Quoting Kelsey Dukes, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." She used that line 3 nights in a row, but it didn't sink in to us so quickly.
I guess I'll start with Pastor George. Picture Popeye without the pipe and tattoos. (Minus the spinach too of course.) Captain George would have seemed more fitting, but we called him Pastor George nonetheless. He is in his 70s, and the more I was around him, the more impressed I was that he is a man with a vision and a mission.
The first thing that I noticed is that 24 people bunking down in his church didn't phase him. He stepped over hair dryers, straighteners, sleeping bags, air mattresses, pillows, and goodness knows what else without flinching. He joked around with the teenagers as well as us adults, and he didn't miss one beat with any of us. He went with the flow with the rest of us, and my previous misconceptions began to fade.
As we worked our backyard Bible clubs at the apartment complex, it was soon evident that most everyone knew Pastor George and respected him highly. This was a man that had been very present among the people there, and he had made an impact on many lives in that area.
When we went downtown to do our prayer walk the first day, the mention of our host church immediately brought a glow to the faces of people as they said, "Oh yes, we know Pastor George." One place, a recently renovated mission project intended to be an after school teen hangout, had been entirely painted by, you guessed it, Pastor George. I was beginning to realize that this man that I had thought of as an elderly gentleman settling in as pastor of a dying church was actually a visionary ministering to a hurting and lost community.
Pastor George taught me a lot through the week, and at one point I asked him to share with the group what he had told me. He was humbled I believe, and he acted as if he was surprised that we would want to hear from little ol' him. He blew us away with his encouragement and stories.
The first one that hit me so hard, and continues to affect me each day, is a story he shared relating to the New River Gorge. Apparently, Pastor George lives on a knoll overlooking the gorge, which is one of the (if not THE) most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. He said that he and his wife were sitting on their deck that morning, and he told her, "If I was to pinch a sliver of leaf off of one of those trees, there is no way in the world someone who had never seen this gorge could even get a small picture of what it is like." He continued to tell me that in the same way, we look at this one tiny week of ministry and expect to see the entire plan of God's Big Picture. He said that there is no way we could even imagine what God's big plan is just by seeing this snapshot of time, but that what we were doing was an integral part of the puzzle that God was creating. Wow.
Pastor George also told us that he learned a lot from his dad. One of the things he shared was work ethic. He relayed the story that his dad once told him of a manager needing 100 men to move a load of dirt. He said that the men would work hard, a few would drop out, and at the end of the day everyone would get paid their part of a set wage. He said that if you take that same hundred men and tell them to move a load of manure, you would immediately lose a few men. He said an hour later, hot and smelly, you would lose more men. He then said that hours later, you would be left with only a small portion of the workforce with which you began. At the end of the day, only the best few would be standing. He continued by saying that no matter what job you are given to do, you are to do it to the best of your ability, with all the joy in your heart, and that you will be rewarded in the end for your work.
Wow, Pastor George. You just can't imagine the impact you had on my life and the lives of our team members. Simple words that renewed our spirits, and it left us refreshed to continue the work that God had laid before us.
This was misconception number one, destroyed. Pastor George is a man of God. He's a visionary who was way ahead of his time. He's a pastor, teacher, leader, and servant. His heart is filled with joy and love, and he is a fine example of what Jesus expects us to be. In fact, I saw Jesus all over Pastor George, and I count it a privilege to have worked alongside him.