Monday, June 8, 2009

California, Missouri (Discouragement Continues, but God Never Fails)

God is good. Whether I sleep in someone's home, a church, or my tent, that is God's provision. Whether I have a bed, a couch, or my sleeping bag, that is God's provision. Whether I have a home-cooked meal, KFC, or a granola bar, that is God's provision. Finally, whether I am able to fellowship with other Christians or have surface-level or even deep conversations with complete strangers I am blessed by God to be alive, for the air in my lungs, and the capacity of others' hearts to seek something more. To seek relationships, meaning, life.

I trust that every day, in some way, shape, or form, God will provide us the requisites for survival. In truth, I have been spoiled by the people we've met. There is always someone who has cared for us (by offering help or by just showing interest in our livelihood and our story). And each time, it has been a chance encounter. How random it is that I should talk with just the right person, or so it seems, in the end. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort before our paths cross. Other times it's almost like they are expecting us and are ready to humbly serve us before they even knew of us. What I'm trying to say is, no matter the circumstances, God is good. I should never fear.

As I mentioned before, I feel like I have been spoiled. In any given place, God's love pours out in abundance from the people who host us. These are spectacular people. Christians. And as I leave, because I have been sheltered from negativity, judgement, and evil, and because I have been greatly cared for, perhaps I expect that everyone will be as loving. In each city, I become accustomed to the kindness, generosity, and servanthood that I encounter, which I know I do not deserve. That said, each time I venture anew, I am awakened from the haven of security, peace, and love and the second I leave the doors of our hosts I am at the mercy of whoever crosses my path. Occaisionally, the result is negative. Most of the time, it has been positive.

Well, on to my story. The ride from Warrensburg was pleasant. Great weather, albeit a little muggy. Still, it was cool in the morning. Justin and Shamus saw us off and gave us directions back to highway 50. That morning I saw several things of interest while riding. Let me start with the B-2 bomber. We rode near Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster (the launching point of the B-2 bombers) and we saw one of the paper thin, black aircrafts stealthily streaming by. Pretty sweet. I also noticed a transition in the type of road kill. Great. I saw several failed attempts at real-life frogger and even more turtles that will never see another turtle race.

Our first long stop was in La Monte. We stopped at a Casey's General Store (these are a common gas station/convenience store in Kansas and Missouri) to break and make phone calls. A million. I probably was on the phone for over an hour. This is where I became more discouraged by the churches we called). I met dead ends in California, MO because secretaries had to talk to ministers or they passed us on to call another church or two. It so happens they have a system in place in California to handle our kind of request. The churches share a ministerial fund and each month a different church or two is in charge of directing the use of those funds (so that each church shares the responsibility of helping people). We were referred to the church in charge for that month (the United Church of Christ). I remember we had to call back later because the secretary had to talk with the pastors (who were all in meetings) first.

Here is an important point, before I continue. Tom and I do not request money of anyone. We request a roof over our heads, which could be provided by a member of the congregation(via their home) or the church via their building (or if those are not possible, a yard somewhere to set up our tent). However, we have gratefully accepted the generosity of our hosts in whatever form they choose (which has included motels or even a hotel). The great thing about a home or a church is the fellowship opportunities we have with the people we meet (the stories I hear, the lessons I learn, our journeys crossing and lives impacting one another).

Despite the clarity I thought I conveyed in our unique situation, churches continually passed the buck or limited themselves to one or two possible solutions. I saw a box. Within its fine lines were requests for help. These requests had to fall under a familiar category (of migratory vagrant or missionaries asking for help, for example) and submitted within a specific time period. One repeated confusion of some churches we called in the first two days is which category we fall under (vagrants or missionaries). So, first, they needed more time to discuss. Most of the time, they decided we did not fall under either. I believe their typical response to a call for help similar to mine is to throw some money at the problem (get them money for food and put them in a motel). I was asking for a more relational, interactive solution (I wanted to meet some folks no matter where we stayed, share my story, and learn from them). In California, only one church was in charge of the funds a month at a time and later on that church's decision was that our cause was not within the box. In the end, they conveyed their solution: "sorry, we just can't help you." That said, I wrote a lot in my journal about my disappointment with how the church seemed to be handling our request. They did not seem to be able to think quick on their feet or think outside their box to solve our problem.

Sorry for the drama. This was a very long break from riding. It was frustrating.

Meanwhile, I also called churches in Chamois, our next day's stop (Tom liked the name so we were going to stop there, going out of our way a bit). That turned out to be a dead end as well because of the small size of the city. I talked with one pastor, but he could not help (but was helpful) and suggested staying in another, larger town (since there would be no full time staff available at the churches to take our calls). So, I quickly asked Tom if there was anything wrong with trying Jefferson City (Tom had planned out the route, so he knew what stops he picked and why. I thought it would be neat to see the capitol of Missouri anyways). He said that would be fine. A shorter trip, but fine (we'd make up for it the next day). So I made some phone calls there too. I probably only called three churches there. When I called the First Christian Church, I spoke with Kathy, who suggested I try calling the Presbyterian Church first, but then if nothing worked out told us to call her back. I was so sick of making phone calls, I have to admit, I never did try to call the Presbyterian Church.

We were back on the road. Finally. We stopped in Sedalia for lunch. Subway. Five dollar foot-long spicy italian. That's what I always get. Talked with some folks there. They confirmed that rain was forecasted for the afternoon (Shamus and Justin warned us that morning), so Tom and I headed out once again to try to beat the storm. I probably made a couple calls before leaving. Yeah, I'm sure you're as sick of hearing about them as I was making them.

Riding was freedom. The road shoulders were potholed and rough. Then non-existant in places (that may have been better because the road was actually smooth). Around 3 pm I decided to call back the United Church of Christ (the ones in charge of the ministerial fund), so Tom and I pulled off the side of the road. The secretary transferred me to the pastor, who said, as I mentioned before "I'm sorry, I just can't help you." (note: it didn't sound like he was sorry. That is, he didn't say it like he meant it).

I felt: "okay, I cannot be upset, God will provide, but how?" I responded, "That's okay, I understand." I brought up that we have a tent and I asked for anywhere we could set it up. He finally gave me the number for the City Hall.

I called City Hall. I explained my story to the woman who answered. She gave me the number of Parks and Recreation and also asked if we had tried St. Paul's Lutheran church. I had Tom remember one number and I remembered the other two because I didn't have a piece of paper. I called the Parks and Rec. first and left a message (I wanted to know if we could sleep in the park, perhaps under one of the shelters). Then I called the St. Paul's Lutheran church. Pastor Pete picked up (which was fortunate, he usually had the day off, but was there writing his book). He first mentioned the ministerial fund, but I quickly told him that the particular church offered no help. Then he asked me some questions to verify the validity of the purpose of the funds and offered to put us in a motel, take us to dinner with his wife, and give us two books he authored. Wow! Praise God! Thank you, Pastor Pete! He told us he had a meeting at 7pm (I think) and I told him we would "make haste!" I don't know where that came from, but there you go.

And make haste we did. It was scorching hot and there were some pretty killer hills, but we crushed them. Tom observed that we must've been pretty "amped." We stopped in Syracuse and I had a message from Kathy (in Jefferson City). I called her back and told her that I had not talked with the Presbyterian Church and she offered to help us when we stopped in the following day. God is good. Back on the road.

The storm was on our heels by Tipton. After Tipton, as I turned a bend, I thought, "it smells like rain." I looked in the thick woods to see if the source was within. And in ten seconds I was riding on wet pavement. We had just missed a shower that fell in front of us! We traveled in a pocket of dryness that last hour (one storm before us and one behind us). Pretty fortunate.

We arrived at the motel around 5pm and called Pastor Pete. We had a little time to settle in to the motel (which had been paid for when we arrived) and I showered before leaving for supper. He gave us two of his books before we drove off and explained a little about them. For supper, we had a buffet meal, which was fantastic. I ate to my heart's content and my taste buds' delight. Well, that's exaggerating, but it was good.

Pete was a brilliant guy. Conversation was interesting. He had a lot of knowledge to share and I wish I could have picked his brain longer. This man was an example of the pursuit of God through knowledge. He sought to learn just about all ways that others have explained and applied the Bible's teachings so that his sermons were not repeating those. Fascinating guy trying to dig deep into scripture to learn it all. His wife, Jan, was a very pleasant person to chat with too.

Pete and his wife dropped us off at our motel and said goodbye. Our time together was short, but he blessed us greatly.

We rode to California, Missouri on Tuesday, June 2, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Pastor Pete sounds like a sola scriptura kind of Lutheran; Glad to see it :)