Today I had an experience that reminded me why I am glad to pastor in a smaller town. During a break in my sermon prep, I decided I would walk over to Tim Hortons for a cup of coffee. The 400 metre walk (round trip) in the cold was really what I was after – the jolt of caffeine was just an excuse. Inside the coffee shop, I ran into my teenage son chatting in the corner with some friends. I reminded him to be home in time for dinner, and I didn’t happen to mention that there were people from our church sitting not two seats away and no doubt carefully monitoring his behaviour. It was probably better for him not to know, but I was glad to know they were there.
As I made my way back outside into the cold fall air, I had not gone 200 metres back through the adjoining parking lot before I ran into another family from our church. They stopped, hugged me and promised to be at church the following Sunday. I didn’t bother to tell them that I hadn’t noticed their absence the previous Sunday – I don’t have that kind of facial recognition software – but I was glad to hear that their absence wasn’t habitual and that they were sad to have missed the service. As the children made their way towards the coffee shop, the mother pulled me aside and told me that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully they had caught it in time and there was every reason to hope for a full and complete recovery. Nevertheless they were frightened and wanted me to know; we immediately huddled together in prayer. We asked the Lord to be gracious – we thanked him that the cancer had been found so early and asked that he would guide the doctors in their inquiry and treatment of the problem. We asked that the Lord would heal – whether through ordinary or extraordinary means, we did not specify. We thanked God for his love and goodness and together we said, Amen.
The mother wiped away tears and we said goodbye. She hurried off after the children and I made my way towards the church, with my cup of now lukewarm coffee in my hand.
About 50 metres further on I saw a lady from our church sitting quietly in her car. I anticipated waving at her as I walked by but she didn’t look up – she stared straight ahead as though lost in thought or concerned by who knows what.
I knocked on the window, and as she rolled it down I told her she was under arrest for loitering.
And then she began to cry.
She told me that her brother was dying and he was not a believer. She had tried witnessing to him but he didn’t appear interested. I took her hand and we prayed together. We prayed for this sickness to soften his heart and open his eyes so as to see the mercy and grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We asked for God to open her mouth and to anoint her words when she next had a chance to share the Gospel. We said amen together, and she went on her way.
I went back to my office with a very cold cup of coffee in my hand and a fresh sense of gratitude in my heart.
There is something to be said for ministry in the big city. I did it for years, and I enjoyed the opportunity. But there is also something to be said for ministry in the smaller town. There may not be as many fish in my pond, but by the grace of God, I know them well. I don’t need to schedule my pastoral care – I just need to go for a walk.
I don’t know what the future holds – none of us do – but today I am thankful for the ministry that I’ve been given.
Even still, come Lord Jesus – Amen!
Pastor Paul Carter