Disaster Relief Coordinator, Abiding Word Church, Sterling, IL
I did not grow up attending church; no one in my family did really. I attended church a few times a year with my wife when she would ask me to go with her. I enjoyed going with her and listening to the messages, it just wasn’t a part of my life.
As time went on, I felt like I needed to go to church. I needed a relationship with God. I knew his door was open, I just couldn’t walk through. Something was holding me back. I was too scared to ask for help. I didn’t even know how to talk to my wife about it.
Soon after May 20th, 2013, Pastor Scott Porter of Abiding Word Church put out the message about a week-long bus trip to Moore, OK for disaster relief. My wife told me about it and I said, “sure let’s go.” As time got closer for our trip to Oklahoma, I heard some stories about the church members’ previous trip to Joplin, MO. While they were there, they pulled nails all day and did some other projects at a local church. This trip is where our church members first met up with Scott Simons of Right Side up Ministries. That’s who we would be working with again once we arrived in the Moore, OK area. I never really put much thought into what to expect down there. I was hoping this would help me break through the barrier I had in my relationship with God.
Our trip was in mid-June, about a month after the tornado struck. The bus trip down was long, about 13 hours I believe. We arrived very early in the morning at a church in Shawnee, OK. After a few hours of sleep, we awoke to a wonderful meal prepared for us to get our day started. I met Scott and Dara Simons for the first time at a morning meeting. I don’t recall talking to either of them personally that morning, although my wife, Angie, noticed the Starbucks coffee cups they had. I listened to Scott talk about how God was working through them in their ministry. He talked about how to be a blessing in peoples’ lives. It was truly inspiring and was completely new to me. I felt different after hearing him talk. I can’t explain it. It was like I was being tugged or nudged by someone but yet there was no one around me. That door was there again, I just couldn’t pass through. The desire to accept Jesus as my savior was stronger than it had ever been, but there was still something holding me back.
We were given our first assignments for the day and we were bussed off to our destinations. I had worked in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 while serving in the Illinois Army National Guard but this time it was different. My perspective had changed. I realized that as we drove though parts of rural Oklahoma. I was able to picture these people’s lives and what it must have been like a few weeks prior. I imagined how terrified they had to have been during the storm. As we drove though some affected areas, I saw that a lot of work had been done but so much more work was left to do. My heart ached for these people.
As our days of hard work continued, I learned more and more about the love of God. I learned more about him in those few days than I did the first 30 years of my like. I felt I belonged. It was what I needed in my life. The problem was that I was too scared to talk about it and I didn’t know how to approach anyone about it, so I said nothing. Scott talked to us every morning about showing love to the hurting people and he told us to listen to the homeowner if they wanted to talk about what had happened. He said listening to them often meant so much more to them than actually doing the work. The work will get done, but being there to listen to them and pray with them was an eternal act of love.
I met some amazing men of God in our group while we were there. Listening to them talk about their relationship with God, God’s love, and what he has done in their lives was amazing. I knew that’s where I needed to be as well. After returning home, I thought about the experience a lot and how God used us to show his love, grace, and mercy to those who were hurting. I was hopeful for that breakthrough with God in my life. I failed and I think it really hurt a huge part of me altogether. The relationships that had begun in Oklahoma continued to grow after returning home and these relationships were vital to my life. I was continually exposed to great Christian men and women.
November of last year I dedicated my life to the Lord. I have accepted Jesus as my savior and believe He died on the cross for my sins. I was water baptized on Easter weekend this year (2015). Since our Oklahoma trip, I have gotten the opportunity to work with Scott and Dara Simons of Right Side up Ministries in Washington IL in November of 2013 and Fairdale/Rochelle IL in April 2015. They have also made a few trips to our church in Sterling, IL to share their ministry with others and to teach us how to better respond when disaster strikes. Without meeting them and working with their ministry in Oklahoma and Illinois I do not believe I would have the relationship with God that I have. Their ministry and the partnership that they have with our church gave me the opportunity to build friendships and gave me the courage I needed to make that next step in my life. My life has changed significantly since accepting Jesus as my savior. My family has been blessed and is stronger. God has filled me with his love and I will be faithful to the lord and will continue to serve him by showing his love to others.