This past week, Blake and I had the opportunity to be the guest missionaries for a PassportKids! camp in Tennessee. We received a mass email a couple of months ago, asking CBF field personnel to sign up to attend various weeks throughout the summer and share with campers about our work. Since we love working with kids, we agreed to find a week that would work. June was out—way too busy—but we had a couple of weeks in July that were free. When I went to ask my boss if he thought it would be okay for me to be gone for a few days, he asked what dates we were looking at. I showed him our two options and he said, “That’s the week our church group is going; you should go then.” Since Blake and I didn’t have a preference and since we like Lance, we decided to go for this week. Little did we know that God was using Lance to help us keep a divine appointment.
We met Mike and Mary Oliver in December when we spoke in their church (First Baptist Church in Williams, Alabama) to promote the Offering for Global Missions (OGM). We liked Mike and Mary immediately. They were genuine and easy to talk to, and they seemed interested in the work we hope to do in Chile. In fact, most of the people from their church were genuine, easy to talk to people. When we left after lunch that Sunday, we talked about how blessed we were to get the chance to meet such sweet people. We both felt like we were at home in their church.
This past spring, tornadoes ripped through Alabama; the Williams community was devastated. Two church members were killed in the storms and many others lost their homes. There isn’t a single person in that church that wasn’t affected in some way. In the days following the storms, Blake and I followed their church’s Facebook page closely. The day the storms hit, the church warned community members to stay home because bad weather was coming. Once the deadly storms passed, the church went into response mode. They distributed food, hygiene items, clothing, diapers, and much more. They cooked meals and removed debris. They even cared for children so that parents could sort through their personal belongings without having to worry about their kids stepping on a nail or getting cut by a piece of debris. In fact, the church did such incredible work that FEMA used them as a distribution center.
We are constantly amazed at the things this church is doing. For example, the children of the church used debris from the storm and turned it into artwork. They sold the artwork to benefit storm victims. The church recently hosted a photography session where families who had lost all of their pictures could get family portraits done. It has literally been one thing after another. So, when Blake and I decided to give a small donation to tornado relief efforts, we couldn’t imagine sending it to anyone but FBC Williams. We included a short note to let them know of our thoughts and prayers. I didn’t think about it again until we ran into Mike and Mary at General Assembly in Tampa. We didn’t have much time to talk, but they thanked us for the note and invited us to come back to Williams to speak again. We didn’t even have to talk about it; of course we’d go back.
Like in December, we felt like we were home. We had lunch with Mike, Mary and two of their sons. After lunch, they took us on a drive to show us parts of their community that had been hardest hit. The devastation was difficult to see and parts of it reminded us of the Gulf Coast after Katrina. We saw empty fields that used to have houses in them where the only thing left were the concrete foundations the houses used to stand on. They probably didn’t realize it, but them taking the time to show us their community and to explain more about what the church is doing meant so much to us. We’re moving to another continent to do missions work, but they’re involved in it right in their own neighborhood. Many times, international missions receives the focus of our churches and organizations, while we ignore the mission field that is right in front of us or just a state away. This is not the case in Williams, and we greatly respect that.
When I noticed that Williams was going to PassportKids! this summer, I was afraid to hope that they’d be there the week we would. God is pretty amazing, though, and as God would have it, out of eight possible weeks for camps, they had chosen the same week we had. We had an incredible time at PassportKids! but our favorite part was the opportunity to continue building relationships with Mike, Mary and the kids at First Baptist Williams.
I’m glad Parkway Baptist Church chose this week for camp and drafted Lance Wallace to be their chaperone. I’m also glad that we only had two free weeks this summer and that we decided to humor Lance and go the same week as his church. I can’t help but wonder what else had to fall into place to get us there at the same time, and I guess I’ll never know. I can’t wait to see how God molds our ongoing partnership with Mike, Mary, and the people of FBC Williams.