Lucky Fork, Owsley County, Kentucky

This article was submitted by several persons, Bertha Warner and Karen McGraw




Written by Rev. Chester G. Ranck sometime after retirement.


In the Spring of 1931 Margaret Kane and Chester Ranck had conversations with Brother Rugh, a Bible teacher in The Bible institute of Penna.(in Phil, PA). We were told that there was a need for Christian somewhere in rural America.


Brother Rugh said there was a need in Eastern Kentucky under the Faith Mt. Mission. his daughter was serving in that mission. Their workers on the field were all single women and the mission desired to add a married couple to establish a center some distance up the Quicksand Creek. After approval by the mission, Margaret and Chester prepared for the trip to eastern Ky.


Chester graduated from the Bible Institute of Penna. on Friday night June 26th. At 3 p.m., June 27th, 1931, Margaret and Chester were married. Brother Rugh was in the reception line, and gave us encouragement. There were some problems at Noctor, Ky. and were asked to delay our arrival. Mr. Rugh said he would advise us by writing to our hotel in Washington, D.C.


While in the Capital City there were two requests for us to serve in nearby communities. We did not believe we should accept, but we did them as encouragement. To cut down expenses while waiting word from Noctor, we went inland to Linden, VA., where we had a room in a summer boarding house. While there, we were invited to take over the Christian work  in a nearby community. Here again we believed that the Lord was giving encouragement. While at Linden, we did have opportunity to witness.


Finally, word came, telling us to go forward to Jackson, Ky. There was no one to meet us for several days. But we met Sam VandeMeer, who was attending a county teachers meeting. On July 23rd, 1931, there  was still a desire for more time at Noctor. So Sam asked Lillian Rugh who was also attending the teachers meeting, if he could take us to a Sunday School convention at Canoe, Ky. and then on to Morris Fork for a few days. Miss Rugh agreed.


To get to the S.S. convention we had to ride horses and take a long ford (in the middle fork of the Ky. River) to a point upstream. We were able to contribute songs and message to the convention. We met a number of Morris Fork personalities - some of them are still living and keep in touch with us.


Rev. VanderMeer sent word to Miss Rugh that he would be glad to take care of us until the situation at Rousseau was “smoothed out”. That did not develop for us, and as far as we can tell, the mission plans for the community never did develop as they had planned. As we see it, the Lord used Faith Mr. Mission invitation as bait to get us into eastern, Ky.

Rev. VanderMeer believed that we were the answer to their prayers concerning the Lucky Fork community in Owsley Co. After prayer, we agreed to stay with the VanderMeers, and preparations were made for our going to Lucky Fork, (five person from L.F. invited us to settle there).


In August 1931 there was a trip on animals to Lucky Fork. We stopped at the one-room school house at the mouth of the Steel Trap. The teacher invited us to give some time to the pupils. Chester taught some Choruses, and Margaret told some stories. We were impressed by two girls who sat together. Later, they were the first to make decisions for Christ.


The VanderMeers left for a much needed vacation, and told us to take care of their work at Morris Fork. Later, there were other trips that the VanderMeers had to make, and we carried on for them.


On Sundays Margaret had the Young Peoples Class in the Sunday School and Chester had the Adult Class, and had the choir for the church service. In the afternoon Margaret helped with the Junior C.E. (Christian Endeavor) group, while Chester rode 3 miles  to the Sandlin Community. There help was given to a fine mountain Baptist preacher. During the week  there were trips to the Lucky Fork school house, and Margaret helped with the 4-H clubs and the women’s meetings at Morris Fork.


In our spare time at night we prepared drawings for a community house for Lucky Fork. It was our intention to board in the Lucky fork community until the building was in readiness. We had looked at several sites for our house, and finally settled on a location among some young pines on the hillside.


During those days there were groups from other points who gave invitations to work in their community - offering to give an acre of land and build a house for us. There was also an invitation to take over a work for the Presbyterian Church in Leslie County.


But the Lord had other plans. Mrs. VanderMeer had to go to a locality where she could get hospital help quickly. The Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church asked the VanderMeers to move to Wooten, Ky. to care for the work started by Miss McCord, a pioneer missionary. She was to retire and the VanderMeers were to care for that work until replacements could take over in 1933. So we were invited to take care of all the work at Morris Fork Center. That was a good preparation for us before going into Lucky Fork.


In July 1932, the school house  at Lucky Fork was destroyed by fire. On warm days the Sunday School often met under the sycamore trees along the creek. Later, when cold weather set in, we had to meet in one of the homes.


In the winter of 1932-33 Chester and a local man planed the rough lumber and assembled all the window frames  that were to go in the Lucky Fork house. In the fall of 1932 the poplar logs for the house walls were cut to await the building program in 1933.


Chester was not free to start until the 2nd week in June 1933, after the VanderMeers arrived back at Morris Fork. He lived with the VanderMeers, and rode or walked the four miles to the job. On Sundays he assisted the VanderMeers in their regular services. Margaret had gone to Philadelphia with Graham (one year old), to stay with her mother until Chester advised her to come back to Kentucky.


After the cellar walls were completed, men from Morris Fork joined the Lucky Fork men in a log raising. Six men who were good at notching logs took care of firmly setting the logs at the several corners. Two men under a “boss” man sawed for the prescribed length of each log. Other men carried each piece to its proper place in the wall. One man (the carpenter) saw to the wall being plumb. With the exception of the two longest top logs, the walls were set that day.


In September that year (1933) we, Chester and Margaret, her mother and Graham, moved into the house. Local people with Morris Fork families had a surprise “house-warming” for us, bringing all types of food for winter use. The following Sunday we had our first service  as resident workers, using one section of the unfinished  school house, and that room lacked a great deal before winter set in.


In February 1933 Federal P.W.A. workers had leveled the site for the school house. Many of those men donated  one-half for leveling the site for our house.


A scale model of the school house had been submitted to the Board of Education in Booneville, and accepted. The building called for two class rooms and dressing rooms, and a smaller room that later served as a kitchen. A school lunch was served in the winter months at the cost of two cents per child. Vegetable soup for the term was prepared by the mothers in a one day (summer) working. Families supplying vegetables for the sup mixture  received credit for their children.


When the school term started in July 1933 only one room was available for use. We used that one room for services each Sunday morning. There was a brief recess between the Sunday School and church service. Margaret had the children in our living room and kitchen, and some Sundays there were  60 children present.


The first Thanksgiving offering taken at Lucky Fork was sent  to the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America in Chicago. We believed with Paul, “to the JEW FIRST and also to the Greeks.” Rom. 1:16.


In December 1934 our son, Graham, went to be with Jesus (Scarlet Fever) and was buried on the hillside near our house. Friends and church groups desired to place a memorial at Lucky Fork in memory of Graham. Their gifts made possible the dispensary. The building was used for maternity cases and public health clinics. Eighteen babies were born in the dispensary. Nursing care was also provided for special cases. When federal funds supported a maternity set-up in Oneida, we discontinued the maternity services.


Chester was invited to meet an independent church council in Philadelphia for examination for ordination. Our home pastor, the Rev. Warren R. Ward, was a member of that council. Chester was accepted for ordination with the understanding he would continue in the Kentucky mountains, and not use the ordination as a stepping stone to get into churches in larger area. The ordination took place in the Berachuh Church in Philadelphia.


On May 3rd, 1936, in the Lucky Fork school house, the matter of a local church was presented to the adults assembled. There was a unanimous response in favor. Those who had accepted Christ as Savior were invited to step forward if they desired to have membership in the Faith Hill Community Church. Nine persons stepped forward, and were received by Rev. Ranck on the re-affirmation of their faith.


Then the membership was open to those who had been baptized, but had no church home. Five persons came forward and were received on the public affirmation of their faith. Others desired membership on succeeding Sundays, some by confession of faith and others by re-affirmation of their faith.


The matter of elders was then presented to the congregation. Only those who were now member of Faith Hill Community Church were permitted to nominate and to vote. The voting was done by secret ballots. Three were selected; Jerry Baker, St., Ezekiel Gilbert, and Arthur Caudell. A rotating system was set up. Rev. Ranck performed the ordination service and the men were designated with the laying on of hands. Thus, in this manner the church was established, following the pattern of the Apostle Paul. Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5.


A desire for a church building was expressed. Margaret Ranck announced that the offerings had now totaled $200. She said it would be a sign for us to go ahead if a similar sum should be received. That provision was soon received from various persons and groups. Pledges were given to those in the community who wished to have a part in the building, logs, labor, cash or mules could be pledged.


The message of preparation was taken from the Old Testament where the Israelites were invited to present their contributions for the Tabernacle.


The following Sunday a scale model of the proposed church was unveiled; the roof was lifted, and the congregation came forward and reverently placed their pledges inside the model.


Soon after that, men started cutting the rocks and laying the stonework. The log walls were in readiness and the tall stone chimney pointed upward, when the work was halted. A flashflood washed out the mill where the lumber was to be sawed. Two other  mills that might have been available were also washed out. Finally, a mill at some distance was available so we could continue the work.


That mill owner had some valuable lumber stacked near the creek. The high water covered that lumber, and he was afraid to sell to lumber mills because of the imbedded sand grains. so we secured that lumber a good figure. As all the local lumber that was used for the building was planed by hand, the sand grains did not provide much of a problem. A Lucky Fork man was a sawyer and the mill owner asked Bob to do his sawing. That was beneficial to us, for Bob knew our building pattern.


The dedication of the church took place in May 1930. We did not have any pews, so we had to use chairs and all sorts of items to seat all who attended.


Five young mothers took a teacher training course under Margaret’s leadership. so we had a graded Sunday School program, followed by the church service. In the years 1940 and 1941 the average attendance in Sunday School was 108, the highest in the county.


Before we were married we were impressed by the faith of George Muller as presented in a book by Dr. A.T. Pierson. We also sat under the preaching and teaching of our many-talented pastor. In bible conferences and in books about Hudson Taylor, the principle of living by faith found a place in our hearts. The financial miracles at the orphanage in Bristol, England and in the China Inland Mission were very impressive. So we accepted for ourselves the thrice repeated bible admonition: “The just shall live by his faith.” So our financial needs were never mentioned by our spoken word or in writing. No one dollar was pledged to us when we left Philadelphia. We had turned over to the Lord all our earthly possessions. It has been a thrilling experience through the years to see how the Lord honored our faith. sometimes the money balance was very low, but we believed Isaiah 64:4 (A.S.V.): “For from of old, men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath seen a God besides Thee, who worketh for him that waiteth for Him. “


Visitors came to see us, and on their return to their churches and communities, they told others of the work of Faith Hill Community Center. Invitations to speak in churches and to groups became so numerous we had to parcel out the acceptances. Sometimes schedules were made a year in advance. We never asked for invitations to speak. They came unsolicited and represented several denominations. Thus, there was a widening circle of prayer helpers and supporters.  


Correspondence was a big task, for our letter writing was by hand. A printed letter went out once a year. Our pastor advised us at the start to avoid form letters and number records. “Your supporters want to feel the personal touch”. that will mean a closer tie between you and those who are interested in the work. As a result of his advice, thousands of hand-written letters went in the mail. We often had to use “the midnight oil” to keep abreast of our correspondence. We did not consider that part of our ministry a chore, but a communion in the “fellowship of the Gospel.” Our pastor said, “Your mission work is not only on the field, but also in keeping your prayer partners informed, that their faith will be deepened , too.”


With additional helpers, we were able to accept a call for help from families at the head of Indian Creek. Later, on the pleas of others on Indian Creek, we rented a house at Stringtown. )We told people we did not want to interfere with the attendance in a local Baptist Church). We held services in the house, with an overflow on the porches and in the yard. When cold weather came we were asked  to vacate the house at a certain date. We “waited on the Lord” and he opened the way for a more adequate building. That was the beginning of “The Ricetown Bible Center”. The testimony there was not in opposition to denominational churches in the area.


For some years families on the Right Hand Fork called for our services. When other workers joined our program, Chester made the fourteen mile horseback ride on Sunday afternoon. Later, when men agreed to keep creek beds safe for cars and trucks, we were able to make the trip on wheels. We made it a principle in our work to never go into a community unless a definite invitation  came from the people living there.


When the owner of a cottage at Mistletoe asked us to purchase that property, we were not inclined to accept. But we were constrained “from above” and finally agreed to purchase. A few days after the deed was sealed , we were offered a substantial price above the figure we paid. Then, too, the husband who signed the deed with his wife, died shortly after the deed was recorded in the clerk’s office. Further delay on our part would have placed the property out of reach, for the heirs were numerous.


Believers at Mistletoe, by confession of faith or by re-affirmation of their faith, were considered as members of Faith Hill Community Church. This was done to encourage inter-community activities. The Mistletoe branch had its elders, and the congregation had a say as to where their mission was to go.


Each congregation was encouraged to recognize foreign missions and Christian ministries in the home land. Of course , there was always willingness to help local families in times of distress.


The Lucky Fork membership continued support of native couples in training in Africa up until 1969, when Margaret and Chester had to relinquish the work in Owsley County. Each couple was supported for three years, then another couple was assigned to the Lucky Fork congregation.


China was the first foreign mission interest. Funds were sent through Caucasian missionaries, who turned the contribution over to a Chinese pastor. When the Communist advance included that area, all correspondence with American friends had to stop in order to prevent abuse to the pastor and his flock.


When the mission incorporated under Kentucky statutes, another name was given to the work: Faith Hill Mission Center, Inc. but the name of the church did not change.


For income tax purposes Faith Hill Community Church was listed as being under the care of Faith Hill Mission Center, Inc.


We give all the praise “to Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us.” We still live in the “glow” of His faithfulness in times of adversity and in sickness. We continue to be awed when we think of the wonderful answers to prayer in fire and floods. We still remember how the Lucky Fork Creek was isolated from the flooded creeks on the other side of the ridges, when there was the need of a low creek to bring home a patient from a Lexington hospital. “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, Thy Savior.”  Isa.43:2-3


“The greater aid our woes demand,

The nearer is His helping hand.”



* Photo in Border submitted by Nancy Frost Moulton, Other photo of Faith Hill submitted by Betty Bowman Gabbard