A remarkable gift

John I. Carney
4 min readOct 29, 2018

I got home from work today, and my driver’s side power window broke. I will take it to the body shop tomorrow. I heard a little piece clatter to the bottom of the door; best-case-scenario is that some sort of bolt worked itself loose and it will be an easy fix. But I can’t count on the best-case scenario.

Anyway, I was so distracted that I didn’t immediately check my mailbox, the way I would on any other day. When I finally got around to it, I opened the front door of the apartment and there was an Amazon box in between the door and the screen door. I had ordered several things recently from Amazon, but the only thing I haven’t already received is very small and will probably arrive in a cushioned mailer rather than a box.

But this package wasn’t actually from Amazon; when I flipped it over, I saw that it was an old Amazon box that had been repurposed and sent to me by Greg and Gwynda Patterson, two Mountain T.O.P. friends of mine.

I was, understandably, curious. I opened the box, and there was a letter. Gwynda and Greg are downsizing and giving away some of their possessions. They had sent me a Mountain T.O.P. 20th aniversary shirt, along with a mug and two candlesticks from the Mayhews.

Phil and Terri Mayhew operate Beersheba Porcelain, a shop in Beersheba Springs which adjoins the big United Methodist retreat center there. On Wednesday night of a summer AIM week, we always had free time, and while it was actually free time, the most common activity was always for most of the camp to drive, en masse, from Altamont to Beersheba Springs, spend a little time at the overlook in front of the retreat, and then drop in on the Mayhews, who are friends of the Mountain T.O.P. ministry. Phil would be set up on the front porch with his potter’s wheel, and would give demonstrations.

Many Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry regulars own quite a lot of Mayhew pottery.

I am not one of them. In fact, until I opened my cardboard box today, I did not own a single piece, which is somewhat scandalous.

It’s just that, well, I don’t drink coffee, and I already have plenty of mugs for cocoa. I had no need of a mug. And from 2010 until 2015, I was in debt management, without a lot of spending money, sometimes attending AIM thanks to the good graces of the ministry or its donors. The years before 2010, when I was headed towards crisis, weren’t exactly cash-rich either.

So, long story short, I never actually bought anything at the Mayhews. I felt kind of guilty about this, and the last few times I went to Mountain T.O.P. I just stayed in camp on Wednesday evenings and checked my e-mail rather than sit on Phil Mayhew’s front porch without buying anything.

But, my friends, I now own a Mayhew mug and two candlesticks, thanks to Greg and Gwynda and their downsizing.

Gwynda’s letter was bittersweet in another way. She confirmed what I had already suspected, in fact what I had been expecting for the last several years: after years of declining numbers, Mountain T.O.P. will no longer be doing week-long AIM camps during the summer. The weekend home repair camps (some of which are quite well-attended) will continue. I have no idea what will become of Summer Plus or Kaleidoscope, whether the ministry will still try to continue them through some alternate model outside the AIM program.

Week-long summer AIM camps, and the Summer Plus and Kaleidoscope programs, were my primary camper involvement with Mountain T.O.P. for the past 25 years (exactly 25 — from summer 1993 through summer 2018). I was also on the board, of course, for 12 years over a 14-year period starting in 1994. But I so looked forward to those summer AIM weeks. For a stretch of time in the late 90s, I was able to do two weeks a summer — one week of Summer Plus and one week of Kaleidoscope.

Mountain T.O.P.’s biggest ministry, Youth Summer Missions, is still going like gangbusters, drawing thousands of teenage volunteers from throughout the eastern U.S. And the adult ministry will continue with those home repair weekends. By sheer dumb coincidence, the only other piece of mail I got today was a report on what Mountain T.O.P. is accomplishing and encouragement to donate to support the ministry.

I will no doubt attend more AIM weekends in the future. I wanted to be there this past weekend, the one weekend that isn’t exclusively home repair, to help with Mountain T.O.P.’s Fall Festival. But the craziness of my current work situation would not let me get away.

Still, my heart broke a little bit when I realized I wouldn’t be doing any more of those summer AIM weeks. There was something special about getting away for a full week, and the friendships you built over a week-long camp were different somehow than the ones you build during a long weekend.

I’ll think of those weeks when I fill my mug with Abuelita hot chocolate later tonight. I’ll drink a toast, to Greg and Gwynda, and Gail Castle, and George Bass, and both of the Jans, and Smitty, and the Pipers, and Frank Schroer, and so many other people with whom I was in camp during those 25 years.

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike