It’s a luxury to be able to pack up and drive a few hours North to escape a pending hurricane. I arrived in Tyler, TX, yesterday to join my family at an extended stay hotel. This morning I woke a little early, and Google searched a nearby Starbucks. Walking into the store, I slipped on my facemask and placed my order. The barista, who seemed to be a veteran employee, warmly took my order and sensed my moderate irritation in having to wear a mask. “I like being able to breathe.” I candidly said, “but it’s no problem.” He apologized for the ridiculous protocols they were forced to follow. Then we talked about the COVID hysteria, and he gracefully asked a little about my family. We chatted a few more minutes before I picked up my coffee and sat down at a corner table.
As I worked, he came by my table a few times and struck up a conversation. He asked if I knew a doctor in the area and proceeded to tell me about his medical challenges. I asked when he was getting off work and offered to talk with him longer, so our discussion time wouldn’t take away from his job. “I get off at 1:00 pm,” he said. I assured him I would be working till then. As the next hour passed, he kept glancing at me. Not in a creepy way, but with an eagerness to get something off his mind. The café grew cooler, so I moved to a table on the patio. Then he, let’s call him Ken, came out of the store. He proclaimed, “I got a ten-minute break.” I grinned and said, “What’s up?” “Well,” he said, “what do you do?” I responded, “I’m a pastor. I’ve evacuated with my family due to the hurricane.” “Oh,” he replied. Not letting him off the hook, I continued, “What’s your story? What’s happening with you?” He began to tell about his battle with cancer, and then the loss of his mom. He had been an employee at Starbucks for eighteen years. His life-frustrations came through as well as an acknowledgment of God’s goodness to him. He also told me how his leg was in significant pain, but he had learned to live with the discomfort.
Our conversation led to a discussion about his calling to make disciples and lead his co-workers to Jesus. He resisted the idea at first as he gave me a you-are-crazy look. But as we continued, He began to hear the words of Jesus in the passages I shared with him. “Do you go to church anywhere?” I asked. “No. Not since COVID,” He said as he stood up to return to work. I asked to pray with him and he said yes. He, unexpectedly, grabbed my hand as I began praying. When I said, “Amen,” his countenance changed. I could sense the Holy Spirit drawing back one of His children in a loving way.
Within a few minutes, a pastor friend of mine arrived to take me to lunch, and I introduced him to Ken. They talked, and he invited Ken to connect with their church in the area.
Thinking back over our conversation this morning, I am reminded of Peter’s letter to the New Testament church. He began by saying, “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion…” With this sober greeting, Peter communicated his concerns and encouragement to a scattered church. Due to the harsh persecution of religious leaders coupled with Roman brutality, believers fled from Jerusalem into the northern regions of the Middle East and surrounding areas. They were comfortable at one time. With James, the brother of Jesus, leading the church in Jerusalem, they witnessed explosive church growth and a healthy community. After years of growth, however, the believing Jews were thrust out of their community. Though this era seems to be one of great tragedy, it forced the gospel to spread into the Gentile regions of the Middle East. The communities which Peter listed in his address would have otherwise not heard received Christ’s message.
I make this point to emphasize the greater commission we have as the disciples of Jesus. In the moments of community-shifting tragedy, we can be taken into cities and regions which we would not normally enter. We can look at this as a greater opportunity to make disciples as we go rather than merely a change of scenery accompanied by the fear of hurricane damage. God brings us to those who need Him most. When the enemy attempts to wreak havoc, look for the destiny God is setting you up to fulfill.
When Peter wrote to the “dispersion,” this term carried with it an image of seeds being sown. As you evacuate from your homes into various parts of Texas, know that you have seeds that need to be planted. You carry seeds of the gospel, of encouragement, and hope. Plant them well. Going and making disciples cannot be restricted to a two-week venture in a foreign land. It is a lifestyle we must take up each morning.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash