I helped with a funeral on Saturday at our church and I was waiting for someone to drop off a prop for the narthex to help with our theme for Sunday. As I sat in my office waiting, my phone rang and it was one of the students who goes to our church. He was working at a hotel and some college aged individuals carrying a cross had come through and he found out they were traveling from Pickwick to Bloomington. Knowing that Stacy and I try to practice hospitality whenever we can he called me figuring I could figure out how to connect with them since he was working and unable to help.
Well after the canoe got dropped off and placed in the narthex of the church, I headed down to Target to see if these individuals were still there. As I approached Target I kept looking around just in case they had started moving. I kept seeing groups of college aged individuals everywhere (no surprise in a college town) but no group carrying a cross. Finally, I spotted them in a field between a bank and Walgreens and so I drove around and parked in the Walgreens’ parking lot just in time to catch them. I told them I had heard they were traveling to Bloomington and asked them to tell me their story.
They were four students from Bethany School of Mission who had been blindfolded at 4:45 a.m. and driven from Bloomington and dropped off at Pickwick. This was an exercise in trusting God and so: (1) they had no money (2) they could not openly ask for help but only could received what was offered (3) if they were offered a ride they could only go 20 miles with that individual.
How many of you would have done this? They didn’t know where they were getting dropped off or how in the world they were going to get home?
I told them that our family would like to help them since it was supposed to storm that evening by providing them a meal and a place to stay and see what happens from there. They gladly accepted after having walked 20 miles that day. When we got to our house I learned a bit more about each one of them: Samantha from Texas, Angela was from St. Paul (actually Woodbury but she said nobody knew where Woodbury was so she says St. Paul…I knew where it was), Taylor was from Tennessee, and Nathanael was from Pennsylvania. We got to hear each of their stories and how thy ended up at Bethany and discovered that they all were training to be missionaries. We also discovered that there were ten groups of 4 individuals that were sent out to various parts of Minnesota to find their way back to Bloomington.
I also discovered that each group had an emergency cell phone that they could use if they had not been offered shelter by 8:00 in the evening and someone would come and get them and take them back to Bloomington (which was good to know that they wouldn’t have been stuck in the downpour had it come to that for them).
Well we ate a meal and visited and I told them that I was hoping to put together a caravan of vehicles to get them back to Bloomington the next day and wondered if they wanted to go to church with us and share their story with my senior high youth sunday school class and then head out after lunch to get back to Bloomington. They agreed and so the adventure began. I was planning on just posting a message on Facebook to see if my friends closer to the Twin Cities would respond but then as I thought more I thought this would be a great opportunity for our church to live into abundant giving. I posted a message on Facebook that evening and set out to tell these student’s story in the morning along with checking if anyone responded to the Facebook post (which was cryptic because of me posting it on Twitter in 140 characters or less…note to self that Twitter isn’t the best vehicle for describing a need like this).
I woke up in the morning and had no responses to Facebook and so I went and announced their story at the 8 a.m. service then ran home to pick them up to get back in time for sunday school. When I got back I was already halfway complete with the caravan (we needed 6 drivers to give them a ride for 20 miles each…myself and another member had already agreed to do it the night before) and so I share again at the 10 a.m. service and we completed the number needed for the caravan (plus I had a few extra that had agreed to help but weren’t needed). God provided abundantly for this group in need.
We took off at 1 p.m. as a caravan of 6 vehicles stopping every 20 miles to switch vehicles and then the vehicle that had completed that leg of the journey would head back to Winona. I had the last leg because I wanted to see their school and I wanted to hear some of the other teams stories. We made it back to Bethany (well not fully, I got them to .5 miles from the school but then they got picked up by another caravan that had another group with them for the last .5 miles) and I got to see their school. I heard that five of the groups had to call the night before and only one group was still out.
Overall, it was a great experience to hear the wonderful stories of these four individuals and how they came to trust in Christ with their life. I truly believe that God worked through the situation not only to bless them in their travels but to bless our church with their presence and their story of trust.
That gets me to my last reflection on this event. This past week our denomination (The United Methodist Church) had the Leadership Summit where they talked about “drivers” of vibrant and healthy churches, etc. As I have reflected on this story I can’t help but believe that one of the “qualities” of a vibrant and healthy church is this: “trusting in God.” Do our churches and do our denomination deeply trust that God will provide? Is this “trust” central to our “dna?” Metrics can’t capture this but I believe this is one of the true “fruits” of a vibrant and healthy church….
Here are some pictures from the caravan back to Bethany: