On Thursday I attended a luncheon at Focus on the Family to “Revolutionize Your Youth Ministry.” I knew going into it that they were going to try to sell me a conference in November. I was vaguely interested, being that it would be a nice bi-annual match with Acquire the Fire, however I was mostly interested in going for the free food and networking with other youth pastors in the area. I greatly desire to leave a strong program in place for whoever takes over the ministry in September.
The food was great. The presentation was professional. The room was filled with 100+ youth leaders, which is always a good time. However, I could not help but notice an attitude of “your youth ministry is broken - and you can only fix it by bringing them to our conference and use our resources.” Now don’t get me wrong - because I definitely saw their hearts - and they were very passionate about their program, and I have heard good things about their program. And I understand the paradigm of being involved with a Christian ministry where marketing is a big component. I spent much of my time at Peak 3 on the phone with youth pastors attempting to sell trips to them.
But for some reason I left with a bad taste in my mouth. After the message - which was primarily a message about evangelism (solid message), they transitioned into “sell the conference” mode. “If you register 50 people now, you will get the early bird price, 5 free registrations, a T-Shirt, a Polo Shirt, and this nifty back pack!” I lean over to my friend and said, is this an infomercial now? It was just weird. I understand both sides of the discussion. I guess that I am just sad that money is such an important factor in ministry and in the Christian culture. The “Jesus Junk” industry is a $2 billion per year industry. On the other hand, it’s great that there’s such a wealth of resources out there available to us at cheap prices due to competition and capitalism. Just random thoughts. What are yours?
In other news, I learned in a very practical way that I am, in fact, not in control - and I was reminded that my life is a vapor.
My buddy Jeff and I decided to head to Albuquerque for a day to goof off and get out of dodge for a mini-vacation. It’s a 5 hour drive from the Springs. Before leaving, we check the weather in Raton Pass, Las Vegas, NM, and Albuquerque. Some light snow, but nothing to be worried about - 40 degrees, and some fog. OK - no sweat. In Raton pass, the roads had light snow, but again - nothing to worry about. I was wrong. Coming around a turn I hit a patch of black ice and spun out. I was unable to regain control and smashed into the guard rail at 60 MPH. My rear bumper hit first and then threw my front end into the rail. We come to a stop, I look at Jeff and say, “Are you okay?!?” He responds, “Yes! You?” We get out of the truck to survey the damage: One bent rear bumper, one bent front valance (piece under bumper). Actual damage: some rubbing of front driver’s side tire on a sharp right turn. That’s all. So we survey the scene, realize that we’re facing backwards on I-25 without shoulders on either side with a blind corner about 100 yards in front of us (from where we came from and spun out). Not good. I try the ignition, and the truck fires. Turning around won’t work. So, we throw it into reverse, and begin backing down the highway to the nearest exit - about 200 yards to a weigh station. While backing up Jeff starts laughing, and we see the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign on the other side of the highway. I backed my truck down the highway into another state. Add that to the list of things never done before. We get the truck turned around, and the trip continues.
Roads are fine for about 60 miles - and then Alaska happens. We went from fine roads/no weather to 6 inches of snow on the highway. We’re going 35 MPH in 4 wheel drive. After an hour and a half of this we end up in Las Vegas, NM and stop for dinner. There is snow everywhere - and it is not slowing down. We get back on the road and are going 45 MPH in blizzard conditions. After 10 miles we come to a road block - State Troopers had closed the highway. Bummer. Lets go to Vegas!
We return to the not-so-much-fun Las Vegas in search of a hotel room. We figure with 14 hotels in a town of five thousand we’ll find somewhere to stay. Nope. The hotel owner lets us know that the Red Cross is setting up a shelter at the high school gymnasium. We travel around town looking for something to do, meet some random people, see a really weird amount of people out for a walk (remember - this is BLIZZARD conditions), and finally make our way over to the gymnasium. The red cross trailer is there. But the person with the keys? MIA. There’s about a dozen cars running in the parking lot. We go back to the gas station, use the facilities, pick up some munchies, and return to the gym. I say to Jeff, “Dude, you just want to go home?” He agrees, and goes to ask about the north bound road. “Sorry! They just closed it 5 minutes ago!” Oh goodie. We’re stranded, snowed in in Las Vegas, and this is a bad thing.
One of the volunteers for Red Cross is a youth pastor/sound guy/janitor at a church in town - and he offers the church for a shelter. We caravan over, and there’s about twenty of us at 9:30 pm. Jeff and I offer our services in whatever ways we can muster - and I end up pushing around a 5 horse snow blower for 3 hours. It was snowing so hard that about 20 minutes after clearing a sidewalk I would have to go over it again. I spent much of my time in the parking lot clearing spaces and area, and people kept showing up - and I kept plowing. After about 3 hours I had enough - and went inside. I was a walking popsicle. I was in cotton socks and black dress shoes - and frozen. Jeff and I made our way into the sanctuary and played piano and sang out of a Baptist hymnal - and we then played Phase 10 with some students from Texas Tech and UNM. It was fascinating - at the end of the night there were about a hundred of us, stranded in a Red Cross disaster shelter. People from a hundred miles of highway were all put into the same room, and the mix was neat. It was like something out of a movie.
At 8am when we woke, it was still snowing hard. After a pancake breakfast, more snow plowing, and a short game of spades, we found out that the southbound roads were opened - and the northbound might be closed until tomorrow. Lets go! On the south side of town we saw something that I doubt many people have ever seen: a snow plow stuck in the snow. Yes, you read that right. It was being pulled out by a huge CAT grader. So we continue our trip to Albuquerque and make it there at noon. We have a good time for the afternoon and then find out that the road opened at 5pm. We leave at 6:30, and make it to Vegas by 8:30. Only about 20 miles of road around Santa Fe was nasty - the rest was great. I’m cruising through Vegas at 75 MPH in cruise control, when I see a state trooper blocking the road with about 30 flares. “What’s up?”
“A big rig has overturned about ten miles north of here. The road is closed. Hopefully it will be open in a couple of hours.”
Oh goodie. I’ve heard “hopefully two hours” before. Riiiight.
Now, I have a meeting at 10am, and another at 11am. I really need to be in the Springs. Jeff has PT at 5:30 am. We go look for a room - nope. All sold out. And you guessed it, we end up back at First Baptist Church, in the same Red Cross disaster area shelter.
“Hey! You guys are back!”
Yeah. We missed you so much.
We decide to give it an hour to try and get back on the road. When I went to bed at 12:45 am, the roads were still closed. We learned later that the big rig was carrying 43,000 gallons of creamer. I’m picturing a quarter mile of crash carnage and ice cream - put it together. Creamer, ice, and snow. All you would need is some sugar.
To summarize the trip in one statement, I would have to use Jeff’s statement that evening. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see aliens next.”
This snow storm was the biggest that the old timers had seen in their entire lives there. It was completely un-predicted. Las Vegas got around 2 feet of snow in 12 hours - and it all stuck. The town was a mess. NMDOT was completely un-prepared - they’re not used to this kind of snow. Farm equipment was used to plow many of the roads. And for 45 hours I experienced something that I will remember the rest of my life.
8 am the next morning we get on the road. And there were no more hitches on the drive. Jeff made it to his 1300 briefing, and I was able to get into the office for a short time.
We really do not know what will happen in the next moment. Just when we think we have everything planned out, something happens out of our control that changes our plans. God works much like this. In our self-centered lives we think we have everything in control - but we really don’t. And to start the beginning of the trip, we slammed into a guard rail at 60 MPH - and thank God (and the Ford Motor Company) we drove away from the scene of the accident. People die on the freeway at 60 MPH.
Crazy Times. Hope you enjoyed!