SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon


LIFE AT THE RESCUE SHOPA cold snap arrived in late October, catching all of us by surprise. Winters are mild, almost rare along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and I don’t complain. I do complain, however, when the cold weather arrives, most especially when any winter clothes I had owned now reside in a makeshift dump somewhere. But when the bone-chilling weather arrived, I found a jacket someone had donated, put it on, and faced another week of organizing volunteers.

The weather didn’t seem to bother the twenty-plus member volunteer crew from Pennsylvania at all, whose trip coincided with the arrival of the cold weather. I asked if they brought the frigid temperatures with them, but seeing as they didn’t notice any frigid temperatures, our hope for Civil War reconciliation got off to a slow start.

The weather was perfect for Bill Vance and his family since they came prepared to put on roofs. It’s normally a little warm blacking in a roof, being so close to the sun and all, but this late-October weather was simply fantastic for them.

Bill is a roofer by trade, but he had recently returned from the City of Children in Mexico and was considering the call to full-time mission work. His wife, Stacey, came along to climb up on the two-and-a-half roofs they replaced that week with him, facing her fear of heights head-on if they might be doing this for God full-time. Their children came ready to work, too. Bill, the eleven-year-old son took after his dad in more ways than one, sporting the same name and the same fearlessness when perched on top of a roof. Shae, a beautiful teenager and Amber, an adorable little girl, worked side-by-side with them all week, too.

Bill Junior was one cool kid. He’s not a big guy, at least not in stature. He walks with a swagger, wears a couple of earrings, and talks with an accent that makes you think he’s spent most of his eleven years in the coal mines. On Wednesday evening while they were here, he walked to the front of our auditorium as our devotional ended to make a presentation. He walked with a perfect combination of pride and humility, that combination that lets you know this kid has courage, but not so much as to make him that bad kind of cocky. He came to present us with gift cards, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth raised by his elementary school to help all of us sitting here in need.

For once, I didn’t know what to say (which has happened more than I care to admit lately). I wanted to hug him and compliment him and do all sorts of things for him, but it all seemed a bit inappropriate. He didn’t do this for him. He, and other kids, did this for my kids and me. So we could eat. I tried to say thank you, but how do you say thank you to that and do it right? I just don’t know how.

It was a crazy week for me personally when our friends from Pennsylvania were here. I did not get to spend enough time with them, and when their leader, Terry, came into my office the morning they would leave I was feeling guilt. Like I should apologize.

And he came to thank me.

He wanted to know what all this was doing to us as a church family, and then he shared what their trip had done for them. They were blessed he claimed. As he explained, he said something that tipped him right over the emotional edge, a statement that broke his voice and spilled water from his eyes. He said, “I wish we didn’t have to leave…”

This statement stuck with me. This statement, made by a man who had no required reason for being here, made me think: How many people along the Mississippi Gulf Coast would rather be anywhere in the world but here in the middle of the crap left by this storm? And here, in my office, sat a man broken to tears because he has to leave and go back to his nice home. It wasn’t guilt I don’t think. It sure looked like love.

I ran across a few lines from a poem once that have never left my heart.

Some want to live within the sound of church and steeple bell.
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

I think that’s why Terry cried. I think that’s why Bill and his family consider full-time mission work. I think that’s why the other twenty or so came thousands of miles with them. They’re all looking for work at the Hellside Rescue Shop.

And me, without turning in an application, discovered that I had been hired as assistant manager.


One Response to “SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon”

  1. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Another great story. You’ve just got to find time to write the “Katrina Chronicles.”

    I think I know a little bit about why Terry from Pennsylvania felt the way he did. I felt the same way myself.
    A famous writer once said that most men live lives of “quiet desperation,” and I think that’s true of many church members too. Most of the time, we talk about Christianity in the abstract, but never do much. Its when the abstract becomes real, like it did for you on the Gulf, that we see what we’re made of.
    We say we believe that God works in the world, but we tend to think he only works in very subtle, hard to see ways. When you see the kind of devastation that Katrina brought, and then see God working in the middle of it all – right in front of you – it almost takes your breath away. Also, the kind of “high” you get when you become involved in something like the relief effort on the Gulf is very addictive. People realize – from 11 year olds to senior citizens – that being involved in something bigger than your self; in unselfishly working for the good of others who desperately need it with no thought of payback actually feels GREAT. Ask anybody who was there, especially in the first days and weeks, and they’ll tell you that they got much more out of it than they ever contributed. We begin to realize that stuff we have heard in Sunday School all these years is really true. Gal 6:10 (As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith) is not only the right thing to do – it’s also extremely gratifying. When you’ve had a “mountaintop” experience like the early relief gave so many of us, who wouldn’t want to feel that way every day? And who wouldn’t be sad to give it up?
    Something else that I know the folks from Pennsylvania will miss is being with the people there – both the volunteers and the local OS folks. These are folks who are just having a wonderful time being Christians in some of the worst conditions you could imagine. When you go back to your local churches, you just wish you could take everyone back to meet them.
    I know you appreciate all the people who have come down to help, but don’t worry about feeling that you haven’t been a good host. You and the folks at OS and the rest of the Christians along the Gulf Coast have been a source of blessings to more of us than you’ll ever know. You’ve shown us how Christians handle disasters. I hope we would do half as well if our times comes.

    Capt MidKnight

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