A few weeks ago I reported on Christian Standard’s annual contributing editors retreat, January 11-13. But I didn’t describe a bittersweet part of our time together.
One of our members had just learned about a tragic, sudden death in his church. The auto accident had happened on the other side of the country in the afternoon as we were gathering for our meeting. Our friend skipped dinner to handle phone calls and make plans to return home the next morning. Then he came to our opening session.
Once our group had assembled, we asked him to share what had happened, and then we prayed for him, for an extended time. The enormity of his loss was communicated to each of us in his stifled sobbing. None of us would have wished for the loss and pain he was experiencing that night, but none of us will forget our time together with him and God.
After our “amen,” we proceeded on with our planned agenda. We had decided to interview Matt Proctor and Randy Gariss about their experiences in Joplin, Missouri, after the devastating tornado that struck their hometown May 22 last year.
Many details of that story have been told and written. But nothing we had read could touch us like the matter-of-fact accounts of suffering and service these brothers shared. College Heights, where Randy ministers, served 16,000 meals in the first week. Ozark Christian College, where Matt is president, became American Red Cross headquarters in Joplin through July. Randy presided at the memorial service the weekend after the tragedy, and he told us how the name of Jesus was lifted up there.
Matt’s 17-year-old son worked from dawn to dusk in rescue and recovery and rebuilding efforts for three weeks after the tornado struck. “These have been the worst weeks of my life,” he told his dad. “And the best. I have seen the church at its best.”
“There’s something sweet,” Randy told us, “about being so overwhelmed that you’d just be crushed without God.”
Our agenda called for one more discussion topic after theirs. But we had been overwhelmed—with gratitude for servants like Matt and Randy, and with fresh reminders of our own smallness in the service of an all-sufficient, always available God. As we spoke a closing prayer, we knew that, like Randy so many months before, we had experienced something sweet.