From the Field: Texas to Appalachia

By Karrie Foust

When Karen and her three young children came to the Samaritan House, her vehicle looked like it had been through some hard days. There were too many dents to count, the hood had to be tied down with a cord, and large portions of her front fender and rear dumper seemed to be barely holding on. Her story showed that she had taken many wrong turns in her life. Like her Chevy Blazer, her family was showing evidence of life on the wrong path.

The Samaritan House is a ministry of Appalachian Ministry of the Smokies (AMOS), a new Ministry Center Affiliate with Send Relief. AMOS is a poverty relief ministry that works in partnership with the local community and Carson-Newman University. Their goal is to serve families and individuals struggling to meet basic needs.

Karen came to Tennessee with her fiancé, with whom she had two children, a 4-year-old girl and a 9-month-old boy. Her oldest daughter was only six years old; her father had gone to prison years ago. They had traveled from Texas in the Chevy, pulling a camper they had purchased with all their money.

The family planned to move to Tennessee and find a campground to live in until they could save enough money to buy their land. The camper was not livable. They would “fix” it, but the job was too big. They ran out of money. When Karen was asked why they left Texas, she told a strange story about going on a family vacation to Pigeon Forge and falling in love with Tennessee.

But there was more to the story. One day, Karen was crying outside about her situation. She shared that she had not told the truth. Her fiancé was in jail, and Karen was worried that he would be sent back to Texas. She said they left Texas because he was facing child endangerment charges for having left the baby in his car seat alone in their hotel room while taking the girls to a park nearby. Housekeeping came into the room with towels and linens and called the authorities. When the man returned to the hotel with the girls, he was confronted by the police.

Karen was working as a delivery driver and arrived shortly after the police. The couple was given a time to appear in court and was told her fiancé could not be left alone with the children. She still held to her story about how they needed a family vacation and fell in love with Tennessee, but it looked like an attempt to escape consequences in Texas.

The children had never been to school, and although Karen said she had been homeschooling them, they were significantly behind. The 6-year-old did not know her alphabet, could only count to 10, and her speech was difficult to understand. The 4-year-old also struggled with speech. Both girls were energetic and loved running around the house and playground. The baby seemed to be left in his car seat a lot, so we found walkers and a large playpen for Karen to use.

The first goal centered around the children’s needs. There were appointments with the Health Department for checkups and vaccinations. Next, there were calls and appointments with schools. The 6-year-old was admitted into a pre-K class at the local elementary school, and the 4-year-old was accepted into a free preschool program, but there was no bus for her to ride. With Karen’s vehicle issues, the staff at Samaritan House provided transportation until the Family Services office could work this out. Karen had been directed to the Baptist Builders to see if they could help repair the camper. They were willing to try but eventually determined the camper needed more than they could do. American Helping Americans funds were considered for basic car repairs to get the vehicle running. The Tennessee Technologies School was able to diagnose the most pressing mechanical issues and did the work for the price of the parts needed.

We began to discuss long-term plans with Karen. She had a mother and an aunt back in Texas who were talking to her about coming back home. Another relative needed home care after having a leg amputated, and Karen’s mother thought this could be a way for Karen to work for room and board. Karen often shared during weekly Bible Studies. She wanted prayers for her fiancé, car repairs, and her camper to be fixed. Karen had a beautiful voice and would often sing contemporary Christian songs. She had attended many AA and NA meetings during her life, so she sounded like she was sharing at one of these meetings where she would talk about former drug issues and the bad choices she had made.

Karen cared for her children but could not see how her bad choices hurt them. She felt life had been unfair to her and her fiancé, and she often talked about God being able to help. One night at Bible Study, the speaker focused on John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The message was brief but direct to the point. Until she decided to follow Jesus, she would continue on the wrong path.

Karen’s vehicle was finally repaired to take the family back to Texas, hauling her camper behind them. She was still discussing possible plans with her family and found a shelter in Texas near her mother where she could work toward keeping the girls in school. The family member, who needed live-in assistance, was not convinced that taking Karen and her children into his home was a good idea. Unfortunately, getting closer to her incarcerated fiancé may have been a big reason for Karen returning to Texas. We are praying for this family, especially the children who have no choice in the direction their mother takes. Fortunately, DCS has an open case and should be making visits wherever they stay.


Published December 13, 2023