Back to our routine. Carmen and Jacob are watching Super Why and Dinosaur Train on television. Sarah is packing up for our trip back to our "base" in Avon, IL. I am here on this table writing my blog. This Super 8 motel looks like it needs a lot of painting. I can see the cracks on the walls. This seems to be our "staple experience," staying in a hotel on Sunday nights, right after our visits to two local churches for the day. We are really getting good at this. Even the kids are getting the hang of watching TV on a hotel room and riding on the minivan for three to five hours across these Illinois roads. I praise the Lord that the whole family is experiencing God's joy and inspiration in this time of Partnership Building (or furlough, as it was called a long time ago).
Last night we were at Coffeen Free Methodist Church, IL. We came in a little early, but Julia was already there preparing the table for the early dinner time. We sit up our display table and Kim came over from her house next door to help me with the Powerpoint Presentation preparations. At dinner time, Ethyl was there as well as Carol, Lonnie, Darrell, and other members whose names I could not remember. The pastor was not around because he is currently on a mission trip to Africa for this month. Carol shared about a mission trip to New Mexico that she and some members from the church did sometime this year. It was fascinating for me to see her beam with enthusiasm as she recounted the many lessons learned at this mission trip. "There was a great disconnect at that place," Carol described to us one of the problems she encountered at that ministry among the Navaho community. Later, after Sarah and I gave our missions presentation, she concluded the meeting with a passionate appeal for greater support for missions work.
At the end of the evening service, Tina and her son Lucas came to introduced herself. She was our anchor person for this visit to Coffeen. We thanked her for a good job of communication and assistance. We said our goodbyes to those who had to leave early. Sarah and I stayed a few minutes more with Julia, Kim and Bill, Kim's husband. We talked about Julia's daycare ministry and the many ways they are participating in this small rural town of Coffeen. I left that local church with a great sense of admiration for these Free Methodists who are making a difference in their communities. This was a visit to a local church that is "in" community.
Yesterday morning, we were at Emmanuel FMC, at Alton, IL. We spoke at both services, the 8:00 and 10:30 Worship Services. It was during the announcement times that God spoke to me in most powerful ways. I never realized that an announcement time could be such a spiritual experience. But, it was for me! Mark, the pastor of this church, shared about the many opportunities for the people to participate in ministry. There was the Angel Tree, where members can buy gifts for children whose parents are in prison. There was the upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua. People could also come for a prayer ministry. Others could also buy backpacks filled with goodies to be given to indigent children from foster families. Wow! I sat through the whole announcement time marveling at God's love and compassion being demonstrated through this local church. The Lord's body was being lived out in community, in this urban community of Alton, IL.
After the service, Sarah and I were in front of our display table meeting people. Lou Ann and her husband introduced herself. She told me she will soon have a Taiwanese daughter in-law. I said hello to Sonny. I remembered him from our last visit four years ago. He was the one with the beautiful Carvin guitar. Ben reminded me that we met in Butuan City, Philippines, in 1999, when he came to visit in honor of his grandfather, Walter Groesbeck. Ron came over shared how he is presently challenged by God because his two daughters are actively involved in many short-term missions trips, and might end up in full-time missions work in the future. I cheered him on. Mike shared about his calling to the ministry. I admired Ruth's music ministry, especially the song with her daughter. There were other people who talked to me; Reed, Mandy, Cindy, Phyllis, Ron's daughters, the elderly lady whose cousin, Lucille, is a missionary somewhere in Asia, Patty, and others whose names I can not recall. God is alive in this church. The Lord's love is touching lives in this Illinois city of Alton.
Later, at lunch, we went to have dinner at the pastor's house, and got to meet Mark's wife Cathy, and three foster kids, Brandon, Bruce and Dayton (I think that is his name). Talk about making a difference in one's community. What a great example!
There is more! The night before, Saturday night, Jan and Jack hosted us for the evening. It was a joy to meet them. Carmen and Jacob had fun at their play room at the basement. Out host shared to us about their spiritual pilgrimage and how God led them to Emmanuel FMC. Jan told us of her services at a community center helping the poor of the community. While we were talking, Jack went out to take care of their neighbor's dogs. I later thought, "It is little things like these that leave a great impact on a community." I left Alton with great encouragement. Free Methodists are making a difference here in the USA because they are connected to their communities and actively demonstrating God's love in simple and yet profound ways.