Wet and Wild, Just Like He Planned
Well, hello there. Where have you been? Oh, you've been right there? Well then, where have I been? Well, let's see. The kids and the hubby got out of school for summer, so we thought that meant it was time to play!
Less than 24 hours after the end of the school year, we headed to the beach. It was a blast. The kids were great. The weather was perfect. Fun was had by all. What more can you ask of a beach trip? Shrimp? Yep, there was that, too.
Once the trip was completed by the purchase of air brush t-shirsts, we reluctantly headed home.
We dove right into VBS (Vacation Bible School). Just when we'd gotten used to taking it easy, we had to get back on a grueling schedule. I decided this year that the reason you go to VBS everyday until noon and yet you're overcome by an exhaustion that can't compare to a seven-hour school day is that your body is confused. You've told your body it's summer. You've given it a week of sleeping late and relaxing (perhaps at the beach) and then you blindside it with getting up at 6am, getting five people dressed and out the door, and plunging into a class of 15 kindergartners who all expect you to be the best VBS teacher there ever was. Your body is in summer mode and you're treating it like you've taken it to boot camp!
As if VBS wasn't exhausting enough, we decided to take a little family mission trip two days later. Talk about lack of rest!
A few months back, we were discussing our summer plans as a family and decided that we'd rather spend our time and money going on a trip with a purpose other than just fun. (Okay, we did end up taking one of those, too. BONUS!) So we began looking into where we could go to spend some time focused on serving the Lord and maybe have a little fun while doing it. This whole thing became our church's 1st Annual Family Mission Trip.
Where did we go, you ask? Why, we went to the...
Curiously enough, they seemed to have changed the name of our destination from the one you see on the van above to the Mobile Baptist Association's International Ministry Center. I can't image why...well, maybe it's so people wouldn't see the photo above and think our dear friend Amanda had had a successful trip of another kind. Yes, it's the kind of joke a 13-year-old boy would never tire of. But apparently the same goes for a bunch of 30-somethings as well. I'm sorry. It's just funny.
So we knew the whole trip might be in trouble when a few days out from our departure date, we started to get news of the weather forecast. And then we started to get news that the forecasters had indeed been right and the Gulf Coast was flooded, with more rain on the way. But since we're not in charge of rain and the trip had already been booked, we boarded the handy dandy church bus in a monsoon and headed out. On top of that, several of our team members got sick (all of them under the age of 8) and that ended up causing three people to stay behind. Boo!
Nevertheless, the trip must go on. Here's a look at the roster:
Yes, we did wonder if we might perhaps be insane. But the first miracle of the trip occurred when this crew made it 4 1/2 hours away with only one bathroom stop. I know. Shocking.
We arrived and the chaos immediately began. After breaking into the building, unloading enough supplies for an army to stay for a month, and eating some mediocre pizza, I think everyone settled down on our nice comfy cots at about 11pm...or maybe it was later. Kids included. And then....
more rain. And lightning and thunder...on a metal gym roof. Didn't make for a restful night. But we were all raring to go bright and early, or maybe it was closer to 9am. Since the flood didn't make for the best setting for a Backyard Bible Club, we moved onto Plan B. I'm extremely sorry to say that I had to make a run to Sam's for food to feed this crew while everyone else scrubbed urinals and mopped the gym floor. It took me a while to get over the disappointment, but I managed.
Since that wasn't fun enough, we loaded up after lunch and went knocking on strangers' doors, ready to share the Gospel. Let me tell you that this is not my cup of tea. But that is neither here nor there. Up to this point, nothing had gone as planned, which left us with one of two options:
1) Pout, whine, and complain.
2) Acknowledge God's sovereignty and trust His plan.
We all took a vote and decided on option 2. So my friend Crystal and I rounded up a few kids and went knocking. Yep, it was all a bit awkward, but it didn't kill me. Most people thought we were crazy, I think, but then we met Ebby from Kenya. And I like to think that our little group of five sweaty people brightened her day a little and pointed her to a church she could try. A few other lucky people got their brand new Bible as well, and who knows what might come from that.
Then, hot and thirsty, we loaded up the bus and headed back to the ministry center to meet some swashbuckling seafarers from around the world. Okay, I really just watched kids and helped in the kitchen, but many members of our team met men who spend months at a time on a ship, circling the globe, making a first-world income to send back to their third-world families. These men come to the Ministry Center looking for a place to restock and make a call home...a place to relax and take a load off. And this particular night, they found a bunch of rowdy kids and center teeming with people. I'm sure they thought it was cozy, though.
When the seafarers come in, they're offered wireless internet, a ride to Walmart, toiletries, snacks, and a ticket to heaven. Okay, we don't really put it that way, but we were there to give them a Bible in their language and a summary of its message. Where else can you sit on a couch and have the world come through your door, sit down beside you, and hear the gospel? Amazing.
That first night, several men found their way to God, their Maker and Father. And we got a glimpse into why we had come all that way in the rain.
So we went to bed encouraged and listened to more rain pour. Once again, there would be no Backyard Bible Club and more knocking on doors instead. Honestly, I don't think that thrilled anyone, but we had one amazing group of people with some Christ-like attitudes. Instead of complaining, we loaded up the bus once again and headed out to meet some people who didn't expect us. However, we got something we didn't expect from the apartment manager. The cold shoulder.
We were told we could prayer walk, but that we were not allowed to hand out Bibles. So many times, prayer seems to be something we do when we can't do anything else, but we fail to realize that prayer is the real work. We were unable to speak to many people there that day, but we were able to speak to God Almighty on their behalf. We took our kids by the hand and made our way down the streets, asking for the Lord to work in the lives of the people who lived in this place.
As we were about to leave, our friend Robert came running over saying he'd met a lady who was late to work because of a dead car battery and didn't have anyone to help her. We just happened to have a van with jumper cables and were able to meet a need for a person who was having a bad day on top of losing her dad just a couple of weeks ago. She already knew Jesus, but I think we all felt like we'd been an answer to prayer that morning.
With spirits lifted, we headed to apartment complex #2, where we were given the run-around about the government and the Fair Housing Act and denied once again. As the leaders of this expedition, Chris and I started to feel bad about the whole thing quickly taking a nose dive. We'd spent hours of our day with nothing to show for it, or so it seemed. With nothing else to do, we headed to a nearby park to unload and eat lunch.
That sounds pleasant enough, except a park a day after a flood that could also double as an ant farm isn't all that pleasant. But once again, we did the Ant Dance, thanked God for our food, and played. Let me just say that the attitude and behavior of 17 sleep-deprived kids on this trip was miraculous. If you're a parent, you know what I mean. They were great.
With a less than productive morning behind us, many of us headed back to...well, sit. There were odd jobs for part of the team, but most of us moms and little kids went back to spend a little time in the sauna. I mean, the gym. We'd had a surprise, though, and found out we'd be having dinner with a bunch of ladies from the local WMU.
If you're not a long time Southern Baptist, let me tell you what that means. Macaroni and cheese and banana puddin'. Don't think we weren't more than a little excited at what awaited us. Don't get me wrong, our bus driver turned cook, Tammy, was feeding us well. (She was a God-send. She thought she was signing up to be a driver. Ha! She worked the whole time with a smile on her face.) But what can compare to more than a dozen older Southern ladies showing up with some home cookin'? We did get some sad news, though, as we were told that the Banana Pudding Lady had brought pudding last year and thus felt obligated to bring something of a different variety this year. Why anyone would think that is beyond me, but the Good Lord had other plans for us once again. My new friend, Mrs. Lydia, showed up with a blueberry cobbler that had us going back for thirds...and it was totally guilt-free because have you heard about the antioxidants in blueberries? Hello! Super Food!
I'm telling you, a somewhat discouraging morning and afternoon turned into a wonderful evening. We had some amazing food and conversation with a sweet group of ladies, and no sooner was that drawing to a close than a van-load of seafarers showed up. By the end of the night, we'd had three groups come in and multiple salvations.
One of my favorite experiences of the whole trip was when Chris and two of his good friends met with three men from the Phillipines. They met in a small room around a few corners from where I, two friends, and two sweet kids sat on the floor to pray as the meeting took place. As it happened, the two rooms shared a wall, and we were able to hear most of the conversation between the men as it heppened and pray them through each step of the Gospel. I've never been part of prayer in that particular way before as far as I can remember. Thirty minutes later, we got up from the floor and three men walked out of that other room with hands over their hearts and smiles on their faces. We'd all been a part of something that will last forever.
No sooner had that episode ended than another group came in. This time, I found myself in the room with several of my friends and six seafarers as the message of Jesus was shared. Once the way of salvation had been shared, the one lady among the seafarers spoke up. She was from India, a Hindu, and was confused about who to believe on the whole how-to-find-God thing. It was so amazing to be a part of such a friendly conversation among people from at least three different nations about the pathway to God. I never expected it, but the Lord layed something on my heart to share, and I did. We all were so eager for this sweet girl to understand, but her conclusion was still that all the ways and religions she had explored really lead to the same place.
We were ready to bring the conversation to a friendly close, because we knew the people had to get back to their ships, when a soft-spoken man from the Phillipines surprised us all by speaking up. He humbly said, "Would you all turn to Acts 4:12?" After we all got over our surprise at this man joining the conversation, everyone began flipping through the Bible in their hands to find the verse he had asked them to look for. When everyone found it, our team member John asked, "Do you want me to read it or will you?"
"I will," the man answered.
With conviction and humility, he read, "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
He looked up and smiled, and we all smiled along with him. A young college intern working for the summer at the Center was sitting next to the man. With tears in his eyes, he put his hand on the man's shoulder, looked at the young Hindu lady, and lovingly said, "If you're wanting an answer to which way you should follow, there's your answer. I've never met this man before in my life, but the Lord sent him here tonight for a purpose."
We closed in prayer and all left the room touched by the love we had for one another and the love Jesus has for each of us. I talked a few minutes more to my first Hindu friend, Manvy, and encouraged her to read what God has to say in His Word and not to worry so much what men have to say. She left with a smile, happy to be heard and loved, I think.
We all went to our hard, prone-to-folding-up cots that night with full hearts. It had been a memorable night, and we knew that we'd finally get to do at least one morning of Backyard Bible Club in just a few hours.
It was challenging figuring out some scheduling issues and filling everyone in on our last-minute plan, but we arrived at the yard of a sweet expectant mom and member of the local church we were working with, excited to see what the Lord had in store before we headed home.
This was our kids' chance to shine as they just got to be kids, learning about Jesus with other kids. Jack was more than a little excited to lead the songs, complete with dance moves, during music time. We had our plan ready, our recreation stuff all laid out, and our craft supplies prepped. And you'll never guess what happened...our plans got changed!
We ended our time in Mobile with more pizza, some bittersweet goodbyes to new friends and old, and a bunch of exhausted kids. After a good long nap with little heads falling over in bus seats and legs and arms sprawled everywhere, we all woke up to end the ride home by making plans for next year. The trip that didn't go a bit as planned ended up being the trip we couldn't wait to make more plans for.
Just before we'd left Mobile, the missionary/pastor there had shared with us the story where Jesus sends the disciples on a boat through a rough storm (where He met them walking on water) so that He could minister to one demon-possessed man on the other side of the water. When He was done with that, they all piled on the boat and went right back across to where they'd started. The pastor encouraged us with the reminder that sometimes God asks us to load up and head out through the storm and the rain (and maybe even the flood) just to help one or two people. And that is never in vain.
Well, wouldn't you know, I got on that bus, opened up a book I've been reading, and picked up where I'd left off...with the story of Jesus, some disciples, and a rough boat ride to help one man.
The Lord is good, His plans are perfect, and there is no one too insignificant for Him to send a few disciples on a bus ride in the rain to spread a little hope to.