Dukes Farm Sunrise Service

This story is about our family babysitter, Mildred, who watched over my sister, brother, and me when my parents traveled, which was often.

Mildred had an interesting background.  She was a champion bicyclist and had won Championships locally in the state, and nationally, she had won the women’s national championship.  She loved telling us about her races, and we enjoyed hearing her stories.

Doris Duke Farm

One of the best parts of this story about Mildred was when my Mother asked Mildred to take us kids to Sunrise Service at Doris Duke Farm, which was not far away.  This became a part of our Easter regimen when growing up in a small rural town.  And in conjunction with Sunday School, we kids learned early why God should be a part of everyone’s life.  More on that in a minute.

Farm Life and C. S. Lewis

We lived on a 100-acre farm in central New Jersey in a town with a population of less than three hundred.  Looking back from retirement, I realize how fortunate we were to have been introduced to God at an early age, though we did not even know it then.  And we were glad to have Mildred in our lives.  God will become part of your life if you let him in.  He will not push you, but HE can make a world of difference in the quality of your life.  He did mine.  But let me finish this story about one of the most influential people in my life.

To continue my story, one day, when I was mowing the grass, my Mother came out of the house carrying a small book.  I stopped mowing, and she handed me the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  She told me that I should read it.  I said, “OK,” and put it down on the back of the tractor.

The other aspect of my story is that Mildred was the local leader of a Cub Scout troop.  The town could not find a male to lead them as they were all occupied with their work on the farm or at the few small service companies.  So, they asked Mildred to be the Leader; she agreed and asked me to be the Den Chief since I was an Eagle Scout.

Sunrise Service at Duke Farm and C. S. Lewis

Anyway, the next time I saw Mildred was Easter vacation in a couple of years as I had gone away to school the last year.  So, it was a couple of years before we saw Mildred again.  But I did return for the following year, and the first thing my Mother told me was that Mildred had called to invite us kids to Sunrise Service.  We were glad to have an opportunity to see Mildred again.  And we were ready very early on Easter morning to get a seat up front, which Mildred said she wanted to do.  After the service, the Pastor gave an alter call, which we kids did not understand, but we obediently followed Mildred up to the front close to the pastor, and Mildred appeared animated and focused.

When we got back to the car, we all got in, and Mildred turned to me and said, “Here, I think this book is yours.”  I just wanted to thank you.  She had read it and told us that we, too, needed to read it, as my Mother had told me initially.  I had left my book, Mere Christianity, at Mildred’s when we were having a Cub Scout meeting once.  I had wondered what had happened to the book as I had misplaced it a while back.  I remembered having it with me at one of the Cub Scout meetings and mistakenly left it at Mildred’s.

It is appropriate to comment on C. S. Lewis.  He was among the most influential non-religious atheistic researchers of Christianity.  His book Mere Christianity is the best book to understand why Lewis converted to Christianity.  This is the best book for people who do not understand Christianity and/or do not think they agree with Christianity.

Lewis was, in his early years, an atheist who took it upon himself to research Christianity, and as a result, he became a Christian.  And that we all needed to read it.

To make a long story short, our family moved from our Farm that summer and never returned.  We never saw Mildred again.

Mildred’s Passing

Mildred passed in early 2023 at the age of ninety-seven.

This is when the story gets weird.  On a whim, I was on the web one day researching the town we grew up in.  I noticed a reference to Mildred’s passing on their website, and I thought digging further to find out about any surviving family members might be interesting.  So first, I went to the organization of Bicycle racers and spoke with the current Director, and amazingly, he had met Mildred.  There was a picture of Mildred on their website, and in the conversation, he said you might be interested in a note that we found among her final papers.  He faxed it to me; surely enough, Mildred wrote this note to my family.  All it said was, “Thanks for introducing me to God and trusting me to take care of your children.  I have always missed you.” Love Mildred.

I remembered this conversation and her returning the book.  But for Mildred to speak to us from beyond was a shock.

As many people know who have read Mere Christianity or other of C. S. Lewis’s books, his books have changed many lives.  And the reason is likely because Lewis started life as an atheistic nonbeliever.  And the significance of this particular book is that it follows his conversion process.  And in addition, my conversion process.