Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mission: Durham, NC

I returned home yesterday afternoon after a short mission trip to Durham, North Carolina. The Lord blessed the entire weekend.

Ralph Thompson
One of the many blessings was getting to spend time with my fellow chaplain, evangelist, and brother in Christ--Ralph Thompson (pictured above). Ralph coordinated every aspect of my trip. We spent just about every waking moment together. We visited fire and EMS stations. We made a couple of visits to the Durham dispatch center. We talked to officers on the street (and even during a Durham Bulls baseball game). We made a hospital visit to the family of a 4-month old little boy who is fighting the battle of his young life. And we had one of the most incredible witnessing opportunities in a Quiznos sandwich shop, of all places.

Ralph's tireless devotion to serving Christ, his love for the first responder family, his love for his family (wife, Carter; and son, Carl), his personal testimony, and the kindness and care he showed me all served as a great example of godliness and Christ-likeness. Thank you for serving as a living epistle, brother. You encouraged and challenged me in many ways.

Fire Station 13
I spent my first night in Durham, at Fire Station 13 (pictured below). The station family greeted me with the same warm, southern hospitality I experienced all weekend. The captain showed me to my bunk room and extended an invitation to join them on a call, if they got one that night. He said it was unlikely that they would get a call but, of course, one never knows. He also tried to explain to me what would happen in the station, in the event of a call.

I was bushed after a day of flying across the country. And my body clock was still on California time. So, I wasn't able to fall asleep until after 2:00 am. Then it happened.

I literally jumped to my feet at about 2:30 am, when the sound of the loudest horn I have ever heard brought me to my feet. The lights in my room came on automatically. The unmistakable sound of a dispatcher blared over the radio. The station received a call of a structure fire.

As quickly as I jumped to my feet, I found myself sitting back on my bunk. Less than half awake, I did not have very good balance. It took me several moments for my mind to clear and to come to the realization that I was not in bed with my wife in Southern California, but in a bunk room at a fire station, in Durham, North Carolina. :-)

Once reality took hold of my mind, I could hear the sound of the fire truck pulling out of the station. Department policy dictates that all Durham fire companies are en route to calls within one minute of receiving the alarm. These guys were fast!

Before crawling back into bed, I made an unsuccessful attempt at turning off the lights in my room. I flipped the light switch several times, but nothing happened. The lights were on an automatic timer, and they weren't going off until they were good and ready. :-)

Once the lights turned off, I crawled back under the covers and did the only thing I could do. I prayed for my firefighting brethren.

They returned a short time later. I had just fallen asleep when the heart-thumping process began again. A second call. :-) This time I didn't even try to get out of bed. I just prayed.

The next morning (which was only a couple hours away), we all had a good laugh about my first experience in a fire station. Everyone in the station received a challenge coin; and I would see them all again at the Public Safety Appreciation Services. Thank you to the Station 13 family for opening their house to me, making me feel welcome, and giving me a story I will tell the rest of my life. :-)

The Gospel at 33,000 Feet
Allow me, now, to give you a snapshot of the ministry that took place during the weekend. To do that I must go back in time, because one of the most significant opportunities took place at 33,000 feet, during the first leg of my flight to Durham. Click here to read more.....

The Sovereignty of God in Quiznos
Saturday was a non-stop day of visiting first responders and inviting them to the next day's Public Safety Services. But the highlight of the day came in an unexpected place, with a person outside my "target" people group that weekend. I met a young lady named Victoria (pictured at the right). Ralph and I were blessed to see the sovereignty of God in action. Click here to read more.....

Impersonating a Police Officer
The big day was quickly upon us. Ralph's and Bethesda Baptist's months of hard work and planning culminated in three Public Safety Services. I was blessed to stand in the pulpit for all three services. At the end of my sermon, I used the analogy of impersonating a police officer to introduce the Law and the Gospel. After the services, I enjoyed a time of good fellowship with my first responder brethren--people like Jesse (pictured at the left). Click here to read more.....

On the Way to the Ball Park
In an effort to "power down" a bit (something I learned Ralph, like me, doesn't do well either) after an amazing 48 hours of ministry, Ralph treated me to a Durham Bulls baseball game. But we had a very important stop to make on the way to the ballpark.

Elios is a beautiful and precious 4-month-old little boy. While the investigation is ongoing, he may be the victim of infant shake syndrome, at the hands of his babysitter. No charges have been filed. Again, the investigation is ongoing.

Ralph and I made our way to little Elios' hospital room. His mother sat quietly in a chair next to his bed. The moment I walked into the room, I was immediately in a battle to fight back the tears. As I looked at the precious little one in the bed, surrounded by machines and monitors, I could not help but to think of the countless days Mahria and I spent at our daughter's hospital bedside, during the early years of her life.

Ralph had been ministering to Elios' parents since their ordeal began. I stood by quietly and listened as Ralph brought appropriate words of comfort to Elios' mother. Before leaving the room, the three of us gathered around Elios' bed. I gently placed my hand on mom's shoulder, as Ralph led us in prayer for the baby.

Please pray for little Elios. It is too early for the doctors to provide any kind of definitive prognosis. Pray for his healing. Pray also that this ordeal will be used by God to draw Elios' parents to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Before we left the hospital, we spent some time talking to some of the EMS personnel gathered outside the emergency room entrance. Most of them I had met that morning, during the church services. The visit to the hospital also afforded me the opportunity to talk to three Durham PD officers and give them copies of Take Up The Shield. (Every first responder who attended the church services also received a free copy of the book.)

Go Bulls!!
In addition to our love for the Lord and our love for the first responder community, Ralph and I share another passion--baseball!

The game was already underway when we found our seats. I brought several copies of Take Up The Shield into the ballpark to give to police officers working overtime assignments at the game. We found several officers and we spent time having good conversation with each of them.

Toward the end of the game, Ralph and I (pictured at the right) took our seats, debriefed the weekend, and enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark. A breeze (a subtle and gentle gift from God) cooled the warm and humid August night.

It was the bottom of the 9th. The Bulls were at bat and down by one run. There was one runner on base. I turned to Ralph and said, "You know, brother, a 'walk-off' home run would make this weekend complete." The next pitch.....

Whack!

I jumped out of my seat and yelled as the ball left the bat and quickly flew over the left field wall. The young man at the plate, hoping to one day play in the major leagues, hit a "walk-off" home run to win the game. What a great moment, and a great exclamation point to an incredible weekend of ministry. I joked with Ralph the rest of the evening that while I am not Babe Ruth, I did call the shot at a Durham Bulls baseball game. :-)

Thank You
To my brother, Ralph: I cannot thank you enough for what you did for me this weekend, and what you taught me about being a follower and worshipper of the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank God for the friendship He allowed us to forge this weekend.

To Pastor Clay and the Bethesda Baptist Church family: Thank you for loving first responders enough to welcome them into the church and to show genuine appreciation for what they do every day on the streets of Durham. Thank you for supporting my mission trip to Durham. Thank you, Pastor Clay, for allowing me to stand in your pulpit. It was an honor to preach the Word and present the Gospel at Bethesda Baptist.

To Carter and Carl (Ralph's family): Thank you for lovingly and sacrificially supporting Ralph in his ministry at the church and to the first responder community. Thank you for making me feel so welcome in your home. And thank you for allowing me to monopolize so much of Ralph's time this weekend. It was a blessing to get to know both of you, and now, to call you friends.

To Durham's First Responders: I love you. It was an honor and privilege to spend time with each and every one of you. Thank you for who you are and for what you do. I pray that Jesus Christ will be the Lord and Savior of your life. I pray that those of you who already know Christ will grow in your faith and obedience to Him. And for those of you who do not yet know Christ, I pray He will draw each of you to repentance and faith, extending to each of you the free gift of eternal life that only He can give.

To the Ten-Four family: Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. You lifted me up more times than I can count. Thank you for your continued practical and prayerful support of the ministry and our family.

To Mahria, Michelle, Marissa, and Amanda: There is a down-side to every trip--leaving the four of you. Thank you for your love, patience, prayers, and support. While it was I that flew to North Carolina, we all made this mission trip together (as is the case with every trip I take). The Lord knows I could not do what I do without your love and support on the home front. I am blessed.

And to my Lord and Savior: Thank You, Jesus, for saving me from the just punishment for my sins against You. Thank You for taking upon Yourself the punishment I deserve for breaking Your Law and sinning against You. Thank You for saving me and extending me the free gift of eternal life. Thank You for allowing me to make this trip to Durham. Thank you for your patience and grace, for Your provision, and for Your protection. Thank You for Your forever faithfulness, even when I lacked faith. Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to serve You.

May You, and You alone, Lord, receive the honor and praise and glory for what took place this weekend. For You alone are worthy. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an incredible trip you had. Praise the Lord for the lady who accepted Him as Lord and savior and all of the copies of you r book that were given out an dall of those officers who heard the word and His glorious message of love and salvation for them.

Pastor Ralph said...

Tony,

Thanks for documenting the weekend. I'm still catching up---way behind on my regular work. Thank you for giving of yourself this weekend. You blessed me, brother, more than you will ever know.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

We really enjoyed your message this past Sunday at Bethesda. You did a great job clearly prsenting the Gospel. I encourage you to keep up the work!

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Thank you for the message and presentation on Sunday at Bethesda Baptist Church, Durham. It was "awesome" and your use of personal responses to make your points in scripture were great. You did a very good job and hope you will stop by again sometime.
You and Pastor Ralph would be an outstanding team. He has been a blessing to our department as our Chaplain.Keep sharing God's word.

Thanks again

Mike Smith
Durham County EMS

Richard said...

Thank you for coming, It was a great sermon

Richard Wall
Bethesda Baptist Church Member