February 12, 2013

Our Neighbors: A heart for ministry and music

By Carrie Dillard
Managing Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Earl Coffey, 93, met his wife, Oshie Lee, at Campground United Baptist Church.  

“I was playing guitar there, helping out a friend,” he said.  “She played piano.”

Earl favored country and bluegrass music before he got saved in 1947 when he was 28 years old.  Now, gospel music, as well as ministry, has his heart.

About 15 years ago, the Coffeys started a worship program at Corbin Health and Rehabilitation Center.  

At the time, Oshie Lee’s mother was a resident there.  She passed away in 2000, but they continued the weekly program because it had come to mean as much to them as it had the residents.

“We love these people,” Earl said.

Together with friends and family, the musical group visits the center every Thursday to offer song, fellowship and scripture to the residents.

The Coffeys attend Laurel River Baptist Church, but the group is known as “Gospel Friends,” because they represent all different churches.

Depending on weather and the week, the singing group could be small or large.  But, faithfully, they come every Thursday.

Regular volunteers include Oshie Lee’s sisters, Emily Cornett and Naomi Proffitt, and family friend and guitarist Samuel Cheek. Earl’s son, Dennis, reads the scripture twice a month.

After 15 years, the residents at the rehab center have become familiar faces, almost like family.

“It really is like being with family.  When one passes away, it’s like losing your own family,” Oshie Lee said.

Administrator Cindy Messer said the Coffeys’ weekly service was “truly a blessing” for the center’s residents. Many residents, because of physical limitations, are no longer able to make it to church every Sunday.  

“Their spirituality has been such a big part of their lives,” she said.  “Through programs like this, they can continue to worship and have church at home.”

It was difficult for Earl to choose his favorite gospel song, but he said residents prefer the old hymns.

“That’s what they want.  The older the better,” he said.

“The older songs have a great message in them,” she agreed.

One of Oshie Lee’s favorites is “Born To Serve The Lord.”

Earl has been playing guitar for 70 years.  He said it was cool with the ladies in his younger years.

“I tell him it still is,” Oshie Lee said with a grin.

Earl grew up in London, so did Oshie Lee.

“We only lived three miles from each other where we were raised up,” he said.  Yet, the two had never met.

Both had been married before; both of their spouses had passed away.

“We were all by ourselves,” she said.  “I think the Lord helped us meet each other.”