No Place Else On Earth
When Jean and I signed on as administrators for the Cascade District of our denomination (an area covering Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon and Southwest Idaho), we asked our predecessor, Sim Ogle, to give us a brief history on each of the churches in the district and a brief bio on their pastors. Bob and Carol Richardson had pastored and led the little Foursquare Church in Myrtle Creek, Oregon for about 11 years. Bob and Carol both had serious health challenges, she with arthritis, and he with back and leg trouble from years working in the sawmill in nearby Ritter, Oregon.
At some point, we realized it was time to close the Myrtle Creek church. Attendance had leaked away and by now the only people attending were relatives of Bob and Carol who lived 25 miles away in Roseburg and drove to Myrtle Creek on Sundays just for the services. In fact, Bob and Carol also lived in Roseburg to be nearer their family and their health care. At this point there was no local outreach and there were no local people attending. Bob and Carol had served the church well and faithfully and at one time the church had served a reasonably thriving community well. But the thriving was long past, both in the church and the community.
As the decision to close the church took shape, we felt we should go visit them and give them what encouragement we could and help them walk through the process of church closing. So on one of our weekends of ministry in nearby Roseburg, we arranged to meet Bob and Carol at the church property in Myrtle Creek on Monday morning and let them show us around, then go to the Casino restaurant at Canyonville, five miles to the south to have lunch together.
We checked out of our motel in Roseburg that morning, and drove south on Interstate 5 the 20 miles to the Myrtle Creek exit. We followed our GPS to the address of the little church building. The building was dated but clean and nice. In a few minutes the Pastors arrived and we met them, then spent the next hour and more being shown around their church building. They loved their little building. It was a bit threadbare and worn, but very clean and tidy. Technology certainly hadn’t taken over in the Myrtle Creek church! In fact, they still had an overhead projector for projecting the hand-written transparencies on the screen during worship. All the rooms were clean and cared for, but the building was beginning to take on an air of disuse.
You see, the Sunday morning attendance was only nine people, including Bob and Carol! And the other seven who attended were members of their family who drove down from Roseburg each Sunday morning simply out of love for Bob and Carol. They had no presence in the small community. The building was only occupied for a little over an hour a week on Sunday morning. They had closed their midweek service a couple of years before because even their faithful family members weren’t making it down from Roseburg—work and kids school homework and weather in the winter months.
I took lots of photos of the building, inside and out, and pictures of Bob and Carol standing in front of the building. Then we invited them to have lunch with us at the only eating place nearby, the casino at Canyonville, 10 miles further down Interstate 5. We followed them to the Interstate, then exited behind them at Canyonville, and parked beside each other at the casino. We got a very nice booth, had a very nice lunch, spent the next two-plus hours asking questions and listening to their story.
The time we spent with Bob and Carol in that restaurant booth was good, but bittersweet. As we asked questions and listened and asked more questions about their lives and their family and their health and their sacrifices and their ministry to their aging congregation, there were quite a few tears – mostly their tears but some tears in our eyes as well. Much of the story had to do with the collapse of the lumber industry and the closing of the mill with nothing to replace it, and people leaving the area to find work elsewhere. And for most of their time at the church there were more funerals than weddings. In fact there were many funerals and very few baby dedications. We were reminded once again that while our systems recognize and reward success and growth, God recognizes and rewards faithfulness!
One story led to another and time was passing quickly. We still had a more than 4-hour drive to get home that evening. At one point I almost said, “Well, it’s been so good to meet with you and learn about the good things God has done through you and the ministry of your church in Myrtle Creek. But we really need to get going!” But I didn’t! We kept listening to the stories and asking questions that led to more stories and we were afraid the casino would start charging us rent on the booth!
As we sat there listening and simply being present with them, I processed my internal conflict between staying a little longer and getting on the road to home and for some much-needed rest and catching up on things we’d left undone while spending Friday through Monday in Southern Oregon. Then the Good Shepherd spoke to my heart in that inaudible but unmistakable whisper he uses with me, “There’s no place else on earth that’s more important for you to be than right here right now!”
Jean and I talked about that once we were on the road headed back to Bend. That has become one of my clearest messages from God and the time in Myrtle Creek that morning with Bob and Carol at the church building and in Canyonville that afternoon in the booth at the restaurant became a defining moment in my life. My values adjusted a couple of clicks closer to God’s values that day.
About two weeks later, we were able to come to Roseburg to the thriving church there and have a ten-minute slot in the morning service. We honored Bob and Carol in front of their seven person, all family congregation who sat together on the front row, and before the entire congregation of New Life Church. We brought Bob and Carol up on the platform and honored them for the faithful work they had done in Myrtle Creek, and even gave them a plaque to honor their service. Then we laid hands on them and prayed for them and 250 or so people stood and applauded them! No one had ever honored them like that in their entire lives! And at that moment, just like the moment a couple of weeks earlier in the booth in the restaurant in Canyonville, there was no place else on earth that it was more important for us to be!
Here’s some of what I took away from my God encounter in the restaurant booth that day, my discussions with Jean on the road back to Bend, and processing through the season of radical change and transition in our lives since that time:
- There are moments that are more important for us than anything else that’s happening, any place else on earth at the time!
- Sometimes those moments are thrust on us.
- Sometimes we or others create those moments, intentionally or unintentionally, not realizing how significant those moments will be.
- Sometimes we have an opportunity to create a moment like that for someone.
- Sometimes those moments may involve a little inconvenience or sacrifice.
- We need God-given sensitivity and awareness to recognize those moments as they are happening, not after they’ve ended and it’s too late!
Don’t miss the moments! Don’t rush through them or be in a hurry to get on the road, or out the door, or on to the next thing in your busy life. Those moments could be the most important moments of all to someone. And every one of those moments can be an opportunity for God to teach you or transform you.
Ask God to give you moments in which “There’s No Place Else On Earth It’s More Important To Be Than Right Here Right Now!”
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.
See you back here next week!