Writing for a mass audience is hard in a world that is easily offended. Being a Christian writer is worse. I struggle with how much "God" to bring into my work. Today, I am bringing all God into my work. I saw a miracle happen today. I am not here to address where ever you are at in your spirituality. I am not writing this to prove whether or not God exists. That is a much bigger discussion, the matter of Faith.
Now that you've read the disclaimer, let me get to what I witnessed. First, a little back story. About 10 years ago, I was in dire straits financially. I was working for a start-up and living on my own in Worcester, MA and literally living hand to mouth. Often this company could not make payroll which would leave me with several weeks without pay. I cried and prayed almost daily for what I could do. The commission I was generating as a salesperson for this company was not enough to hold me over when the checks were late. I needed more commission pay in order to weather this storm. I tried and tried. Nothing worked. I still made the same amount of money. This went on for months. Was there any end? Someone gave me a book called The Prayer of Jabez. They told me if I did what it said, it would work miracles. Of course, I read it and did exactly what it said. The following month, I not only made more than enough to cover what I needed, I was able to pay off a substantial amount of debt and give 10% of my income to my church. Pretty incredible if you ask me but that is just the preface of what I am going to tell you. Read on.
Fast forward to today. I have sustained many trials in my life and God has delivered me from them all. I could write pages on it. In fact, I am writing one book now and several to follow on just that. Through my experiences I have learned to trust God in all things. There are times when I second guess His willingness to answer prayer. I feel terrible when that happens but it's true. Sometimes I have doubted God. Like today.
I am in Orlando with several friends and have just finished attending a 4-day conference. This was a wonderful bible conference given by a world famous bible teacher, Joyce Meyer. I learned several things from her. You'd have thought, I'd be so full of knowledge and so high on God that I wouldn't have thought twice about what I witnessed today but you are wrong. The human heart has Alzheimer's. Today is our last day here and we were attending church this morning at First Baptist Church of Orlando. I didn't think too much of it, I like to go to church. I go every Sunday. I scooped up my bible and headed out the door with my friends. On the ride, one of my friends announced that her regular pastor at this church would not be delivering the sermon. A man who had written a couple of books would be the guest speaker. I was glad to know that a Christian author would be talking because I am one. Pay no mind, I just went on viewing the palm trees and manicured landscape from the rear passenger window as my friends prattled on. We parked, found a seat and sat down. I prepared for my mind and fixed my things around me to be out of the way and stared blankly forward until some guy came out to announce who would be speaking today. It would be Bruce Wilkinson who would be speaking to us. Can you guess? He wrote the Prayer of Jabez among other things. I was pretty excited to know he'd be talking. I didn't know what he looked like or what he'd say but I remembered how much his book had helped me.
He is a tall man with a pleasantly round face and glowing smile. He has white hair and glasses, kind of like a friendly grandfather who would bend down, grin and say "Give your old grand dad a big hug" and stretch his arms out to you. I settled in and he got right to what he wanted to say. He travels all over talking about his books and his teachings. To be invited by a church to speak was nothing new. He accepted the invitation from them and planned his trip. What comes next gripped all involved. The week before he planned to come out to Orlando from California he turned on the TV and was skimming the channels when he came across the show, 60 Minutes. He doesn't like 60 Minutes but what he saw made him stop. The segment he caught was on the homelessness in Orlando. The reporter was interviewing and reporting on dozens and dozens of families that had become homeless as a result of job loss and the current economy in the US and in Florida. If you don't know, Florida is one of the states hardest hit by the recession at a staggering 11.9% unemployment rate as of January of this year. These families of 4, 5 and even 6 had to move out of their foreclosed homes and into motel rooms. Possessions that had been stored had now been taken for non-payment of rented space and sold to cover the debt. All these families had was in the rooms they were being interviewed in. Their stories were as heartbreaking as they were gut-wrenching. Bruce knew then what his real purpose was for going to Orlando. He needed to help with the homeless families in that city. For the believers in Christ, we get these senses all the time. God asks us to do something. Sometimes He asks us to do something really crazy. Very often, we are afraid or don't believe it is possible and ignore it. Bruce did not do that. He prayed about what was supposed to be done. God gave him a plan. Rent 50 buses on Saturday night and bring whomever wants to get on at these motels to First Baptist Church of Orlando, feed them a hot meal and provide for their needs physically and spiritually. Love on them, show them that someone cares and ask nothing in return.
50 buses is a lot of buses, let's face it. It takes a lot to believe that you would have a need to fill 50 buses for this program in the first place. Bruce was certain the number was 50. Then the conversation turned to food. Someone needs to not only pay for buses but food. Not just food but whatever else was needed. Was there a child in one of those families who needed shoes? How about Dad or Mom, did they need money for transportation to find work? As you can imagine, when you start drawing out something like this, dollars signs start swimming in people's heads. How much extra would we need to fund this program on top of what we already ask people to give to meet our budget every week? Just call up Project Bread or Catholic Charities and ask them how much money it costs to run a feeding program for one night and you'll get an idea. Once all of the needs to run this program for a year were written down, they figured out how much. About a million dollars. A million dollars? Break it down into weeks and that is not a tremendous amount of money to feed 50 bus loads of hungry people and never mind what else they need but they settled on a million.
Bruce could not sleep. He lay awake about it and then called the pastor at First Baptist Orlando and brought him the news about how much God wanted Bruce to ask the congregation for. The number they would ask for would be 5 million dollars. Let me put this into perspective for you. About 7,000 people come to the First Baptist of Orlando each weekend between 3 services. That's a lot of people. The average income in Orlando is $21,210.00 per year. That's not a lot of money. In fairness of reporting, the people of First Baptist Orlando are probably making more than that judging by what is in the parking lot but they aren't a sea of millionaires either. Their church campus is large and has a K-12 school so there is a lot that they already support to just sustain what they have. Still, they would ask for 5 million dollars. Bruce would be bold enough to ask for 5 million dollars to be donated. In one weekend.
As he recounted from the pulpit my mind started casting its judgment. This guy wants 5 million dollars in two days. He really thinks that 5 million dollars from a group of 7,000 would be possible in one weekend? I had to hand it to the guy, that was pretty big faith he had. I wasn't necessarily convinced. He continued. Between the Saturday night service and the first service today they had raised all but 1.8 million dollars. What did he say? All they needed was another 1.8 million and they would reach there goal. Is that all you need? Why not ask for the moon while your at it. My emotions started to stir as he began to pray for the goal to be met. Could it really happen? I mean, amen if it could! I put my money in the envelope when he finished. It wasn't a lot but it was the best I could do and I was glad for the opportunity to help. They calculated as the envelopes came forward. The suspense was hanging in the air like a fog. He yelled out "53,000", and then again as he laughed, "27,500", and another "97,000". They kept coming. I know you want to know how much. Well, I'll tell you. In our one service alone we donated 2.6 million dollars. That is over half of what it would have taken to meet the goal. Now, instead of 1 million, instead of 5 million, they have 5.6 million dollars to feed homeless families in Orlando this year for whomever wants to get on that bus. I got to be apart of a special project called Love Orlando. Bruce Wilkinson said, and I quote "Some time from now you are going to share this story and someone is going to come up to you and say, 'you were one of the ones from Love Orlando? I was one of the ones you helped' believe it".
It doesn't matter to me whether you believe this or not. Whether you think they made up the totals or not. I am waiting for that woman that I saw in my mind to come up to me and say "I was one of the ones".
*I originally posted that there were 21,000 regular attendees at First Baptist Orlando but I was mistaken. The number is 7,000.
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