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Life’s hard experiences fuel her ministry to people in crisis

WICHITA, Kansas (BP)–Winter had not quite released its grip on the city of Wichita when Delilah Countryman’s phone rang one afternoon. A strong north wind was blowing and she was anxious to settle into her warm house after a busy day at work.
Life no longer had anything to offer, the caller told her. In a matter of minutes, the woman planned to put a gun to her head and pull the trigger. Trying to remain calm, Countryman asked her where she lived and pleaded for her not to do anything until she could get to her home.
Forgetting about the frigid temperature, Countryman bolted from her home with just a sweater on and raced to the woman’s house a few miles away.
She climbed the steps and was met at the door by the angry woman waving a pistol in her face.
“Don’t come any closer or I am going to kill myself,” the woman threatened.
With those words, Countryman backed away from the door and began to pray for the right words to say.
“She was crying and I knew one wrong word and she would have killed herself,” Countryman recounts. “It was cold outside and for four hours I pleaded with the woman to think about what she was about to do.
“I told the Lord how cold I was and immediately a blanket of heat came over me.
“I told her I loved her and felt for her,” and finally the woman broke down, began sobbing and put the gun down on the floor.”
Countryman rushed into the house and hugged the woman as the tears poured from the broken woman.
“It’s hard to witness to people about Christ when they can’t see past their circumstances. One way to witness to them is through our actions,” Countryman says.
Spend five minutes with Delilah Countryman and you quickly realize she is certainly a woman of action, backing up her words with countless deeds for the people she comes in contact with in the middle of the day and, on many occasions, in the middle of the night.
Countryman is the director of the Good Neighbor Center in Wichita, Kan., a place where the physical needs of people are met with food, clothing, miscellaneous household items, furniture and toys. Emotional and spiritual needs are met when people meet Countryman and she points them to Jesus with her smiles, hugs, encouragement and prayers.
Housed in the basement of Midway Baptist Church, and for some time a ministry of Cottage Grove Baptist Church, the Good Neighbor Center receives support from the Viola Webb Missions Offering of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association and other churches in the area.
The beaten-down green carpet and rough wooden shelves stocked with brightly colored clothes of all sizes give no indication of the countless lives touched by the ministry of the Good Neighbor Center, Delilah Countryman and the volunteers who stock shelves and fill bags with food.
Every hour, hurting people filter into the center, seeking assistance. Young children with dirty faces and tattered clothes hold on to the faded dress of an aging grandmother or a teenage mother and then laugh with amusement as Countryman scoops them up to find a better outfit for them from one of the clothing racks.
Jackie Hazen has been in desperate situations many times, and even today with some assistance, faces daily struggles. A single parent with triplet 15-year-old girls, and all three home-schooled, Hazen had nowhere else to go when she met Countryman four years ago.
The girls’ father abandoned the family, and because he was not an American citizen, Hazen was unsuccessful in forcing him to support her or the three girls. On welfare and living in community housing, she asked Countryman for help.
“When no one else would listen, Delilah stepped in to help,” Hazen says. “If it were not for Delilah, my kids would not have food or clothes.”
Hazen, like dozens of other people during the day, praises Countryman for helping to put lives back together with her actions and her compassion.
“She speaks out for us. She invites us into her home. She goes that extra step for you. She is a friend, a real good friend,” Hazen says.
Not wanting to just be the recipient of handouts, the proud Hazen returns weekly to the Good Neighbor Center not for food, but to volunteer her time to help others facing uphill battles to make it financially.
“I don’t like to get something without paying for it. I was not raised like this and I hate living like this,” Hazen says while folding clothes to be given away, clothes that in most cases are newer than the clothes she herself has on. “Delilah never lets anyone humiliate you.”
Countryman knows all about humiliation, abuse, homelessness, welfare, hurt, pain and grief. Ten years ago her life nearly ended when her abusive husband shot and stabbed her and left her for dead — the final act after years of abuse to her and her children. Lying in a hospital bed, her husband in jail, Countryman was a woman without a home or the means to support herself and her children.
Countryman survived the attack and for a while lived in a shelter with her children until she was given a house to live in. With her 1-year-old son and her three daughters, ages 3, 5 and 12, she moved into the house with no clothes, furniture, food, pots and pans or any other earthly possessions.
“This is my drive today, what motivates me day to day,” Countryman says. “I hear the cries of the people because I have been there and I know you don’t have to live like that.
“I was judged by my appearance and by my clothes,” she recalls. “My children were made fun of because of their dated, dirty, torn clothes. My husband burned my clothes and my children’s clothes when he got out of jail and I refuse for people to be treated less than they are.
“How you treat people is how you plant seeds. They will ask questions and you tell the story. It’s called Jesus,” she continues. “All the sins he took to the cross, and when he comes into your life, you change.”
Countryman takes great pride in knowing people look upon her as someone who not only says she loves them, but is willing to show it.
“My first words are, I care, I love you and I want to help you get through your crises,” she says.
The boldness she displays has not always been a characteristic of Countryman. Only in recent years has she taken on her role as an advocate for those who are less fortunate or being overlooked by the system.
It is difficult to imagine a Delilah Countryman who was shy, introverted and slow to stand up for herself or for others. But another tragic event that occurred on Dec. 9, 1992, shook Countryman to the core and dramatically changed her life forever.
Her 5-year-old daughter was in the school cafeteria enjoying hot dogs with her classmates on that fateful day. Somehow, the young girl began choking on a hot dog and was unable to breathe. Despite numerous efforts from teachers and emergency medical personnel, her young daughter died that day.
“Even though I was a Christian, the day I lost my daughter was the day I became sold out to Christ. It was the day I embraced Christ and the day I truly changed,” Countryman says.
“There are all kinds of Christians, but the difference is to be one that is sold out. … I don’t always have the right words to say to a person, but I have a love for people I did not have before.
“I thank God for my past because without it I could not relate to one human being now,” Countryman says with tears in her eyes. “I still struggle and I don’t know what the future will be, but God is in control and he works everything out.”
It was after this experience that Countryman knew her life and ministry role needed to change. She learned of the opening at the Good Neighbor Center, but really did not want to take the position.
“The Holy Spirit would wake me up in the middle of the night,” she recounts. “God told me to be obedient and he would take care of all my needs.”
And indeed, each day God is providing for her needs, and through Countryman and the Good Neighbor Center, God’s love is being shown to many people in Wichita. The calls still come at midnight and Countryman still finds herself trying to calm domestic disputes, counsel drug addicts and help teenage prostitutes find their way home, undergirded by the message that Jesus loves them and he died for their sins.

Achord is a staff writer for the Baptist Digest of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists and director of food services at the Webster Conference Center, Salina, Kan. (BP) photo to be posted in BP photos section of the SBC website, www.sbc.net.

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  • Steve Achord