“That was the best day ever!”
This is the heart hope of most families on vacation: to have a child cry out in excitement or a parent say in contentment: “That was the best day ever!”
July 8, 2010 stands as one of the best days ever in the long and beautiful story of SMRM. It was a day filled with the graces of God and the actions of committed Christians. It was a day of answered prayer matched with touches of love. It was a day of Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries at its very best.
Like most great moments of life, it was not planned or expected. It was a day for which we were prepared but not anticipating. July 8 was God’s day –blessed, designed, guided, and empowered. It was a day for us to declare with the Psalmist “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)
Most times, we read this verse as a simple affirmation of a happy day, a day of worship and gladness. For us to be able to apply it to July 8, 2010, we must recognize the preparation necessary within all involved and the purpose of a Christian community on mission.
Preparation for such a day comes through:
A Christian community prepared to work together;
Having individual’s spirits responding to the leadership of the Holy Spirit;
Having hearts ready for whatever needs doing;
Having bodies in shape for service;
Recognizing that unexpected events lead to expected opportunities for evangelism and ministry;
Calling out to God throughout the day and trusting God to answer prayers;
Accepting God’s answers and moving forward with the next moment.
The purpose of Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries is to reveal the presence of God to those who live, work and play in the Sevier County area of the Smoky Mountains. In the summer, we are a community of faith made up of local volunteers and summer missionaries. This summer’s team of SMRM has been wonderful to work with and strong in their ministry. They have been community. July 8 enabled them to fulfill this best expression of community. Martin Buber writes “Community … cannot occur once and for all time: always it must be the moment’s answer to the moment’s question, and nothing more.” He further states, “…they are community only if they prepare the way to the Promised Land through the thickets of this pathless hour. …A community of faith truly exists only when it is a community at work.” (Seeds Of The Spirit, Wisdom Of The Twentieth Century, pp. 41, 42)
On July 8, SMRM acted as community, as Church, to bring forth God’s grace.
By now you are crying out for me to get on with it and tell you what happened. The day began with standard assignments of two day camps for children in privately owned campgrounds, a van trip to Knoxville for 11 international college student workers to Social Security by Jacob Baccus, and an afternoon and evening of hosting international college student workers at Pigeon Forge First Baptist Church’s LaPuerta (The Door) Ministry Center. One other activity was to be an evening camp for children at Outdoor Resorts of America. For Joey Buck, SMRM Assistant Director and Dollywood Chaplain, it was to be a day off with his family –including parents from Texas and his best friend who surprised him with a visit from Texas. For Bill Black, SMRM Director, it was to be a day of office work and sermon preparation followed by touring ministry sites with our houseparents for the week, Sue and Scott Barber.
At 8:00 a.m., Bill received a phone call from his friend Joanna who is the supervisor of international workers at Ober Gatlinburg. Nine of her students had been in a wreck in their private minivan at 6:30 a.m. that morning as they drove into Gatlinburg after spending a night in a cabin in Pigeon Forge. She knew that one group had been transported to LeConte Medical Center and another group to the University of Tennessee Medical Center Trauma Unit. At least one had been taken by helicopter. With this call, the day began.
As you hear the story of the day, hold onto our declaration: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Listen to the story of God’s answers to prayers and God’s graces and how SMRM responded to the Holy Spirit’s leadings.
Joey Buck and SMRM volunteer Marci Claude went to LeConte Medical Center to identify students and comfort them. Five students were there and the first answered prayer was that none were seriously injured. Most had cuts and stitches, abrasions, bruises, and seat belt burns. (Let me clarify that no alcohol was involved in any of the students and the driver simply lost control on the Spur between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and hit a boulder on the side of the mountain. –another answered prayer when you pray it. Also, eight of the students are Ukranian and one is Russian.)
Joey met with National Park rangers (the Spur is in the Park) to help with identification, accident statements, and accident citations. The students said later they had never met such “nice police” or such “kind ambulance workers”; “they kept trying to make us laugh and telling us we would be okay” –a grace of God in the midst of a scary situation in a foreign country.
Bill took Joanna and another Ukrainian student (who could be our translator) to Knoxville and UT Medical Center Trauma Unit. God answered our first prayer –about the health and location of one missing student—when we walked into the door of the Emergency Room and were met by her with a policeman who was taking her to the cafeteria with a free meal coupon in his hand. God answered our next prayers when we found the other three students and were assured that they were all going to be okay, with no surgeries or serious injuries. One had a blow to the head and was being kept sedated and would be in ICU overnight but we could talk to him as he came out of sedation through the afternoon –if we could speak Ukrainian, as his English skills were temporarily gone. The others had cuts and stitches, abrasions, bruises, and a severely sprained ankle. Medical prayers were answered and fears were calmed throughout the day.
Here’s where SMRM became a community on mission and God took us:
The afternoon assignment at LaPuerta was accomplished with a minimum staff willing to step out. Other staff went to Ober Gatlinburg to visit with co-workers telling them of their friends and to pray with them. Jacob returned from Knoxville and joined in on this. Still other staff went to LeConte Medical Center with a van to help transport students as they were released. Joey went to the pharmacy for them. Three injured girls were taken to Bill and Cindy Black’s home for 27 hours of rest and watch care –mostly done by SMRM’er Sharrunn Rhone who stayed up and nursed them with tender, God-graced love (She chose to sleep on the floor outside their room’s door so she could hear and respond all night). Houseparent Sue Barber and daughter, Brooke, made food for the students at Ober Housing and those at the Black’s. Brooke was blessed to find them on July 9 morning eating a breakfast of graham crackers with peanut butter and a bowl of fruit that she had made! One SMRM volunteer was to arrive on July 8 afternoon and came into an almost empty dorm. Instead of feeling rejected by not being greeted, he looked at the assignment board and joined Bonnie in preparing for the evening day camp. He joined that team as the best use of his heart and hands. Bill finally left UTMC late in the afternoon with 3 students and returned them to Ober Housing. Joey and Bill spent hours on the phone with Ober Gatlinburg management making sure they were informed and that we were within their proper channels. Jacob went back to Knoxville and UTMC to bring a girl to spend the night with the girl who was admitted (yet another answered prayer that she had no internal injuries) (a boy was also kept in ICU) and to pick up Joanna. That night found SMRM still at work with staff locating, counseling, reading Scripture, and praying with a Turkish boy whose birthday they had all been celebrating (and who felt terribly guilty). At 10:45 pm Sue and Scott led all of us in sharing how we had seen God at work through the day and in prayer for all those injured.
Every need through the day was met by grace. Every prayer was answered by a loving Father. Every action was taken in heartfelt hope. Each phone call Bill made with a request or change in plan was answered with “we can do that –and do it with gladness”. Our daily assignments were done and done well. The crisis needs were handled with God given energy and God blessed grace. Individuals followed the Holy Spirit. All recognized that the day was truly about God and others. Community became real –in action and in service together.
It was the day the Lord had made, we did rejoice and were glad in it.
Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries exists for just such a day!
Such a day does not happen by design or by chance.
It happens because Christians are prepared in heart, body, and spirit.
It happens because we are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
It happens because our hope is with God’s hope for the day.
It happens because the Church is ready.
Two questions stand before us in worship today:
What did you do July 8, 2010?
And, better yet,
What does tomorrow hold for us?
Prepared by Bill Black