Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vermont Trip ... Day 3

We had a full and exciting Lord's day today. We set out early for Northfield to worship with New Life Church, and had a beautiful drive over the mountain on some backroads (some of which were unpaved). The scenery was amazing. We got into Northfield a little earlier than expected so we drove around and took some pictures of Northfield's famous covered bridges. There are five of them in the Northfield area, three of which are on one road in close distance to each other. I have heard that this particular road is the only place in Vermont where you can see one covered bridge from another. When we have a little more reliable internet service, we'll post some pictures.

We thoroughly enjoyed the worship and fellowship at New Life this morning. They are a very loving church family with simple, authentic worship, open sharing of one another's concerns, and very attentive to the preached word. God is working in so many of their lives and families. Pastor Trey had asked me to preach a challenge to the men of the church, to follow up on their "Man Camp" retreat, which they held this weekend. I preached on the Mandates for Manhood in 1 Peter 3:7, and tried to make the message relevant to both the men and the women of the church. I received some very encouraging (and specific!) feedback as to how the Lord used the message and for that I am grateful.

We had a great lunch at the Knotty Shamrock, an "Irish" pub that is located in the adjacent storefront to the church. Joining us were the pastor and his family, the church's only elder and his wife, and Steve and Nellene Carter, MSC missionaries from NC who were with us at Immanuel back in March. I've been surprised at how popular "fish and chips" are up here. Most of the folks had that for lunch (the fish was a large slab of fried haddock), but I had fish yesterday, satisfying my quota of fish for the year. I ordered a cheesesteak, which was not a proper cheesesteak, for it was served with provolone instead of Cheese Whiz, but it was good nonetheless.

After lunch, we went over the Mayo Nursing Home, where several of the church's members have begun a once-a-month devotional service for the residents. Brother Tony, a former pastor who is now a member of New Life, led the service, and Eric brought a good devotional message on the Fruit of the Spirit. He did a great job with it. It was such a blessing to see Jim showing such a compassion and genuine love for the residents who came to the service. I watched him "help" one of the ladies with the hymn singing by pointing to each line of the songs, and taking time to interact with each of them in a caring way after the service ended.

From there, it was back to New Life for a brief meeting with Trey. Like most of the pastors here, Trey is bivocational and works a full-time job in addition to serving the church. Therefore, it was necessary for him to meet with us to lay out some plans for how we will spend the next two days. He showed us areas of the church that need painting, and some maps of the areas he wants us to do some community surveying and prayerwalking. That is how we'll be spending Monday and Tuesday.

At some point in the day, some sentence was uttered by someone or another that contained the phrase, "the best Maple Creamie you'll ever eat." So, we were duty bound to investigate this matter further. A "Maple Creamie" is a soft-serve vanilla and maple ice cream cone. We were led over to a little ice cream shop attached to a gas station called the Pump & Pantry. Not wanting to be gluttons, Jim and I opted for a medium Maple Creamie, while Eric demonstrated superhuman restraint in ordering the small. Measured from the bottom of the cone to the tip of the Creamie, a "medium" is probably a foot tall. I may have dislocated my tongue trying to get at it before it melted! But it was as good as promised! As we licked, we spread a map out across a picnic table and Steve shared with us some of the work that God is doing in starting new churches and growing existing ones, while also pointing out areas where churches have closed, pastors have resigned, or where no known churches exist. This conversation was very surreal. I have had conversations like this in Africa and South Asia, but never in America. It was eye-opening to see how great the need for the Gospel is here in Vermont. Though we are being given a glimpse of the need, we will not even come close to the areas of greatest need on this trip.

We had barely finished licking when it was time to go to dinner! Jim recalled how I had mentioned in a sermon one time that if you travel with me, you will eat well. He said he was finding that to be true. We met up with Pastor Jim Marchetti and his wife "Mo" of Barre Baptist Fellowship at Village Pizza in Northfield. We'll be with them on Wednesday and Thursday, but tonight was an opportunity to get to know them and hear their hearts and vision for their work. I learned that I was introduced to the congregation of Barre this morning as "the only American who actually enjoys the game of Cricket," and that this was met with a "Hallelujah" from one Jamaican member of the church. It was a good time of mutual encouragement. Feeling convicted about our "overindulgence" of local cuisine, Eric and I opted for a salad for dinner, while Jim ordered a pizza "to go," so he could eat it later. Our salad ended up being huge and delicious -- a grilled chicken salad with strawberries and almonds, covered in a "homemade" raspberry-poppyseed dressing. Delicious and refreshing!

After a time of encouraging fellowship there, we made our way back to the Calef House. I had a brief moment of fellowship with "Pastor Russ" of Washington Baptist Church that was mutually encouraging. We came inside to prepare our "packets" that we will distribute during our survey time tomorrow, and had some great conversation about what God is doing in Vermont, at Immanuel, and in each of our own lives. Team-buiding is always an exciting by-product of mission trips, and we are thoroughly enjoying that aspect of the trip thus far.

Now for something completely different ... a bizarre small world occurrence. It has been very unusual to run across so many people with ties to North Carolina here. Both MSC couples are NC Natives, Pastor Trey and his family lived in Greensboro and we discovered that he and I actually graduated from seminary together in December of 2005, and several of the members at New Life have ties to NC, either themselves or with family members there. But the strangest occurrence unfolded over the course of several hours. Ever since I first talked by phone Mary Lois Geer, one of the MSC missionaries here in Vermont, I have thought that her name and voice were familiar to me. This morning, her husband David (who also seemed very familiar to me) happened to mention to us that she was a graduate of Fruitland. Turns out that her last term at Fruitland was my first, and we had crossed paths there. Then it was mentioned that they had been to Ukraine many times, and we discovered that Donia and I were on the same team with them in 2000 when we were there with Joe Hester and about 195 others on the Riverboat of Hope. As the day unfolded, I began having this very vivid recollection of David and Mary Lois. As I recalled, they surrendered to the call of missions on that trip, and I remembered the worship service in which it happened and how we had prayed for them and a handful of others that expressed a calling in that service. She remembered how the team had prayed several times for the young woman who was pregnant and becoming seasick during the trip -- that woman happened to be Donia! So, tonight we had a great time of fellowship catching up and telling stories about how God had worked in our lives since that day.

As usual, I am the last man standing, as my teammates have hit the rack exhausted from a very full and rewarding day. Like most of my sermons, this update has grown unduly long, and I am calling it a night. Our cell phone service and internet reliability is poor here, but as soon as I can get a steady wifi signal, I will be posting pictures, but that may not be until we are back in Greensboro! In the brief moments of connectivity we've had, we've been hearing glowing reports about the worship service at Immanuel today, and several have called or emailed to let me know what a great job Brian Davis did in the pulpit.

Keep praying for us. I can assure you that God is answering every prayer you are lifting up for us.

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