you about attendance? What do I know about showing up? Today, I want to tell you my story and I will start with where I am. My name is Stephen Ray and I was born and raised in this very city. I have worked at Motlow State Community College for the past nine years and I am currently the director of its facilities at the McMinnville Center. I am married to my beautiful wife of seven years, Rose, who teaches physical science here at the Raider Academy. Together, we have a beautiful home, four cats, one dog and no children yet, though if you were to ask her, she would tell you that she is raising one. My hobbies include hunting, fishing, and I love to ride bikes. By bikes I mean bicycles, so much so that in 2013 I was signed on to race for Volkswagen out of Chattanooga. I also love to give motivational speeches. See, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2009 and was told I wouldn’t walk within a year. I remind you, in 2013 I was signed as a professional athlete. I didn’t listen to what they told me. I’m going to tell you right now and I want you to hear me, ‘He who says he can and he who says he can not are both usually right.’

So what got me to this point? I was born in 1986 and in every sense of the way I was born into a loving, caring, and great family. My mother was a nurse at the Manchester hospital and my father ran a business with my grandfather. I had two brothers and one sister, and what I remember the most is how happy that home was. All that changed in 1991. My brother was hit by a car and died and the repercussions from that January in 91 sent shock waves through my family and ripped it apart. My mother became addicted to prescription medications, my father became addicted to alcohol, and they eventually divorced and I really never saw my father much after that. I am sad to tell you that they still struggle with those vices today. That happy home we lived in became a trailer with holes in the floor. Guys, I am telling you holes and I don’t mean something you could poke pencils through. I’m saying holes big enough that you could put a small refrigerator through. We often times had no electricity. On several occasions we had no water to wash clothes or take showers. New clothes and shoes never made it to my house, even food was hard to come by. See, we received those food stamps but my mother would use those to trade for even more drugs.image4

In 1999, I failed 6th grade on the account of missing 53 days on school. My sister failed the same grade that next year on the same account. See, we were in a hole and we wondered what did it matter? We felt that if we were this deep, it would never be worth climbing out of. We felt that there was no hope and throughout the rest of middle school, we seemed to skate by and we spent most of those days in ISD (In-School Detention) and after school detentions. I came into the 9th grade with that same mentality of a troubled, young man and I don’t know why, but a coach I had earlier in life made an appearance in my life when I seemed to need him the most and he gave me something that I didn’t have a lot of to that point. He believed in me and he made me realize that who I am to become is entirely up to me. Teachers, I want you to hear me as well as the students because that was a teacher that told me that. That was someone that for whatever reason saw something in a kid that had nothing, he saw something in a kid that had ragged clothes, shoes that didn’t fit, and he saw something in me that I did not see, he saw hope.

That day I started and I got my sister to follow my exact same footsteps. For some reason, I remember doing homework for the first time ever at home that evening on a bed in a house that had no power that day. I will tell you that years later, I received that diploma all because I showed up not only physically but mentally as well. From that moment I was given hope, I changed, though that diploma would have been enough I strove to make myself better. Throughout the years in high school, I not only received that diploma but I received six academic awards and several times I received the CHS Student of the Week. I went from missing 53 days of school in one year to having perfect attendance the last two years of high school. I also received a scholarship to Cleveland State Police Academy.

The number of educators that believed in me grew as my respect for them grew. Educators, I will tell you this, often times it will be hard to see past the rough parts of someone’s life but when you give hope, you give a chance. I am still great friends with those educators who believed in me so many years ago. That one educator that had me to believe in myself is Mr. Richard Skipper. I will never be able to repay his kindness to a kid that was promised nothing and I believe that if I would have continued down the same road, I would have failed in life as well.

Skip and Stephen pic

When Stephen invited his former high school teacher Richard Skipper to hear him speak as he addressed the CCRA students, Mr. Skipper had no idea that Stephen planned to honor him by telling the students that it was through his encouraging words and actions that Stephen was able to believe in himself too, and succeed. Pictured after the rally together are Richard Skipper, left and Stephen. CCN Photo by Rebekah Hurst

The other educator that believed in me wouldn’t become an educator for many years later but for some reason, saw something there too. I am happy to tell you that I married that person and she still believes in me to this day.

It all started with showing up first and foremost. By you showing that you want to be here you are showing that you want more in life. I leave you with this question. “Why start something tomorrow that you will regret not starting today?” I leave you with this quote. “If we always settle for others expectations, we will never understand how it feels to do the impossible.”

I thank you for letting me come and letting me tell my story. I throw out a challenge to you all. In 2020, I will be at the Coffee County Central High School Graduation and I challenge you to be there as well. I challenge you to be on that field and I challenge you to have showed up throughout your high school career. I challenge you to help one another with this goal. I challenge you to be better tomorrow than what you are today. I want you to commit every day to be better than what you were yesterday.

I want to thank you all for letting me be a part of your today and I’ll see you again in 2020.”

CCN Follow-Up Interview with Stephen:

CCN: In what way did Mr. Skipper encourage you and what did he say to you that let you know that he believed in you?

Stephen: Skip, that’s what I have always called him, just told me that it’s up to me of what I become. He had me to see that if I wanted to come out of the situation I was in, that I would have to climb out on my own and show that I wanted more. He had a very strong presence in my life when I needed him the most. He was like a big brother that showed me love and though it was tough love a lot of times, it was love regardless. It let me know that the world didn’t owe me anything and I was going to have to earn it.

CCN: What symptoms did you have that led you to the doctor?

Stephen: I first started noticing something was wrong in the fall of 2008 when I started to lose feelings in my extremities. My legs and arms were starting to go numb from the tips and working its way in. My vision also started to blur up pretty bad and felt like I was constantly trying to gain focus. My weight had dropped from about 180 to 118 in a matter of two months. I really felt as if my insides were on fire because the nerves to my insides were all out of whack.

CCN: How were you able to overcome the diagnosis?

Stephen: I had to first change my entire diet. I started to eliminate foods that people were most commonly allergic to and through that I was able to gain back some muscle. I really believe that the fact of starting to ride a bicycle helped utilize my nerves that were causing pain.

CCN: Were you a cyclist before 2009?

Stephen: I was not a cyclist nor did I even understand the sport. There was actually an old bicycle in the corner of a garage and my wife thought that might be a good exercise for me. She had thought it might give me a sense of freedom and have a little bit of an emotional and physical therapy aspect. I actually had to strap a cane on the side of the bike for the first couple months of riding before I no longer needed that cane.

CCN: How did you become a professional?

Stephen: Through any process there are steps you have to take. In cycling, you start often times as an individual in the sport with no team and often times with no support and you are categorized as a Category 5. Through the years, you are able to become more acclimated to the sport and depending on how fast you are, as well as your record in the sport, determines how fast you are able to move up the categories. I was fortunate to move up the rankings and categories fast through winning many races in the respected categories. I was asked in my second year of racing to come to the Volkswagen team out of Chattanooga. As I moved into my second year of racing and my first year with Volkswagen, I also unfortunately suffered a stroke three weeks before that first race. But since I fought back from worse things I knew I could still have an impact in that season. I finished that year among the top 15 percent in the country in that category and I made my way into the 3/2/1 Pro Category.Stephen Ray pic 3

CCN: Do you race now and how often?

Stephen: I actually had a hard fall in 2015 and suffered a very bad concussion and was told that it would be a good idea to not race the 2015 season. I have been in cycling events this current year but it’s been mostly fun type events, no racing. Training is at 110 percent right now with on and off road cycling and I do plan on racing in 2017 in the best shape of my life.

CCN: What advice do you have for others who have challenges to overcome?

Stephen: Challenges are going to be a part of life but it’s how we overcome the challenges that define us. Assess your own goals and determine the action that you need to take to achieve that goal. Once you have done that, then go after that goal. You are more than likely going to fail and fail and fail again but throughout all of those failures, never lose the reason that you started in the first place.

CCN: What role did faith play in getting you to where you are today?

Stephen: Faith as always been a strong base in my life, however in 2009 prior to my diagnosis, I went against God and wondered why me. Why must I go through all of these trials and why is it that I must suffer? I remember praying to God and in my prayer I thanked him for the sending of Jesus Christ who had really suffered and I stopped thinking of myself as being the center of the universe and realized that no matter how much pain I was in, it was nothing compared to the pain Jesus put on when he took my sins with Him to the cross. I always keep faith close and know now that it is the reason I am here. I am here for a much greater reason than I understand.

If you would like Stephen to come and talk to your youth group or organization, he may be contacted through Facebook or by email at

CCN feature first written and posted Sept. 22, 2016 by Rebekah Hurst. Photos by Rebekah Hurst and also provided by Stephen Ray. Updated and reposted with permission.




The Time Jumpers Show is Sure to Please

My goodness, was the talk around Music City ever true! Over the past few years I had read articles in the Nashville papers and internet reports about The Time Jumpers, a band comprised of some of the best musicians found in Nashville, but seeing really is believing. The show, a gift from my daughter Allison and her husband Chris to me and my husband, David, exceeded all expectations. We arrived early at 3rd & Lindsley and shared a meal as we waited with a packed house for the 8 p.m. show. From the first chord played until the last, the concert did not disappoint. These award winning musicians truly are masters of their craft.

Included in The Time Jumpers are “Ranger Doug” Green (vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar), Paul Franklin (steel guitar), Brad Albin (upright bass), Billy Thomas (drums, vocals), Kenny Sears (vocals, fiddle), Larry Franklin (fiddle), Andy Reiss (electric guitar), Jeff Taylor (accordion, piano), Joe Spivey (fiddle, vocals) and Vince Gill (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars). Sears, Joe Spivey and Larry Franklin were recently jointly inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. When listening to them play you would think that it is one fiddle, not three, because they never miss a beat. All of these extremely talented musicians can often be found on the Grand Ole Opry stage as well, or names seen in the credits of a vast array of musical projects.

Did I mention Vince Gill? I realize that he is just one of the wildly talented performers on the stage but he has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters for many years. He adds wit and charm to the playful banter among the band alongside his vocal and instrumental abilities. Although TTJ have a set Monday night schedule at 3rd & Lindsley, Vince sometimes is on the road playing other commitments. As many have probably heard, after the death of Glenn Frey in 2016 Vince was asked to tour with The Eagles. The band is scheduled to play March 23 and 24, 2018 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. But even if Vince is not on stage at 3rd & Lindsley, TTJ is well able to please a crowd.

As for some history of TTJ and according to its official website, “The Time Jumpers was established in Nashville in 1998 by an assemblage of high-dollar studio musicians who wanted to spend some spare time jamming with their sonically gifted buddies. The notion of building a rabidly devoted following was the last thing on their minds. But that’s what happened. Learning that Monday evenings were the slowest in the week for the Station Inn bluegrass club, the superpickers settled into that fabled venue at the start of each week and set up shop. Pretty soon Monday nights were sounding a lot like Saturday nights— and drawing commensurately lively crowds… As word spread along Music Row that something special was happening at Station Inn, big stars began dropping by, some to sit in with the band, others just to enjoy the vast array of country, swing, jazz and pop standards The Time Jumpers rejoiced in playing. Among those drop-bys were Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Norah Jones, Robert Plant, The White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Jimmy Buffet and Kelly Clarkson.”

After ten years together, the band re-located its Monday night shows to 3rd & Lindsley, a larger venue that would better accommodate their growing fan base and interest. Still with the larger venue, the Monday night show regularly sells out so it is in ones best interest to order tickets on-line ahead of time, especially if traveling from out of town to see some of Nashville’s most sought after attractions. And it is also true that you never know who will swing by and share a song or two with the band. When we went there were a few surprise guests sharing songs on stage, one of which was the Grand Ole Opry’s Mark Wills.

Indeed, The Time Jumpers are a sight to see and an experience that will bring a smile to your face and have your toes tapping. The show is more than worth the price of the $20 admission ticket. Check them out at or on Facebook.

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The Time Jumpers perform a great show Monday nights at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. Photo by Chris Wilkinson

Story by Rebekah Hurst, Photo by Chris Wilkinson

Grif, the K9, Rescues Autistic Boy in Rural Tennessee

Note: Sgt. Bob Argraves, with the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department, tells the story of his K-9 Grif’s great rescue of a lost autistic boy.

Grif and I had been on many adventures together since his 2006 US arrival from the Czech Republic. He was just two when I first saw the Czech Shepherd in the crate at the airport, growling and not in the friendliest of moods. But as we trained together and got to know each other, Grif became more than my K-9 partner, he became family.

Whether searching for drugs or tracking criminals, Grif and I made a great team and were very successful together. But through all our accomplishments, the one that most stands out happened on a long, hot August day in 2010.

On that day, I knew without doubt that it wasn’t just Grif and me on the job, God was with us.

Grif and I had gotten a call to meet law enforcement, rescue workers and volunteers in rural Coffee County, TN to look for a nine year old, autistic boy that had gone missing. We had gathered at the grandmother’s house, where her grandson Kyle had been playing and last seen. It was during the heat of the day, around two in the afternoon. Southern heat can be especially scorching in August to people and animals alike. A long search would be hard on Grif with his thick, furry coat but the boy needed us to find him, and soon.

With Grif harnessed, he took the scent of the boy from the child’s blanket and then the search was on. We went around the house and then toward the pasture at the back of the property. Grif went under a barbed wire fence and continued trailing across the pasture until he came to another fence. But this time, instead of crossing the fence in front of us, he turned left and went under the fence that bordered the pasture’s left side. We trailed through a small growth of woods before coming to a creek. Grif didn’t stop to drink for he was on the job and on scent of the trail. He came back to the bank and started trailing along its side, back toward the direction of the grandmother’s house. After coming to another fence, Grif turned and went back to the creek where he had started to cross the first time out. He then crossed the creek and went to the other side, coming to an open field. He went left and followed the creek until it came to another fence. He then turned right and came back into the field and then to a road that would lead to the left of the grandmother’s house.

On and on we kept going while other rescue workers were searching in mass as well. Surely, with so many looking for the boy we would find him, I thought. But the clock kept ticking and still no Kyle. Grif kept going until he came to a road and stopped. We then searched more property with houses and out buildings and fields all around. At one point a woman came out and advised that there was a house with a pool up ahead and a couple of ponds close by as well. The deputies and rescue squad members checked there immediately, fearful Kyle might be in the water, but still no sign of him.

Afterward, I put Grif back on the trail at the last scent he was on. Together we tracked behind the houses and trailed through a strip of woods that led back to the creek we had earlier crossed. After crossing the creek, Grif returned to the grandmother’s house where it all started, without success.

The temperature was in the high nineties and Grif had been working now for an hour and a half and just couldn’t go any further. I put him back in the patrol car where he was in the air conditioning and had access to water.

My heart sank for I had such high hopes in finding Kyle. Being autistic, you can’t be sure if the boy is aware when danger is possibly close by, especially out in the country with ponds in its midst. I knew Grif had done his best and I hoped that someone else was having better luck than we were in finding Kyle.

The Sheriff was on the scene and we discussed the rescue effort. He advised he was trying to get the THP helicopter to come from Nashville to fly over the area. We knew that with every moment, there was a possibility that the boy could find himself in harm’s way. I also knew from my K-9 training that once the dog had exhausted the scent of his trail, he had performed his best and further attempts would most likely be futile.

But something deep in my spirit was telling me that Grif could find this lost boy. I told the sheriff I was going to let him try again. After getting him out of the patrol car I let Grif sniff the blanket once more and to my surprise, he took off crossing the road, turned and trailed in and out of the ditch until he came to a road turning left. He trailed down the center of the road until he went past a house on the right where there was a dog barking in the yard. There were also horses to our left. Grif ignored both distractions and kept trailing until he passed them and turned right. He then trailed back to the first road he was on. Turning left he crossed the bridge over the creek that he had earlier crossed in the wooded area behind the grandmother’s house. We tracked on through a cornfield, already combined, before turning left toward the creek once again.

Grif began to air scent, though his training would have him scenting the ground. His natural instinct had taken over and it was though his awareness to urgency had been heightened. He came back to the field, turned left, and went back yet again to the fence where stood a wood line and thicket between the fence and creek. After air scenting once more, Grif came back to the field, turned left and again continued trailing. He did this several times until he got to the far end of the field before he went and tried to get through the fence. Anticipation was rising within me but I wasn’t sure if Grif had the scent of the boy or had an animal caught his attention. One thing was for sure, Grif was determined. Before I could help him maneuver the fence, he went to the right about fifteen feet where he could successfully crawl under. Still holding the leash, I crawled under too. Once on the other side, Grif was pulling so hard that I tripped and fell crossing a dead log and thicket.

As I was getting back to my feet, the leashed slipped from my grasp but Grif kept going. By now, he was at a run. As I was standing up, I could see Grif running toward a person standing in the creek, and I just knew it had to be Kyle. I called to him, assuring him that Grif would not hurt him, but really not knowing for sure if he would understand my meaning while seeing a large dog running toward him. I just didn’t want Kyle to be afraid and I surely did not want him to run from Grif. With Grif getting to the boy first he did exactly as he’s been trained to do. He stopped in front of Kyle, touched his nose to his left shoulder and then laid down in the creek next to him, watching him until I arrived. As I got closer, I told Kyle who I was and that I was there to help.

After checking to make sure the boy was alright, I called the sheriff telling him that Grif had found Kyle safe and sound and asked that he bring the Gator to pick us up for we were some distance from the grandmother’s house. Within minutes the sheriff and rescue squad assistant chief arrived and I handed Kyle over the fence to them. I got hold of Grif’s leash and we crawled under the fence to catch up with the others. But then, unexpectedly and unashamedly, emotion overtook me and I bent to my knees. The Sheriff concerned that I may be in physical trouble, called out to me but I assured him I was fine, only emotional. He told me to take all the time I needed for indeed, it was very understandable. Within myself, I felt this overwhelming thankfulness knowing that God had been with me and Grif every step of the way. And without doubt, it was the Holy Spirit stirring within me that encouraged Grif and I to press on, not to give up even when by man’s logic the scent was gone, the trail cold.

I will never forget the joy in seeing the family reunited, rejoicing Kyle’s safe return as rescue workers cheered. And as for Grif, he got lots of hugs and loving too! Many praises went out to Grif that day, my partner, the hero!

Bob and Grif pic

Sgt. Bob Argraves and his K9, Grif. CCN photo by Rebekah Hurst

Update: Since this article was first published, Sgt. Argraves (now retired) was informed that during the period of time when he thought Grif had exhausted his search, family members, who had been notified of Kyle being lost while in an airport terminal waiting for a flight, began praying together for God to help him be found. After receiving this information, Sgt. Argraves has no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit that moved within him to have Grif begin his search again.

May 14, 2016 CCN Article by Sgt. Bob Argraves with Rebekah Hurst, Photo by Rebekah Hurst

Reposted with permission.

Sharing Life Through the Peace Corps…Where the Journey Leads Featuring Josh Donegan

“Where the Journey Leads” features individuals who once lived in Coffee County, Tennessee but whose journey in life has led them to new adventures in new places; it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends.”

As the Greek Proverb states, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Taking this to heart, Josh Donegan is living a life of service to those around him and is also sowing seeds into the future lives of those he will never know, yet will someday reap the harvest of his efforts.

The Coffee County Central High School Class of 2007 graduate is using his talents, skills and experiences to invest in the lives of others through his work in the Peace Corps and other environmental efforts. Building on the foundation he received as a youth in Manchester, Josh attended Tennessee Tech University and received his Civil and Environmental Engineering degree. Afterward, he continued his studies at the University of South Florida working toward a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering specializing in Water, Health and Sustainability. While there, he also completed his Peace Corps Masters International program and was named a National Science Foundation Scholar.

With hands-on experiences, Josh has acquired a vast amount of knowledge and skill sets throughout his educational career that have aided him on his journey. Among his many accomplishments, he served as the American Society of Civil Engineers Southeast Conference Team Leader in Environmental, Hydrology, and Hydraulic Rocket competitions, was an Honors University 1010 Peer Mentor student teacher for the Environmental Village at TTU, served as the Tennessee Facilitator at Powershift 2011 (sustainability conference) in Washington, D.C. as well as chairing the TTU Sustainable Campus Fee Committee, TTU Honors College Green Committee and President of Students for Environmental Action Coalition. Through his efforts, Josh was the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Campus Sustainability Award and was named the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Campus Fellow representative.Josh Donegan la jornada pic

All of his studies and accomplishments laid a firm foundation for further studies in specializing for the Peace Corps. Changing the world for the better is no small task, especially with limited financial resources. In these situations, the wise man himself becomes one of his best resources and assets.

In pursuit to best accomplish his efforts abroad, Josh completed 106+ hours of formal instruction in Spanish as well as 10+ hours of formal instruction in Ngabere, a local indigenous dialect. Furthermore, he completed 143+ hours technical training in rural water and sanitation systems, 30 hours of cultural diversity training, 40 hours of medical, safety and administrative issue training and 190 hours of program event training, all to take on the task before him to the best of his ability.

In an interview with CCN, Josh shared some of his experiences and views on his amazing journey thus far.

CCN: Did you have a favorite teacher at CHS and if so, who and why?

Josh: I guess I’d say Mrs. Rita Young, she was always so focused and motivating. She isn’t afraid to give you a project that will truly challenge you, but provides support during the process. She and Mrs. Michelle Henley were always tirelessly working on BPA organization/competitions (Business and Professionals Association now referred to as Future Business Leaders of America) etc., while promoting a true learning environment. Also, although she and I clashed at times, Ms. Joyce McCullough was an intellectual role model for me. She valued intelligence and concision very highly, was incredibly articulate, and pushed her students to always be better versions of themselves through education and literature.

CCN: What inspired you to go into the Peace Corps?

Josh: I joined the Peace Corps (PC) for several reasons: primarily, I wanted to use my engineering skills on a local level and work on a project which I could truly see an important change/outcome of the work I’d done. Additionally, I’ve always been a wanderlust kind of guy. I love to travel, experience new culture/food/people/ways of life. PC was a way for me to get out of the cubicle lifestyle which I felt I was too young to commit myself to fully, and explore more about myself, the world around me, be challenged, but also highly rewarded in life experience and skills as opposed to just money.Josh Donegan working with Peace Corp

CCN:  What have you learned during the time you have spent with the Peace Corps that you have found to be life changing?

Josh: There are several. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned is a personal one. We, as humans, are incredibly resilient, adaptable, and clever. The challenges of PC life showed me day to day, just how strong and capable of an individual myself, and essentially all the other volunteers who accepted the same challenge, are/can be. There is literally nothing in this world that you can’t do. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but if you dedicate yourself to self-improvement, focus, and education on the subject, there is literally nothing I feel a human being can’t do (given reasonable observation to physical and biological laws). Additionally, I carry an incredible joy in my heart to know that no matter how different I am from the indigenous people of Panama (language, diet, lifestyle, priorities, education, appearance, etc.) when it comes down to it, we are truly no different at all. We all value family, friends, shelter, food, water, and fun. Also, the power of language and understanding. The community I lived in was an indigenous group. They spoke their native pre-Columbian language as well as the secondary Spanish. It was always interesting to me to think about the fact that we were living harmoniously and working productively in both of our secondary languages. Learning new grammatical structure, phrases, spelling, and vocabulary has truly expanded my cognitive ability and perspective on how language shapes our lives and experiences.

CCN: After investing your life into the lives of others, what have you learned that you wish others knew as well?

Josh: Again, two things here. One, too many of us live our lives in fear and hate. Xenophobia is a rampant and highly unproductive worldview which has little to no basis in reality.  My parents were always very concerned about my safety, living in a ‘developing Latino world’ but honestly, I’ve never felt safer, more valued, or more at home than while living in Panama. Despite the fact that we, the United States of America, invaded Panama in 1989. One would think, myself as a ‘gringo’ or white person, would be hated, feared, targeted, etc. But the fact of the matter is it’s just not a productive way to live life, constantly in fear and hate of different races/foreigners. I admire the people of Panama’s ability to live with so many other different walks of life, sharing such a small, intimate and beautiful country.  Additionally, the phrase “Lose yourself in service to others” is an inspiring quote to me. Although I believe in taking care of oneself above all, if you have any more capacity to care, you will learn so much more about life by working with others less fortunate to help better their existence.

CCN: Have you had any major challenges that you have had to overcome to be successful?

Josh: Life is full of challenges. One challenge I never knew I had growing up was access to different ways of life, the reality of existence is difficult to perceive staying in your hometown your entire life. I was fortunate enough to go to college and meet many new people who loved traveling and provided me with more opportunities to travel inside our country and out, in order to gain more worldly perspective. Additionally, most of us are familiar with relative poverty. Because of lack of money, we eat poorly, watch too much TV (cheap entertainment), and are typically under educated and over stressed. I’m not unique in facing the challenge of pulling oneself out of not only money-oriented poverty, but out of a spiritual poverty as well. I believe many of us have begun to see things more clearly; it was incredibly eye-opening to live in true poverty for such an extended period of time. It helped me reclarify what is truly important in life, and how much we have here in the US.

While in PC I lived on about $400 a month, which is still significantly more than the people with whom I lived in my community (I was considered a rich guy in town). To be perfectly honest, I was overall much happier with my life, with less stress, and more appreciation of the small things. It was very common to hear the people in the community say how poor they were, which allowed me the opportunity to explain to them how truly wealthy they were while reminding me that the grass is always greener on the other side. My point being, they have NO debt, no car payments, no rent, free basic health insurance, heavily subsidized education costs, they own their own (productive) land, they rely on natural resources heavily. While in the US, I had more student debt than many of them could ever imagine, I owned no land – much less cultivable land, had no savings, rely completely on government/state infrastructure, have no natural resources at my disposal, and have largely much less control over my daily lifestyle due to the external financial pressures.

CCN: From your pictures on social media, it is evident you love to rock climb. Where are some of your favorite places to climb?

Josh: I’ve climbed in several different places now. Panama, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, Oregon, California, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky. I’d say my favorite places to climb are still the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Although I’ve really enjoyed everywhere I’ve been climbing!

I was developing some routes and climbs in Panama and had a two hour hike to the mountain from where I lived. So that was a super cool experience and teaching the kids about the sport as well. I don’t get to climb as much as I used to because of thesis writing/peace corps projects, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop climbing.Josh Donegan climbing

CCN: What are some of your favorite memories from living in Manchester?

Josh: Obviously growing up with Bonnaroo has been an amazing experience. As a music and arts lover, I feel super blessed to have had the opportunity to see so much amazing live music and sharing of good times out on the farm. Speaking of farms, I truly value growing up in the proximity of farmers and a small town. It instills a value of friendship and hard work which have been fundamental in relationships I’ve developed throughout my life. As a kid in a small town, you learn the true value or work, family, friends, and honesty. Everyone knows you and you know everyone, so being personally accountable is a necessity, which is a characteristic I value highly.

CCN: What are your dreams for your future and what do you plan to do next?

Josh: Now that I’m back state side, I’ve moved back to Tampa, Fla. to finish my Masters of Science in Environmental Engineering with a graduate certificate in Public Health, Water, and Sustainability. Also, a year or so ago, I, with a few close friends, began organizing to start our own business. Because we aren’t established yet, I can’t divulge too many details but essentially, we’re attempting to bring urban agriculture to the cultural forefront of Tennessee, beginning in Chattanooga. Stay tuned for updates.Josh Donegan with shells pic

CCN: What advice would you give young people today to help them reach their goals for the future?

Josh: Read, learn, experience, trust, value honesty, take calculated risks, treat yourself, your friends, and family well. Value the planet and its’ resources, think, think for yourself, stay organized, spend wisely, and never give up.

Note Story Addition: The following are specifics of Josh’s work in the Peace Corp:

Josh surveyed, designed, solicited a grant, budgeted, and trained the community in constructing a 6 kilometer gravity fed aqueduct with capacity to serve approximately 2000 people.

Josh worked with a newly elected diverse water committee to become a more proactive, functional, and responsible group through training of local laws, managing funds, and regular maintenance of the aqueduct.

Josh developed and implemented an improved cook stoves program for the community school and increased interaction between the Panamanian Ministry of Environment and the community to continue working in the area.

Josh increased awareness in the community with regards to personal and sexual health.

January 28, 2017 CCN Article by Rebekah Hurst, Photos provided by Josh Donegan, Reposted with permission