This set me to musing about the dangers of living in the midst of greenery and the benefits of living in the desert.
Perhaps it's not just coincidence that Abraham and Moses and the Children of Israel and John the Baptist and Jesus all spent some serious time in the desert. (Not to mention the unnamed heroes at the end of Hebrews 11.)
- The ground is browner but the sky is bluer.
- Distant objects appear more clearly.
- It is easier to remember those who are suffering. (People suffer just as much in North Korea whether I am in Arizona or Oklahoma. But I can remember them more easily in Arizona.)
- Little time is wasted on preserving beauty.
- Water is treasured.
Deserts are dangerous, but they're not a distraction.
And on the way back to Arizona, we encountered a living demonstration of the value of the desert: Immanuel Baptist Church.
Sunday morning, June 6, after a simple, warm breakfast with Dale and Joanne, we left Bartlesville for home.
|ready to leave -- Bonnie tries to break my camera!|
|Eating lunch in the shade of a deceased restaurant in Shamrock, TX|
We knew that Tucumcari had seen better days and that the church was probably small and poor. Pastor Gordan Runyan's driving directions were all the proof we needed for that!
"If you get on Tucumcari Boulevard (the main street running East/West here, the one with actual stoplights) the church is one block behind the Fina gas station, which is easy to see."
Then the tables turned and we became the learners. Everyone went in the fellowship hall for some snacks and we met our listeners.
A soft-spoken middle aged single guy named James started peppering me with questions. Really good, serious questions. It seems that Jesus has grabbed his heart in the last few years and now he has a hunger for God that is not often found, even among people half his age. He had just joined the church that morning. He is something of a compulsive reader these days, among them books by John Owen and A. W. Tozer. When he told me he'd read a book by Jerry Bridges, I asked if he'd read The Gospel for Real Life. He hadn't, but when I told him it was good, he got a sort of helpless look on his face and pulled out a piece of paper to write down the title. He said something like, "Oh no, I'm going to buy another book!" Apparently a good chunk of his Social Security check goes to support his "habit"!
Then I met Bill, whose first career was working for the Navy on a nuclear submarine, but wound up in his post-military days in Tucumcari, which is about as far from a submarine as you can get! (It turns out that Pastor Runyan was also on a Navy sub!) He explained how the town of Tucumcari had been killed by I-40, or more accurately, by their failure to adapt to I-40. Unlike other Route 66 towns bypassed by the interstate which have adjusted to the "new reality", Tucumcari's leadership has made a series of bad decisions, failing to respond with vision and unity. As a result the town has been dying for the last 40 years. The population has declined from 14,000 to about 5300. The buildings are run-down. A lot of the community is on welfare, and drugs and crime are up.
Barb and Andy were hosted for the night by Bill and his wife. And Don and Connie took Lu, Bonnie, and I to their home. But first, Connie guided us through the old, once beautiful downtown district and brought it to life with her childhood memories of Tucumcari's glory days. She had grown up there, and now in their "retirement" years, God called Don and Connie back. She took us by a beautiful old Spanish mission that they have purchased, repaired, and turned into a Christian daycare for a few of the (many) children from unstable homes. Other Christians have come alongside to repair other buildings. A Christian artist has decorated a number of downtown walls with beautiful murals of important scenes from Tucumcari's past.
We arrived at their simple adobe farmhouse, which had belonged to her grandparents, fallen into terrible disrepair, and now has been painstakingly recovered by Don and Connie.
Pastor Gordan is seeking to lead his flock away from the "fast food" of gimmicks and traditions and fluffy sermons to the solid nourishment of Biblical doctrine. In a town the size of Tucumcari, this requires real faith. The temptation is strong to bail out and move to a church in a larger city, or mix entertainment or some human attraction with the Word to get people in the door (and dollars in the plate). Because the church is too small to support a full time pastor, Gordan works full time for the post office.
|Gordan and I|
|Don and Connie|
I asked Pastor Runyan what books had most influenced him. I am a book worm myself, (although perhaps not as compulsively as James!), so I love to get to know people by finding out about their favorite books. He rattled off a string of solid books... Luther's Bondage of the Will, Tozer's Pursuit of God, Sproul's Holiness of God, Horton's Christless Christianity...
Then when we got in the car to go they gathered around and Gordan prayed for us. The scene reminded me a bit of the sendoff the church in Tyre gave Paul in Acts 21:5.
I think I left a piece of my heart in Tucumcari. And found a piece of God's. In the desert.
And there was still one more miracle waiting for us.