Downcast, the group shuffled around the blackened, acrid-smelling rubble, peering in through the window-sized gaps in a warped and blistered shell. Their charred vehicle, so painstakingly and prayerfully fitted out for a new life as a soup bus, was now bereft of any joy or hope – for its previously-expectant workers or its prospective clientele.
Numbed by the fire chief’s verdict, the soup bus committee watched the fire crew reboard their truck and drive slowly away.
“Arson? Fire for hire?” they echoed among themselves.
“Pastor Kelvin, why would God let this happen? He knew how much we wanted to help homeless people downtown. Doesn’t he care as much as we do?” Jeff’s voiced their bewildered betrayal, though he had never been a spokesman type. He had always felt inadequate as a witness, for he was more the doer than the talker. Other folks at the church could explain their faith so well, but when this bus idea came up, his confidence responded to their trust in his mechanical skills.
Together they had reshaped a tired, beat-up hulk into a gleaming example of grace: a four-wheeled sermon that expressed hope for anyone who felt left behind by life - especially if they had known the bus beforehand.
“All the time we spent on this, the hard work, all our prayers. We expected so much, but it was all for nothing. God didn’t deliver on his promises!” Jeff’s eyes tinged red in frustration against his ash-smudged cheeks.
“Fellas, this is heartbreaking,” Pastor Kelvin replied. “No question about it. We all thought our work was done, and we were looking forward to great times of service and blessing. But God hasn’t finished yet, and he won’t allow some room-temperature IQ arsonist to have the last say.
“We were sure of what to expect from him, but he has some deeper work to do within us. We can’t see it yet, but he wants us to keep focused on knowing him as much as on working for him.
"Just imagine a family mealtime, when the father breaks the news that a planned holiday won’t be happening. Naturally the kids are disappointed, and they might remind him of his promise, and what they had expected. But, holiday or no holiday, he’s still their father.
“Let’s stay open to him and his bigger picture, because for some time now he may have been speaking to someone we haven’t noticed. We only have twenty-four hours a day, but time never pushes him around, and he sees into everyone’s heart. It’s something like a television newsroom with walls of monitors screening footage from everywhere, as news teams look for footage to match the stories they will run. God answers our prayers like that, for he sees all of our past, present and future thoughts and actions, and he helps us to embrace his bigger picture.”
Reaching over to Jeff, he signalled the others into a circle to link arms before he prayed, “Lord, still our aching hearts, so we may know you. Help us to see how you will be exalted in all the earth, as your word declares in Psalm 46:10.”
A brief group hug embodied an “amen,” before everyone quietly headed for their vehicles.
Later that morning, as he opened his study door, Kelvin heard the concluding beep of a recorded message. An unfamiliar number, but while kneeling on his chair, he reached for the phone…
His introduction was interrupted. “Reverend, I don’t care much about churches, because they only seem to care about themselves. But I heard about your fire this morning and that bus you lost.
“Young Jeff Douglas works for me, and since he got started on that church project he’s changed so much. He used to be hard to spark up about anything, but since he started telling us about how you want to help hungry people, he’s lifted the whole tone around here. The other workers always used to complain, but now it’s like they really care about each other.
“This morning I’ve spoken with some business friends who’d like to help you get another bus, and I’ll pay for all Jeff’s time. I don’t know if we will all suddenly appear at your church, but that bus has got us thinking.”
Pastor Kelvin smiled, for he knew it was time to call Jeff about some promises…
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