Day 1 -
First Southern Baptist Church Yuma, Colorado, here we come! I hope you are ready!
The day began well although a couple of bugs with the new bus caused us to leave just 30 minutes behind schedule. Miracle of miracles all students were present when I rolled in with the bus at 8:00 a.m. thanks to the gracious help of Kevin at McCandless Truck Center. He made sure our tires were properly inflated (not an easy task even for the pros). Our packing plan worked although we’ve already figured out some improvements.
We had a smooth trip to Yuma and it is such a joy to be able to travel together. We ate sandwiches as soon as we arrived, changed into paint clothes and were working by 1:15. It was so good to see the teamwork that went into taping, “cutting in”, and rolling the basement stairwells and hall. The work was finished fairly quickly leaving us the opportunity to do trim and maybe a classroom or two today. The result will be a renewal of the look and feel of their children’s space and the accomplishment of more than the church had hoped we could complete.
Dinner was at the Pizza Hut and only a few slices of 9 medium pizzas survived. The evening rehearsal went well and we were on our way to homes by 8:00 p.m. Aubrey’s devotional about loving one another set the stage for our week together. She underscored that it is easy to touch and love the people we serve and sometimes we overlook the need to love and serve the people we live with for the week. But we must remember that the world will know that we belong to Jesus by the way we love each other. So that is our goal and our prayer for this week. That we will love each other so that the world will know we belong to Jesus.
Day 2 -
We finished the main project just a little after Noon and found some other work to keep us busy. The downstairs hall and the baseboard and door moldings were all painted and touched up so it will look and feel fresh and new on Sunday. We tried to protect the carpet but had a little trouble with that but I guess that’s not a serious problem. Instead apparently it will be incentive to put in new carpet so I guess we helped with that too! The afternoon was a little more relaxed with time for a walk through of the program and time to rest and be ready.
Our first concert was an answer to our prayers. Technically it went very well for a first concert but more importantly many were touched by God as we told and sang the story of the Prodigal. God’s redemption of each one of us who will turn to him is amazing. Those who don’t know him at least know the truth when we are done and those that do are encouraged by the reminder of his “relenting grace”. Our students share with passion and energy and give the best they have. God takes that and sees fit to use it to bring himself glory and to draw others to him. To be a part of that is just another small piece of His mercy and grace extended to all of us.
Today it is about 10 hours on the road. Thanks church for the bus.
Day 4 -
(Finally a few moments to relax on Day 5 to catch up, there was no Day 3 update, you didn’t miss it.)
Well, travel with a large group, regardless of the quality of the transportation is always a time challenge. I had hoped that Saturday would be a ten-
It was a good travel day: long but uneventful. We saw some beautiful country and I had the privilege of riding more than I drove which affords the opportunity to really see one’s surroundings. Northeast Colorado and Nebraska don’t have Pikes Peak but the farming communities that sustain this nation have a beauty all their own and so it was a great drive. We are learning things about the bus on this first trip that will hopefully make it even better for future trips. Things like if the DVD and sound system work their function is not intuitive for us, the passenger door doesn’t always like to open the first time but will open the second time, and the risers may technically fit but they are way too difficult to get in and out so for the future we will either need an additional vehicle for “stuff” or we need an alternate to the risers that is just as sturdy but smaller and lighter, maybe something modular yet collapsible.
Sunday was a great day. It began early with showers before 7:30 because that was when we had to serve breakfast, followed by a sound check, in uniforms, at 8:00. Our presence allowed Heartland’s two primary worship leaders to be absent to attend their brother’s baptism so we provided a dramatic call to worship and led the congregational song to start the service. The call to worship was “Jesus in the Bible” from Ten31 followed by “Jesus, Firm Foundation”, the contemporary setting of the great hymn “How Firm a Foundation”. After the welcome we shared the songs “At the Cross”, “Jesus Will Still Be There” and “Because He Lives (Amen)” and the drama pieces “Out of the Boat” and “In the Fold”. God’s presence was clearly experienced and our students were the facilitators God chose to use for Heartland’s morning worship through music and drama. What a privilege to be used by God. We closed the service with “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”. It was a great morning to be a part of.
We then disassembled our equipment and packed it up for later and went to lunch. About 4:15 we packed up our equipment and headed for New Life Baptist Church in Kingsley, Iowa, about a forty-
Morning on Day 5 came early because we had a 10:00 a.m. concert at Countryside Senior Living center. There was mix-
This afternoon is preparation for Day One of drama camp (tomorrow morning) and tonight is our dress-
Day 5 -
What do you get when you mix thirteen adventurous teens with one Dannie Doyle and “Mr StirFry’s Chinese Buffet”? For starters you are glad the restaurant gave you a private room. Second you are glad they are dressed up and at least trying to maintain some decorum. They really do clean up well but this night they leaned a little bit toward “You can dress them up but you can’t take them anywhere”. I mention Dannie because she is the one that helped some of them find the courage to try new things like octopus, squid, and sushi. The result was quite entertaining and diverse. One was captured on video biting off the head of the octopus and promptly removing it from her mouth. Another was lured into trying sushi with what Dannie calls a California Roll. This California Roll is supposed to mimic the texture of sushi and help the uninitiated prepare for the real thing. This brave soul liked the California Roll but did not care for the sushi. However, she chewed it up and swallowed it. At the other table I think the octopus head went down but the tentacles were preferred. The rest of us, who feel no compulsion to develop a taste for raw fish or seafood with multiple appendages, enjoyed an overflowing buffet of good Chinese food and good desserts. We were quite full and it is nice to see the students enjoy the opportunity to dress up for a special evening. We closed our night out with a Walmart run. Who knew an hour at Walmart could be so entertaining for teenagers?
I almost forgot ending the day with birthday cupcakes for Lily and Bill. We'll take any excuse we can find for sweets and a celebration! Happy Birthday Bill and Lily and thanks for inviting us on this Birthday trip to Sioux City.
Day 6 was Day One of Drama Camp and started early, as they all seem to do, for all of us. Some shower at night and the rest in the morning beginning with Bill Small and myself at 5:30 a.m. and by 7:45 we are all ready for breakfast. It was my favorite this morning, biscuits and gravy. Of course, being the thoughtful and loving people that Lindsey and Jerri are there are other options for those whose taste buds have not properly matured yet. Camp began formally at 9:00 a.m. Our youngest student was a third grader and our oldest a senior in high school. Dannie prepared our students and our students did the teaching and directing. Heartland hopes to establish a drama ministry among its students and we are praying we are a part of a successful jump start to that ministry. I ran the registration table and I can report with authority that we had thirteen students on our first day. Camp will continue through Thursday morning at 11 and conclude with dramatic presentations of Scripture performed by Heartland’s youth and directed by our students.
After drama camp we took a brief “Sabbath” afternoon and evening. First, lunch then Larson Park on the Missouri River where we were fascinated by the Sergeant Floyd Museum and Welcome Center and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. What a joy for me to have so many students who genuinely enjoy history and museums. The centers provided a rare opportunity for us to gain insight into the early history of this nation and specifically this area. The Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition was an extraordinarily successful venture. It is hard to imagine this team of men traveling by boat and foot from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean and back in twenty-
Occasionally God surprises us with a little blessing if we just have eyes to see it. Jerri and I spent the two hours at the Park together going to one museum while the rest of the group went the other way. We closed out our time with a walk together to gaze at the Missouri river for a moment. At the edge of the park where we come upon the banks of the Missouri, the grass was cut as close to the edge as was safe. Beyond that was a very healthy grow of weeds. Among those weeds was the thistle, a weed that fascinated my father for two reasons. First it is just a terrible, ugly, and, if not properly respected, painful plant, but in contrast, it has one of the most beautiful blossoms of any plant in creation. Second, its seeds are the favorite, if not only, food of the goldfinch. My parents loved the goldfinch and purchased thistle food in Oregon so they could have a backyard full of finches. It was a nice touch on the day for me because it has been years since I have seen a mature thistle. Does the goldfinch's range include Colorado Springs? I might have to get me some thistle seed. (Wikipedia says this reference to thistle seed is erroneous that it is actually Niger seed that the goldfinch prefers but I'm sticking with my dad's conviction.)Home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream
After the Lewis and Clark history adventure we traveled to Le Mars, Iowa, the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream, The Ice Cream Capitol of the World. Here we briefly studied a little more history and then consumed a lot of ice cream. We were “home” after six, dinner was at 7:30, devotions at 9:00 and lights out close to 10:30. As the students slowly appear around me at 7:15 a.m. (as I write on Wednesday morning) they appear to be a little more chipper than usual. Rest makes a world of difference. There really is something to the “Sabbath” rest as well as an extra hour of sleep. God did not design us to work 24/7 but a trip such as this demands the best that we can give and calls for endurance and stamina for when we minister we must strive to not just put on a good face but truly care about the people we work with and minister to so that we work and sing and lead with honesty. Pray that in the midst of the hard work we get the mental and emotional and spiritual rest to sustain honestly good attitudes toward each other and the people we have the privilege of sharing Christ with. Today is Day Two of Drama Camp, two performances at the Heritage Community of Northern Hills and then an outdoor barbecue at a Heartland Church member’s home. Have a great day, I’m sure we will.
Day 7 -
We live in a jaded society. Very little shocks or surprises us. It seems that it’s hard to get a rise out of us at all. Solomon said that there is nothing new under the sun and we have a tendency to suggest that we agree by our lack of wonder. Even if there is nothing new under the sun there is plenty that is already created that should cause us to hold our breath. Something like the birth of a baby. Or something as common as a firefly ( I almost said “as simple as” but any nerd knows that the processes that go on in a firefly are anything but simple). The capacity for wonder is not dead and it is not even dormant in the child of God who is awestruck when he stops to contemplate what God has done for us in Christ. Tonight that wonder spilled over into the natural world and I had the privilege of being there when two of our own saw a firefly for the first time. The excitement and the wonder was real, honest, breath-
The day began with drama camp. Knowing that at least three of the students would not be able to attend tomorrow’s final day Dannie adjusted the plan and had two groups give their dramatic presentations this morning. Our students continued then to pour into Heartland’s students. What a thrill for Dannie to see her actors become the teachers and for these young leaders to, in turn, discover the joy of passing on one’s craft. Our young people now know what it is to enjoy the accomplishments of their first students. That’s another piece that wasn’t in my thoughts as this tour came together.
The afternoon was ministry at its best and most exhausting. It was a good thing we had Tuesday for a Sabbath. After drama camp there was lunch and there was the changing of cloths and then there was the jumping on the bus and racing off to our first of two back to back concerts. Today we sang at the Heritage at Northern Hills. This senior community has an independent living building and an assisted living building and we sang at both. Today there seemed to be something different about the presentation. Technically we had made some improvements but it was more than that. God saw fit, I believe, to be present in a slightly different way, a way that I experienced as more passion from the students, as if they understood better their own message and then conveyed it with a greater enthusiasm and urgency. They trusted God to give them the energy and vocal and physical stamina to do it twice in a row and He did that too. Elegant surroundings, a responsive audience, and the presence of the Holy Spirit; what could be better than that. We may have found a new niche for this ministry, for these Senior Adults we had the privilege of singing for were attentive and engaged and so encouraging to all of us after we finished telling God’s story. I’m learning daily of God’s grace even as we sing and share about it. He teaches me through the students and through those he allows us to share with on his behalf. I did not pick this venue. God did. God picked it, made us aware and then, as if to say “Thank you” God gave us fireflys.
Day 8 -
This morning we concluded Drama Camp and this afternoon we presented our last concert at Sunrise Retirement Center. We then hit the road for Lincoln, Nebraska where we would spend the night before heading for home. Those are the mundane details of the day. I decided to let the students tell the stories for today. Their testimonies are drawn from their interactions before and after our four concerts at Senior Adult living and care facilities. I asked them to tell me their stories. I took the dictation at my computer so I have edited a bit along the way but this is from your students. I’ve intentionally left out the names of the facilities so I can use names where the students used names. I’ve titled it “Tell Me Your Stories”
Tell Me Your Stories
“I talked with a Lady named Cheryl. She was having a conversation with a friend, another resident of the nursing home. Cheryl’s friend’s sister had passed away and the friend was dealing with guilt. This woman’s emotional struggle was unexpected for me because it is easy to view these people as grandmas and grandpas who grew up Christian and our Christian grandmothers and grandfathers don’t have problems, at least not that we grandchildren see. I was struck that these older adults we were singing and acting for need the same gospel and encouragement and prayer that we do because they live in the same broken world.”
“At this concert there was a man who could only respond by making noise, he could not talk. However, Cheryl related to us that there is a gospel singing group that comes about once a month and she told us of her surprise, during one of these concerts, to hear a beautiful man’s voice singing with the choir right on pitch and to turn and discover that it was this man who normally cannot speak. This reminded me of how important and effective music ministry is.”
*Note from Pastor Jay: Some students had more than one story to tell.
“I easily and quickly got into a discussion about travel with Ella. She had traveled to eleven countries. It was so cool to talk with her about a mutual passion. Age and generational differences didn’t matter. We could share that same desire to be adventurous. I also spoke with another woman who had traveled the entire world three times with her husband, a business man. She shared that she had come to the realization that travels didn’t make her life complete. It was the way her husband and her son treated her that made her feel complete and cared for. It is not the things that she has done that are the substance of her life but the way that people treated her that mattered. This was a lesson for me.
We called them the notebook couple (Jay is not sure why). Her name was Doreen. When we met I asked her how she was and she said she wasn’t having a good day but then her husband, Robert, was wheeled in. He immediately took her hand and kissed it and her countenance instantly changed. It was so precious to see their passion for one another still alive after sixty-
“I met a woman named Wilma. She and her best friend shared how their life stories were intertwined. They had been best friends all the way through grade school but then lost track of one another over the years. They had now reconnected here at this very retirement center. Wilma’s friend indicated that she had only been living there six weeks so the old friendship was truly just being rekindled. Later, Wilma let me know that her friend had actually been living here about nine months. Wilma shared that she was familiar with the signs and progression of dementia and that this was particularly difficult to watch in her friend because they had just renewed their friendship and yet the other woman could not remember many details of their shared past. Wilma then told me how important our program was to her, especially the song “Jesus Will Still Be There.” This song resonated with Wilma because she doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Wilma talked of the many activities they have at the center but she often still feels alone. This song has helped her to feel like she is not alone, that there is someone out there for her and she said that she will start going to Bible study and she will “explore this Jesus fellow.” How cool is that because I never thought of myself as a real missionary. I concentrated on performing not realizing that we really can make a difference in these people’s lives.
At another performance I was “backstage” (in the hall) as the performance began, watching, as a woman came down the hall dancing with her walker as the choir sang. She said to me, “I didn’t know you were going to sing songs that I would know.” After the performance I got to talk with her again. I asked her how she liked the presentation. She said, “Oh, I loved it!” She continued on to tell me that they never get stuff like this and the combination of drama and singing they never get at all and that preaching about Jesus is rare. She was so excited. Her excitement was an energizing encouragement for us. She talked of how she is worried about our generation because we seem so stuck in our technology. She is worried about leaving (dying) because “I’m worried this country is going down the toilet.” Our presence and presentation was exciting to her. She became passionate and heated about Jesus being left out of the country. It was an encouragement to her that some young people haven’t abandoned God. She was super grateful that we were able to come and perform.
I also had the opportunity to talk to Ralph after one of the concerts. He was sitting in the back and I saw him crying. He told me how our story was his life. He was estranged from his son. They hadn’t talked in years. Ralph admitted to being stubborn and that he didn’t want to forgive or deal with the long struggle with this relationship. Our telling of the prodigal’s story prompted him to consider forgiveness and seek resolution. Our story helped him find the courage to decide that he would call his son.”
“I talked and talked with this woman about many things even though I never caught her name. She talked about how they don’t get programs like ours, that young people never come, that churches don’t have choirs, and it made me sad because it creates a huge generation gap and we don’t get the wisdom they have. Over the week I became able to see them as real people. People God made. People that God loves. People made by Him and they need to be ministered to just like we do. Hearing that young people still love Jesus was an encouragement to the adults we sang for and an encouragement to me. We are making an impact. We may not know what comes of our time in a nursing home but Jesus knows and just to know we are being used is an encouragement.
It was cool to see how the music and story resonated with people. “Softly and Tenderly” we expected to be well received but even the newer songs had an impact. Sometimes we feel like the older generation doesn’t like our music and yet we were able to worship together so the generation gap was bridged in our program. We were able to worship together in spite of the music boundaries that exist between generations.
Regarding the script, it was so cool to see how people reacted to our telling of the prodigal’s story. Seeing how people were moved by our telling was exhilarating. It seems that the story resonated with everyone. All who heard us seemed to know someone that was a prodigal or to have been a prodigal themselves. There were a lot of tears in all settings.”
**Another explanatory note from Pastor Jay: All of the performance areas at the senior adult centers were small and the space between the acting and the front row seating was generally zero.
“During the performance, specifically the party scene, I was trying to say lines to Ashlyn and one lady said “Don’t clap yet it’s not over yet you dummies.” This type of interaction continued through the performance and it was hard to maintain character. Their responsiveness with clapping and talk was so encouraging because I know they get lonely.”
“A woman at the center was super interested in what we want to become when we are adults. This was encouraging to me because I feel like there is this disconnection between their generation and our generation. Partly because we think of them as old people and we don’t seek out their wisdom and allow them to share. Also I feel like they think of us as dumb and always making mistakes. It was encouraging to see that she realized we are the future leaders, teachers, doctors, etc. and that she believed in our generation.”
“They don’t get to hear performances like ours a lot. This truth struck home because we only do this once a year and a lot of people wouldn’t even think of going to nursing homes but it does make a difference. It is not too late for anyone to “come home” so it is sad that few think of doing this kind of ministry. After one concert I overheard a ninety-
“As I approached a woman after our concert I was surprised that the first thing she said to me was “I’m not supposed to be here.” She explained that a year ago she was under hospice care with no hope and now, a year later, she is healthier than ever and has been reunited with a best friend from high school right here in this facility. She told me she is using this second chance to tell her best friend from high school about Jesus. I went up to a couple that were holding hands and said, “Are you guys married?” The man promptly replied, “No. I’m a widower.” The woman whose hand he was holding gave him a death look and said, “Tell her the truth” and he answered, “OK, were dating.” I asked, “Was this love at first site?” and she said “Of course it was. It started the day I moved into the center.”
“I met this man, I don’t know his name, and he was making jokes like “Is Colorado in the United States?” He was full of joy and his joy encouraged me and Makenzie to finish the second concert with passion and love.”
“This is another story about the man who couldn’t talk that Daniel shared about. I got to “talk” to him. He was full of joy and smiles. He couldn’t communicate but his joy was evident as he shook my hand and kissed my hand. His joy overflowed to me.”
“This lady’s grandson wheeled her in right next to me and she just started talking to me. I remember how nice she was to me and the wisdom she shared with me in a short time just before the performance.”
“This woman is ninety-
I must admit I was concerned about these venues. Just this past year I saw my parent’s decline to the point where they could not have followed or enjoyed our presentation and so I was unsure about the appropriateness of these venues. However, these seemed to be the doors that God was opening so we walked through them. What we found were wonderful mature people who, for various reasons, are simply not living on their own any more. The student’s testimonies make it obvious that they could be fully engaged. Many of those who attended did need help getting to the concert but they were there by choice and, I’m sure, an invitation from the Holy Spirit. I’m glad we were also invited.
Days 9 and 10 -
Day Nine was the one day that flowed perfectly, just the way I planned it. For a Type A personality that's almost as good as winning the Super Bowl. Every stop on the way home from Lincoln, Nebraska to Colorado Springs went as scheduled and we drove into the church parking lot at 5:05 just five minutes off the mark. We would have made it before 5:00 had we not found ourselves behind a slow-
I had to tell myself that a lot this week. There was Wednesday morning when I went out to do a safety inspection of the bus during drama camp and found a flat tire. I spent the next four hours getting that fixed. I sweated the time. God doesn't sweat the time. I know that for certain because I rolled into the church parking lot to pick up the students just in time to make it to the day's first concert right on schedule. God's schedule. It wasn't important that I be at the church all morning. It wasn't important that I find the right tire store the first time. It wasn't important that I get to sit down and enjoy a refreshing lunch without hurry with the student's. What was important you ask? Ministry, that's what. We were on time for the ministry. I thought the other things on my schedule were significant to the end result. That was not the case. God stands outside of time and a flat tire doesn't interrupt Him. Man makes his plans but God directs his steps.
Thursday morning had a different set of details but the same result. As I reflect on it this evening it seems almost miraculous that both days, despite the technical difficulties, we were ultimately where we were supposed to be when we were supposed to be there. Where we were supposed to be was "home." Every stop was home for someone and for the few precious moments that we shared that place with them it was home for us. We were at home in Yuma painting the walls of our shared house and pausing for a few moments at the end of the day to share a story. The only thing missing was my rocking chair. We were home Sunday morning worshipping with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We were home Sunday evening "sitting on the front porch" and reflecting on the story we had just shared and the beauty of God's sunset. We were home and literally in the living rooms of independent and assisted living centers visiting, talking, and again telling a story. It was a great story and the privilege of telling it was a life experience for us all. It is God's story of the assurance that there is a Person and a Place for all to come home to.