I pulled my car into a distant spot, the parking lot was full. I made my way up the hill and then up the stairs and walkway. There were strangers dotting the parking lot and children running about. The basketball courts were being utilized and the benches out front were full. The faces I saw were unfamiliar.
For the past 20 years I have never walked into what has been my church home and not found someone I knew. This sense of walking past so many unfamiliar faces was a bit strange.
All church activities have been cancelled, our weekly bible study was moved to the Presbyterian Church down the road and our church had been activated as a Red Cross Evacuation site.
The large road signs lining the surface street directing the evacuees to their destination were at each entrance of the parking lot. There were lager portable signs stationed along side the major thoroughfare pointing the way towards their temporary sanctuary.
Portable cots lined the hallways and filled the family center. The parlor was transformed to a clinic and the library was a counseling center. There was a serving line for meals set up in the family center and several tables manned with Red Cross staff were stationed throughout the building.
Every spare foot of wall space was taken up with either a folding cot or chair. Red Cross volunteers wandered here and there with their name badges and clipboards looking official, but what struck me were the faces of the people.
We had been asked to gather for an impromptu worship service. Most of us were not trained Red Cross workers so there was little we could do save pray and smile and make these strangers feel welcome.
What we could do was this, we opened wide the sanctuary doors and invited in the tired and misplaced people for a moment of worship, for a moment of praise, for a moment to place their burdens in the hands of our capable Heavenly Father.
We lifted our hands in praise as we worshiped together, we stood and raised our voices and sang.
My prayer was that as we sang it would be a pleasing sound to our Heavenly Father but beyond that, I also prayed that the sound of our voices would vibrate throughout the hallways and into the family center and that the spirit of God would seep from the sanctuary and permeate down the hallways and into all the rooms and various occupied corners and surround all the people who chose not to come.
As we continued to worship I had a clear line of sight out into the hallway. As the passersby would file by they would find themselves looking into the sanctuary. Some would walk by without giving a second glance, others would do a double take as to say “What is going on in there?” Still other filed in at random times as if drawn by our voices. Two elderly women even came in in their pajamas. At first I thought this strange, but then it washed over me that for now this place was their home, and p.j's are welcome in the house of the Lord!
We closed with an alter call, they came one after another and knelt down just as they possibly would have done in there own home church. We prayed over them and we saw the sadness in some of there faces, we saw the concern, the wondering, the questions.
When will we get to go home?
What will be there when I get back?
Will there be anything left?
As we conclude the service a gentleman walked past me and I stretched out my hand to him and he took mine in his, before I could catch myself I said “I am glad you are here!” then I had to back track and say “You know I am sorry for the circumstances that have brought you to this place, but I am so glad that you were here to worship with us in this place tonight! I will be praying for you and for your home and I hope that you will not be separated from it for very long!” He shook my hand and thanked me and smiled and then left the sanctuary.
As the evecuee’s filed out to find their small little assigned space and their uncomfortable cot those of us with homes to go to stayed and continued to sing. We sang and praised God for this amazing and unique worship opportunity we had just experianed.
God truly had been wth us as we sang with unfamilular people, as we worshiped with these same people and knelt in prayer with them, they had been removed from there home, however in those few moment we were all one family.
I left the building filled to overflowing with how great God is. I made my way to my car and now I am sitting in my safe and dry home and in a few minutes I will crawl into my warm comfortable bed and fall safely asleep.
Tonight there are 200 plus people who have been displaced from their homes who are falling asleep on uncomfortable fold away cots lining the hallways of a strange place surrounded by other people that they do not know.
But I know as we worshiped together tonight we felt truly in one accord with each other.
It truly was my deep and heartfelt privilege to worship with these people tonight. To stand in the gap for those in genuine need, to recognize that there are times when my life’s little issues really do pale by comparison to the larger issues going in the world around me.
God is good!
Please continue to pray for all the people who have been displaced by Hurricane Gustav and pray that Hurricane Hannah will dissipate and that God will guide and protect all people who have been impacted by these storms.