Letter from the heartland: Silent factories, human pain

Dear friend,

After a week’s vacation, I’m back now to rural Tennessee.

Forgive my sarcasm, but nothing’s changed here in a week. The high unemployment, the paycheck-to-paycheck population of the area, and the increasing incidence of spousal abuse, teen pregnancy and drug use (prescription and otherwise) still dominate daily life.

We see this far too often in the clientele at the local food bank we operate in our small town.

Up until a decade ago, a mobile home manufacturer ran two large plants here. They operated 24/7, and they provided a decent living for the workers of the area.

But cutbacks and corporate greed won out over taking care of the laborers. Both plants are silent now, yet, even today, they display fading painted aluminum signs that still boast of the worker productivity over the years.

No, the workers did their parts.

It was the greed of the corporation that moved the factory elsewhere, somewhere it didn’t have a union and didn’t have to pay workers a decent wage.

Now, around here, as unemployment sits around 25 percent, there’s nothing much to do except have babies you can’t afford to feed or care for, and then do drugs to forget you can’t care for your family.

Guys who’ve been taught by this culture that showing emotion or not taking care of your family are sure signs of weakness often take out their inability to express frustration by battering the closest thing to them – usually a “significant other” or a child.

In a decidedly Red State, you’d think the churches would step in and help.


The middle class dresses up on Sundays and fills the pews; the poor, by and large, don’t go to church. One local pastor remarked, “We’d like to help them folks, but they gotta help themselves.”

He said this to me from the window of his new pickup truck as he “defended” his church’s decision to not be a part of our food bank collaboration.

It seems the churches around here only help those who can put something in the collection plate every week … and completely miss the irony.

My apologies: it’s not all doom and gloom, my friend. To be fair, some local religious groups practice the Social Gospel, believing that we should imitate the book of Acts when it describes the early church members “selling what they had and sharing with the poor.”

These groups believe that the early church “had all things common,” as Acts says, and that we, too, should imitate that early form of socialism and follow the example of Jesus who fed the hungry, helped the sick, comforted the sorrowful.

But I’m preaching. You probably know this already.

I promise my next letter will be more upbeat.

Until then, I hope your struggle goes well.

In solidarity,

Charlie M.

Photo: A shuttered plant in rural Tennessee. Charles Millson


Charles Millson
Charles Millson

Charlie Millson works in rural middle Tennessee with a food bank and ministers a small church. He's spent time teaching and ministering in the Memphis area and logged two years teaching in Romania, where he adopted his son, Shawn, 16 years ago. He's also the father of a 5-year-old bulldog named Bucky.