Hebrews 12:1-2

"..let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." - Hebrews 12:1-2

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Reality Check
Our first morning in Mississippi, we loaded some food and household supplies into the trucks and piled into the vans to deliver it to a nearby distribution center. As we drove down the street, the light of day instantly revealed what the night had so well hidden: destruction. There were trees down everywhere. There were boats in yards that weren't on the waterfront. There were refridgerators and ovens on the shoulder of the road, with no evidence of a house nearby.

As we pulled into Waveland, the people in our van became silent. Destroyed buildings lined what used to be the business district, some with a roof still intact, while others had no walls. Many were simply flattened or washed away. As we pulled into what used to be a shopping center (with a Big K and a movie theater as well as several other stores) the reality of what we were dealing with was realized. Huge circus style tents had been pitched on the parking lot of this plaze and we began to unload the goods into one of these tents. Next to the entrance labeled "Volunteers only" there was a whiteboard hanging that said "Items needed to pray for today: Diapers". I quickly said a prayer for the need and then thought "How could a place in the USA be in need of diapers? After all, they are a basic necessity for children..."

God uses a lot of things to answer prayer, and in this case we were the answer. After taking several items into the tent, we found a bunch of diapers in the back of the trailer. now it wasn't a ton of diapers, maybe a couple of hundred, but it was an answer to the prayers of many people. We then found out that this complex of tents was run by volunteers, who had just been praying in their daily group meeting that God would send help. There were five people to run the food tent, the clothing tent and cook the food that they serve every day to over 400 people. They had said "Amen" and had begun to get ready to open the tents in faith that God would provide help or give them strength to do what He had called them to do when we pulled up with almost 20 people. We stayed and helped man the distribution tables in the food tent.

For two hours we stocked tables with peanut butter, jelly, toilet paper, baby food, canned vegetables, soap, deodorant and everythign else that you might need to survive day to day. The people entered the tent at one end and worked their way around the horseshoe-shaped setup, placing their items in the K-mart shopping carts that would never again roll across freshly mopped tiled floors. In order to make sure there was enough for everyone who needed it, we had to ration certain items: 1 roll of paper towels, 2 rolls of toilet paper, one jar of peanut butter, 12 baby food jars, 12 cans of vegetables per person. Do you know how hard it is to tell someone that they cannot take as many rolls of toilet paper that they want/need or that they cannot have both crunchy and creamy peanut butter because you might run out? I never would have thought I would have to do that, but I did and it was a terrible experience.

I saw children with no shoes on their feet - not because they didn't want to wear them, but because they didn't have any. I saw mothers trying to figure out how they could feed their families with the meager portions they were allowed to take. I was told that most of these people come to the food tent everyday to eat and get food and supplies for home. With scary normalcy, almost every other person through the line asked me if I had any cleaning supplies, which I didn't. (Some of these people were living in what was left of their homes, without being able to clean them up because they didn't have any supplies.)

Perhaps the most heart-rending aspect of this whole activity was the way the people would look at me and thank me. They have lost their homes, family members and jobs and here I am just pushing a jar or peanut butter across a table to them and they are thanking me?!? The tenderness and vulnerability in a lot of the people was simply overwhelming. Twice I found myself gazing around the tent at the people and beginning to get choked up. But I wouldn't allow myself to cry. Not here. Not now. Not in front of these people.

It's not because I am too proud to cry in front of people, I'm not at all. It's just that in those moments I thought to myself about what these people had already been through and how, after three months, they were trying to move beyond the disaster as best as they could. If I were them, I wouldn't want to show up for food everyday to see a new volunteer crying over me. I wouldn't want to have to deal with that. The sorrow and helplessness that surrounded this tent complex was more than an ever-present reminder of what had happened to these people, they didn't need another one inside the tent.

One of the most touching moments of the day for me happened when I noticed an elderly couple enter the tent together and join the line. I watched them as they made their way through the line, picking items off the tables and gently placing them in their cart. The gentleman was quite dapper in a suit jacket with matching pants, a nice fairly pair of shoes, a tie and a hat. The lady was wearing a dress adorned with lace and she had on a pair of dress shoes that mathed. As they came to my table I said hello and commented on how nice they both looked in their fancy dress. I was thanked by both immediately and then they shared the following with me.

"We left in our car the day before (Hurricane Katrina made landfall)... When we came back our house was gone... So we went to our church, but it was gone... We drove to our favorite restaraunt, but there was nothing left... So we slept in our car for a couple of days, then found a tent and slept in it for a couple of weeks. We have nothing left... We got all of these clothes at the clothes tent next door... We just got a trailer on loan the other day and this morning we went to a new church and they didn't mind that we were there..."

How do you respond to that? How do you reply to someone telling you that they have lost everything? I'll tell you how I responded. I fought back the urge to cry, placed my hands out for them both and held one of each of their hands in mine. In that moment, all I could say was "Well, I'm glad your here." And that was true and they knew it. They talked about how greatful they were that people were trying to help them. We talked briefly about how God is still blessing them through it all and blessing us for allowing us to come try and help.

They refused to take a jar of jelly, because they thought that there might be children who would want it more. Instead they took 5 packets of jam (the kind you might get at Denny's), a roll of paper towels, some toilet paper and then thanked me again as they walked on down the line... A few minutes later, I though that I could have asked them if they would like to come back to Missouri with me. Lisa and I could provide them with rooms, food and care. But I didn't ask, because in that moment I hadn't thought of it. We had room in the car, we could have brought them back. But something tells me they wouldn't have accepted my offer, for the same reason they didn't accept the jar of jelly- someone else could use it more.

We ate lunch in the meal tent and then loaded up in the vans and left the complex. There were more than a few of us who would have gladly stayed all day and worked there all week, but it wasn't why we were here so we moved on. I'm thankful for the chance to talk to some of the people of Waveland, MS and they will always have a special place in my heart.

We took a driving tour of the area for the next hour and a half, and what I saw was unbelievable. Entire sbdivisions erased from the earth, without a single brick or wall left standing. You could look down a road and see foundations, but nothing else. There were houses that remained standing, btu they had been flooded and damaged beyond repair and it was obvious that they would have to be torn down eventually. We drove along the beachfront and sat in unbeliefe as the devastation rolled by mile after mile. I found myself so overwhelmed by it all that it became almost routine to see mattresses, clothes and appliances 20 feet up in the trees that had somehow withstood the onslaught. The piles of debris that stood 15 feet tall everywhere became commonplace.

We drove into Biloxi and saw the damage to the downtown district. We saw the casinos that had been ripped apart. We saw the hotels that had their bottom three floors completely swept clean of beds, lamps, tables and anything else that had once been held between the walls that were no longer there. We were dumbfounded by the perfectly intact Waffle House sign (not a letter broken or missing) that stood above a lot that now only held a concrete foundation with some tile still intact. We marvelled at the casino barge that was moved a half mile and placed on top of a two story hotel, utterly crushing what had been left of it.

And I wanted the tour to be finished. I had seen enough in the first 15 minutes to appreciate the enormity of what happened here. I visualized the lives that had been forever altered and the ones that had been lost. I knew why I was here, and I hoped to be an active participant in somehow helping to begin the process of healing for someone. I wanted to do something other than sit and gawk at the misery and destruction around us.

I was shocked by what I had seen in my first day in the gulf coast region. The mountains of debris still blocking some of the roads... The tents that some people were still living in on their property surrounded by what had once been their homes... The people still standing in lines for food, clothing and the everyday necessities of life...

This isn't what you expect to see 3 months after a disaster. This isn't the way things are supposed to be in the United States... Yet they were. And I was glad I was here to try and be part of a solution...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

On the Road
Our trip down south was quite uneventful, with a couple of exceptions. From St. Louis we drove down I-55 and tried to sleep as much as possible in the morning. After lunch I found it virtually impossible to sleep, as we were getting closer to our destination and further from places that I had seen before. I guess it is just my curious nature to want to see as much of the countryside as possible, when I haven't seen it before. (Once I've seen it a few times, I'm more than happy to doze off to sleep and let the miles fly by unseen.)

We stopped at a Rest Area in northern Mississippi, which in and of itself is nothing spectacular to think about. However, in retrospect this was the last point at which we were not directly impacted by the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. From this point on, every stop we made was impacted in one way or another by the Hurricane.

As we made our way further south, gas prices went further north. While we added to the mileage on the 15 passenger van we were riding in, we began to notice fewer people heading south. We started noticing a tree here or there that had been knocked down by the storm. Soon we started seeing trees that weren't merely split, but totally uprooted by the winds. As were neared the coastline, it became common to see vast numbers of trees downed and uprooted and unusual to see a stand of trees left untouched. The remnants of trees that had undoubtedly blocked the highway at one point still sat thrown to the side of it, without any attempt to pile them up or organize them at all. It was obvious that whomever cleared them was not worried about it looking pretty or easy to clean up later.

We finally made the turn east and were essentially driving parallel to the coastline for a long time. At this point, the skys grew dark and it began raining quite hard. It was eerie to drive along a highway had no lights and that was surrounded by darkness. Evidence of humanity was all around: a single shoe laying here, a mattress there, a washing machine on the shoulder, a blanket entangled 20 feet high in a tree. It was in thee moments that I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be. Driving past the edge of neighborhoods where you could see blue tarps on every roof and knowing that if all that these people lost was their roof then they were fortunate.

We started running low on gas, so we exited where we saw a gas station sign. Upon turning onto the road it quickly became obvious that something was terribly wrong. We found the gas station about a quarter mile down on the right. There was the shell of a building with no glass windows in the front and a partially collapsed rear wall, an awning that at one point had hung over the gas pumps but was now only connected to the building at one end and sat resting on the pumps nearest the road (crushing them). We carefully turned around and made our way back into the darkness to get back on the highway. It's one of those things you don't really think about until you experience it - where do you get gas for your vehicle when gas station have been destroyed? This provided the answer to the question of why we had begun to see a lot of abandoned vehicles on the side of the road.

We made our way into the neighborhood where we would be staying for the next week. A local church had agreed to let Service International use their flooded sanctuary as their base camp for the Biloxi area operations. We entered the building to the smell of dinner cooking and fresh paint. Evidently, a group from Kentucky had arrived earlier in the day and painted a couple of the rooms in the church. There was also a family from Kansas City, MO who had travelled down on their own and arrived a few hours before we did.

I sat down for dinner surrounded by strangers in a strange place and somehow I felt right at home. We introduced ourselves to one another and it didn't take long to start to feel the common bonds that tied us together: a heart to serve, a love for people and a passion for God. We watched a couple of training videos and then headed off to our beds, ready for whatever tomorrow might bring our way and absolutely not ready at all...
Prelude to a Trip
I left the house at 4:10 this morning in order to be at the Family Church in Chesterfield by 5:30. Those of you who are familiar with the St. Louis area and know where Lisa and I live instantly realize that it normally would take 45 minutes or so to drive there from our house. However, I was not driving a normal car. I was driving "Old Blue"(1990 Cavalier), which in the past few weeks had begun overheating slightly on extended drives. So I left really early so that I could stop for a few minutes, if need be, to cool the vehicle down.

Well, on this morning I had only driven 2 miles or so and, to my suprise and fear, the Temp light blinked on. I quickly pulled off into the White Castle parking lot and threw open the hood. I added a little water to the radiator, but it seemed to have plenty of fluid. I checked the oil and added a quart. After about 5 minutes of waiting, I fired up the car and continued on my way. I made it most of the way down highway 94 toward Interstate 40 when the Temp light and Check Engine lights decided to come on at the same time. Now in the weeks of running hot, the car had never shown the check engine light.

As I pulled of the road into a deserted bank parking lot I heard a slight rattling coming from under the hood and as I stopped I caught a glimpse of smoke coming from the tailpipe. Once again I lifted the hood and let things cool and checked the fluids once more. I added quite a bit of water/coolant to the radiator this time and waited for the car to cool. After 10 minutes of waiting, I started the car once again and continued on my way.

Accelerating onto Interstate 40 I heard the rattle once again, but this time it was accompanied with a billowing cloud of smoke pouring from behind the car. Immediately the Temp and Engine lights came on and I pulled to the shoulder. By now it was 5:10 and I was frustrated and worried that I would not make it to the church on time. I sat in the car wondering what I should do. I felt that I had reached a place where God was trying to show me something, so I began to pray that I would receive the lesson or wisdom that He had for me. In those minutes of prayer, I went from being frustrated to very content. I prayed about my situation. I prayed about the car. I prayed about my motivation for going on this trip. Feeling much more focussed on my motivation and purpose for where I was headed, I started the car back up.

Not knowing whether or not I would make it all the way to my destination, I pulled back on to the highway and slowly began to build momentum. I still had smoke billowing from behind me and I could hear an occasional rattle from in front of me. I made it about a mile down the road when the Temp light blinked on again. Feeling quite determined and not wanting to stop right away again, I pressed on going 10 miles per hour below the limit. I limped my way across the Daniel Boone bridge and thought about pulling over. In that moment I decided that if God wanted me to go on this trip He was going to have to get me to the church in this car. And if I wasn't suppose to go on this trip, God would allow my car to stop moving toward the church. (Some might question the validity of such a prayer, but in that moment it is what I was asking God to do - show me clearly whether He wanted me on the trip or not.)

I exited at Boone's Crossing and made my way into Amini's parking lot and stopped the car once again to cool down. I sat for five minutes and decided that I needed to get moving again. At this point I was less than a mile from the church and it was already 5:35. I pulled into the church parking lot and whipped into the first avaialble spot, where "Old Blue" promptly died and sputtered for a few seconds. I had made it to the church almost on time. Thankfully, the group was not ready to leave yet, so I was able to load my stuff up without having to make anyone wait on me.

The sun had not even come up over St. Louis yet and I had already been in my car for well over an hour, propped the hood up numerous times, added fluids twice and prayed quite intensely throughout the whole ordeal. It was an odd way to start out a mission trip, but it was an absolutely perfect way for God to recenter my focus on Him...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lisa and I went looking for a car last night at several lots, but didn't really see anything we liked too much. Lisa then realized that the father of one of her friends was selling his car. So, we drove out to their house, took a little test drive and ended up buying the car from them right then and there. We felt really good about buying the car from a family friend and we knew that it had been taken care of - not to mention that we both liked it inside and out. It's a 2002 Dodge Intrepid with lower miles than the Escort and decent gas mileage. The amount we got from the insurance company for the totalled Escort was a fair deal and it allowed us to pay cash for this newer vehicle.

God provides...

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Today, I traveled with the musical group I am a part of (“The Isle of Dreams”) for a performance in Champaign, IL at The Church of the Living God. We left at 4am from St. Louis and were doing a sound check in the church by 8:30am. We sand two songs in their first service and then prepared for our full performance, which began at 12:30pm. The performance went really well and everyone sounded amazing. God was lifted up and the people were very receptive to the Message in the songs. It was an amazing time of celebration and worship and everyone in attendance was blessed, including the cast.

After having lunch, we loaded up the cars and headed home in a little caravan. I was driving the white Escort, with two cast members, Amanda and Lisette, in the back seat. We talked throughout the entire trip home about how the day had gone and how good God is to us. We spent time reflecting on what He has done for us, and what he has brought us through and was simply gloried in how Marvelous and Wonderful He Is. .

We were planning on a gas/restroom break within the next few exits when suddenly a deer appeared in front of us. (I saw it because I was driving, the women didn’t see it because it happened so fast and they weren’t as focused as I was on the road.) At almost 70 miles per hour, you don’t have any time to avoid striking something when it suddenly appears a couple of feet in front of you. I didn’t even have time to react before we had struck the deer. Both of the airbags in the front of the car deployed, and instantly the car was filled with smoke. I had no other option but to begin braking as aggressively as possible without slamming them on and to steer towards the shoulder on the right of the interstate. I could not see anything, due to the cracked windshield and smoke, but I heard the “wake-up bumps” go under us once and then a few seconds later I heard them again. At this point I figured I was off the roadway enough to bring the car to a complete stop and exit the vehicle. Keep in mind that all of this happened within 20 seconds of impact.

Recalling that we were traveling in a caravan, there were bound to be other vehicles involved. One of our other drivers, Cornell, was directly behind me when he saw the deer jump into our path. He immediately slammed on his brakes and swerved to the left to avoid the debris. Thankfully, there was no vehicle in the left lane at that moment, or there would have been more damage and mayhem added to this story. Cornell immediately pulled up behind us and was out of the car shortly after I was out of ours. A truck with four men in it saw the accident and stopped in front of us to help. After these men were confident of our physical safety, they proceeded to search for the deer along the ditch. (After several minutes of searching, they found the deer. All four of them were hunters and they estimated it to be a two-year old, eight point buck weighing in somewhere between 160 and 200 pounds.)

When the airbags deployed on impact (as they are designed to do), it was at the same moment as my first reaction to the deer. In that moment I gasped in. In doing so, I collected a great big breath of smoke and powder. So not only could I not see what was going on around us outside the car, but I also could not breath inside the car. When the car stopped I had the presence of mind to turn on the hazard lights, but didn’t hesitate to throw open my door and step out onto the highway. I turned and saw though squinted eyes that nobody was coming at that particular moment and made my way around the car to the grassy embankment that led down to a ditch. (Keep in mind that if somebody had been in that left lane, I would have only known it right before being struck by them.) The ladies through open their doors in the back and climbed out of the car as well.

I took a moment to do a quick inventory on my physical condition. I didn’t feel anything broken and I didn’t taste or see any blood upon initial inspection. I was gasping for air, from both the shock of what had happened and the swallowing of smoke, but I appeared to be fine. (Later on I discovered a small one-inch scratch/burn on my leg from the airbag.) Within moments of being on the side of the road, Cornell and his wife, Faith, were at our side checking on us. It took about 30 seconds for us to verify that we were all physically unharmed, although mentally and emotionally shocked. In that moment, there was only one thing left to do that needed to be done as soon as possible.

So out under the star lit sky of Illinois, on the shoulder of I-70, next to a car that had the first two feet of it crushed in by the impact of a deer at high speed, the three occupants of that car lifted up their heads and their hands and praised God for how Great He Is. In a moment like that, with all that had been said and done up to that point in that day alone, how could our response have been any different? If we had not given God the glory He was/is due for what He had done in sparing us death and injury, how could we have stood before a crowd to sing of His Mercy, Love and Grace? It was the embodiment of worship in a place where although it might be unexpected, it is absolutely appropriate and deserved.

With everything that I’ve seen, heard and been a part of, there is nothing else that compares to this situation in my walk of faith. I’ve been in an accident with an 18 wheel tractor trailer and walked away without a scratch, but I was not living a life that brought God any praise at that time. I’ve seen God do amazing things in other people. I’ve seen Him spare other people through amazing tragedies and accidents. I’ve watched as He allows people to stand and say “This is what God has done for me in a very visible way…” and thought I didn’t have any experiences like that. Well, now I do.

I know that God spared my life last night at 6:30pm. I know that He shined His favor upon my wonderful sisters and I and allowed us to emerge from that accident with full function of our bodies. I know that He permitted the deer to run into our path, and I know that it is He who protected us when all that surrounded us and engulfed us was destruction and chaos. I know that God prevented anyone else from being involved in the accident. I know that God took what Satan meant for evil and has and is bringing good out of it. I know that I am blessed beyond measure, with more than I could ask or imagine asking for. 1 God knows my need before it even comes to my attention. I’m glad God doesn’t have to wait to be told that we need protection, because I didn’t have time to even get a breath in last night before hitting that deer.

I praise God for who He is, how magnificent His Grace is, how truly abundant His Mercy is and for how He works His Perfect Plan out to the finest detail for His Glory and Renown. I praise Him for my life, and all that is a part of it. I praise Him for another day to lift His name. I praise Him for my health and the ability to walk and use my hands. I praise Him for protection and shelter. I praise Him for allowing me to be an active participant in this accident, so that I might be able to use it to display exactly how Marvelous and Wonderful God is.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 2
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." 3
God is Great and He is worthy to be praised! Please take a moment to reflect upon all that God has done for you today. Take a moment to look at your family and truly realize how truly blessed you are. Take a few steps back and focus on what is important above all else – God. Take time to worship Him in and through your life today!
1Ephesians 3:20
2Phillipans 3:7-11
3Galatians 6:14