Feature Article

The Two-Way Blessing of Community

Nell Fields trusted Christ with her community for forty years. Then she realized it was time to trust Him with difficulties at home.

Tim Rhodes February 4, 2022

Nell Fields practically skips along a row of blue and yellow canopies at Letcher County Farmers Market in Whitesburg, Kentucky. She passes bustling crowds picking through colorful fruits and vegetables on her way to a group of picnic tables and a large concession trailer serving free meals. Fields greets the families eating at the tables, giving shoulder pats and side hugs. Checking on plates and bowls, she offers to get seconds for anybody still hungry.

Photography by Taylor Linkes

Since childhood, when she saw her mother take in and feed neighborhood kids, Fields has had a passion for the well-being of children nearby. And thanks to her work and dedication, a vital program offering free meals to boys and girls in need has become a staple in her city. With much of the food provided by area farmers, the project is empowering local residents to help the people around them. 

Like many mining towns in the state, Whitesburg is grappling with poverty. For nearly 40 years Fields has volunteered with the Cowan Community Action Group, which is dedicated to meeting the challenges of rural living. “When you work in the community, you get to see firsthand what their needs are,” she says. “And people tend to come to you with their needs that a neighbor wouldn’t just ask for. It felt good to be called on.”

But her presence in the community almost vanished when her husband Jerry was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2016. Instead of visiting the farmers market or attending community service meetings, Fields had to shoulder most of the responsibilities on their small farm. Along with the usual weeding and watering in the garden, her morning chores now included cleaning dirty water troughs and refilling them, along with feeding the chickens, cows, and pigs twice a day.

Nell and her husband Jerry enjoy spending time watching their farm animals.

Fields also came to be tasked with sterilizing her husband’s dialysis equipment each morning in preparation for reuse in the evening. “You have to store all sorts of medical supplies,” Fields says. “Once a month you get 30 boxes, which take up a lot of space.”

While caring for her husband, Nell could not attend church regularly. A longtime viewer of In Touch With Dr. Charles Stanley, she found those messages became a source of rest and rejuvenation every Sunday, energizing and preparing her for the stressful days ahead. One morning Dr. Stanley was talking about the motivations of the heart. “And that really changed everything for me,” Fields says. “Why am I doing this? And what do I expect to gain from it? You learn to look and see before you move—and to hold on to what God’s asking you to do instead of what you want to do.”

Today Nell Fields’ life looks vastly different than it did just a few years ago. As Jerry’s health gradually improves, she looks for opportunities to play even a small part in the area’s flourishing. In the midst of hardships, one thing has remained constant: the presence and power of God, who continues to invigorate her to serve both in the community and at home.

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