They are the forgotten people. The individuals you might not even notice if you passed them on the street.
They are in every community. On the fringes of neighborhoods dotted with white picket fences. At the end of gravel roads that seem to go nowhere. The people who wash your dishes at the chain restaurant. Change your car’s oil. Scramble your eggs at the local diner.
Or, they are the people who are unable to work because of physical disabilities or mental challenges. Drug or alcohol addictions. Felony convictions that they just can’t seem to shake.
They are the forgotten people to almost everyone except Pam Whitehead, who affectionately refers to them as “my people.”
Her “people” live in Conestoga Mobile Home Park in Monroe, Georgia, where a singlewide trailer serves as home base for the Southern Baptist missionary to minister to the real needs of her people as she shares about Jesus.
Desperation and Darkness
When it comes to housing options, Conestoga, for many, is the last step before homelessness.
There, the potholed community road, knee-high weeds, and household belongings tossed aside with every eviction seem to reflect the desperation and darkness that most park residents have known.
Just a few years ago, the mobile home community—sitting just a few miles from a charming and picturesque downtown—was notorious for violence, drug trafficking, transience, even satanic rituals.
Still, Pam, a preschool teacher, and her husband, John, a juvenile probation officer, were unexpectedly drawn to the park.
The couple, along with prayer teams, began praying over the park and its residents in 2002.
“The Father opened the doors wide through two and a half years of prayerwalking,” according to Pam, who speaks of the Father so naturally and intimately, it seems He must be sitting in a chair next to her.
The Whiteheads began slowly building relationships with the residents and by 2004 were planning a yard sale, block party, drug program, Easter egg hunt, and family fall festival.
It didn’t take long for John, who had once described the park as the “doorstep to hell,” to say he was “in over his heart” with the ministry.
The couple continued to minister to the people in the park, offering church services for the first time in April 2005.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly until five days before Christmas in 2010, when John Whitehead unexpectedly passed away.
Tears of sorrow would flow, only to be replaced with tears of joy, as the now-widowed mother of four young adults, including her youngest son with Asperger’s syndrome, sensed God’s call to continue the ministry.
Local pastors began taking turns preaching at the mission on Sunday mornings; when they’re unavailable, Pam leads a group Bible study.
“Pam is a person of vision and a person of commitment,” according to Allen Hill, interim director of missions for Appalachee Baptist Association and a former IMB missionary to the Philippines.
Not for the Faint of Heart
Slowly, with the ministry presence in the park, conditions began improving.
“Probably everybody thinks the people in Conestoga are nothing but a bunch of thieves, drunks, and drug addicts,” says Barbara, who lived in the park for several months with her husband.
“And they’re not. There are a lot of good Christian people that live there who are trying their best just to pay their bills and put food on the table, just like everybody else.”
Still, this ministry is not for the faint of heart.
Since her husband “went to be with the Father,” Pam has faced many challenges and frustrations. Undaunted, she smiles and calls each experience “another adventure.”
When the roof collapsed on the doublewide trailer where the ministry was housed, Pam simply moved the congregation elsewhere. For seven months, the Conestoga believers intermittently met either outside or in the home of Sharon, a new Christian there, before being given a fixer-upper singlewide for the ministry—dubbed The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission.
The day Pam was bitten by a resident’s pit bull, she seized the opportunity to share God’s Word with the dog’s owner, Linda. It was a small open window for the intrepid missionary because Linda moved a few weeks later, with no forwarding address.
That’s the way it is in the park. People come. People go. No explanations. No forwarding addresses.
“I never get to tell my people, ‘Bye.’ They are just gone,” Pam says.
She has learned to make the most of any time she has with the residents.
In the past ten years of the mission’s existence, many Conestoga residents have become Christians. Still others have recommitted to a faith that had grown cold through too many of life’s harsh winters.
Several residents agreed to share their personal stories.
After years of prayer by her mother, Sharon, who had long struggled with drugs and alcohol, made a profession of faith.
A five-year stint in prison provided the “escape” that James needed from his “downhill fast” lifestyle. He used the time to study his Bible and recommit to Jesus.
Two weeks of living in a truck and years of financial insecurity left an indelible impression on Barbara. She now reads her Bible and prays daily.
The Conestoga Christians are learning to take the little that they have—what might be considered nothing by many standards—and do something for God.
The Power of Prayer
With Pam’s encouragement, the believers have “adopted” the Kelley* family serving in South Asia with IMB. They pray specifically for each family member as well as the people group—they refer to as “The Fishermen”—the family is trying to reach with the Gospel.
When spending time stateside this past September, the Kelleys visited Pam and the Conestoga believers; the family had great news for their prayer partners.
“The Lord has heard their prayers, and now a new people group will be worshipping among the ‘vast multitudes’ before the throne of King Jesus,” says Andrew Kelley.*
Five people among The Fishermen have made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
“My people are seeing the difference their prayers are making in a people group that had never heard. They are learning they can make a difference in the nations not only by giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering but also by praying,” Pam says.
Giving from Nothing
Since 2007, The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission, through Pam’s persistent leadership, has set an annual goal of raising one hundred dollars for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. For these residents, that’s huge.
“I wanted the goal to be one they could reach, but challenging at the same time,” explains Pam.
Although it usually takes the group six months to meet the goal, in 2014 they collected one hundred dollars in about two-and-a-half months; and the sacrificial gifts, usually given in the form of loose coins, continued rolling in for a few more weeks.
The giving is joyful.
“One of the little boys in the park came running in one day, screaming and hollering and waving his hand, saying, ‘Miss Pam, I have fifty cents! I have fifty cents, and the people over the ocean can hear about Jesus!’” recalls the enthusiastic missionary.
“Little is much in the Father’s hands,” she says.
By the end of April, the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters given by the Conestoga Christians totaled $128, an all-time high.
“It’s like the widow’s mite in the New Testament,” says Hill, who now serves as an IMB trustee. “So often we just give what is ‘left over,’ but these people give everything they have.”
“It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are,” says Pam. “You can still have a heart for the lost and the nations, and you can act on that, following the Father.”
For more stories, photos, and videos about The Lighthouse at Conestoga Mission, visit CommissionStories.