Saturday, July 19, 2014

Still Going Strong

 One of the few years I can't attend opening night of the New Wilmington Mission Conference this year. The weather is cool and raining. My prayers go up for this life changing conference.
Memories from my post written three years ago:

We arrive early to the campus after the drive through the Amish farms that seem to never change on the hill to State Route 208. Etched in the cement is NWMC under our feet. I look to the bricks. My father's is easy to find. After he passed away, the church that he served so long and well, placed the memorial there- Gerald Lewis, Not ashamed to testify II Tim. 1:8b. I do not kiss the brick as my sister suggested. But I do the mental, spiritual kiss toward heaven. "Happy birthday, Dad, in a place where there is no time." I always think he is in that great cloud of witnesses. Not always looking at us, but still cheering us on.
The heat is oppressive, but it wouldn't be missionary conference if it weren't. I tell Katie we need to sit on the edge of the outdoor auditorium. I tried once to sit in the middle and that really was too uncomfortable. On metal folding chairs, I soak it in. Up front a circle of pray-ers, by the world map of florescent orange tags marking mission stations, are holding hands in preparation for the evening service.
I lift my head up to the flags of the countries and states. I love the lake, seeing walkers on the far side with their golden retrievers and black labs. Soon, the junior high delegates meander down the hill to the sawdust floor. My heart leaps, I'm so full of anticipation of an evening of singing, preaching of far away lands and the tradition that is 106 years old this year.
My vague first recollection is this same auditorium, my father help build years before I was born, darkness and the lighted stage. Leaving my sister in a steaming dorm room, as she was a delegate. As I got older, we came for the evening sessions, the singing with enthusiasm became my highlight. I always loved missionaries. How anyone could find this boring always beyond my imagination. Now the singing is with a praise band and this year, led us well into the presence of the Lord. For many years, the choir director encouraged the singing. My sister's daughter also had the opportunity to be a delegate from her church in New Jersey. I even planned my trips home to coincide with the conference.
I brought my girls here as babies with my mother. The first time Katie came, Mom encouraged me to allow her to play in the sawdust, "Danny played with his trucks during the meetings." Then someone urgently told us that glass was in the sawdust and I grabbed Katie. We spent that evening on the grass on the hill. Next time, we found out childcare was provided, even a vacation Bible school for older kids.
A memorial service for a friend of my parents was included one year. We sat in the chapel and bag pipes filled the small space with Amazing Grace. Mom told us stories of this missionary and I wished I had been born earlier.
I must admit another important part of the memories and tradition is food. Ice cream at the Dutch Isle afterwards and chewing over the message of the evening. How did it touch you? Once or twice we went to the old Isaly's for our ice cream. Mostly the Dutch Isle provided our ice cream with family and friends. Last night we enjoyed it under their metal canopy, with that rhythmic rain and smiling at the Amish family, with the small girl staring us over as we were staring at her and her siblings. The father got the buggy just like our father would get the car in the rain. He waved at us as they left. I prayed for their safety on the non-lit road in the storm that came up after an oppressively hot day.
I love the tradition, yet the freshness every year of seeing the Holy Spirit winding His way through the lives of young people, urging them into His service. I relish the history of the white haired ones who had served, yet still on fire for Jesus. This is Church being the hands and feet of Jesus. This is exciting!
"Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place..." we sing at the end of the service with our sweaty arms around each other, swaying.
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