Jesus in the Park took place at the World's Fair site. It's definitely not my favorite place. Don't get me wrong. I love the park itself. It's just that finding a place to park my car is a confusing nightmare. And yes, I was one of the lucky winners who received a mandatory invitation to contribute to the city's coffers. But despite this, I am very glad I came.
A rainy morning caused the event organizers to rearrange plans on the fly. This is never easy. Yet, they made it all seem well-planned and streamlined - despite the rain.
A few minutes after setting up we were joined by Camp Wesley Woods. During the little spare time we had I chatted with Rose about the camp and what it offers. A veritable treasure trove of help, she was also able to give me information on the Wesley Foundation and their work on UT campus.
But the real highlight was in the people who stopped by the booth.
Led by Lennon-Seney United Methodist Church and sponsored by The Knoxville District of the United Methodist Church Jesus in the Park is an inclusive outreach event. Great pains were taken to invite Knoxville's street people and homeless. Everything was kept free from the hot dogs to the inflatables to the entertainment and worship service. No love offering was taken. None was expected.
We witnessed several touching moments.
- Two women stopped by our table to talk. They are no less children of God than you or I. They are also both victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual assault. At our booth, they shared their stories with us. We gave them encouragement and books.
- Another guy stopped by from the streets. Younger than most we talked with, he too was a victim of sexual abuse, child abuse and other atrocities. Yet, he has a firm belief in Jesus. He shared with us that sometimes, this is "all" he has and seemed surprised that we were willing to talk to him.
- One man stopped, left, came back and stopped again. He told us his story of how he was abused as a kid. Later in life he messed up, lost his family and found himself on the streets. He told us that he'd tried for awhile to get his life together but that it didn't work. The result is a 14 year old son that he has not seen. Today, is father's day. He asked that we pray that he see his son. There was an urgency in his voice when he asked. You see, he says he has cancer and no insurance. He knows his days are numbered and asked us simply to pray.
Without hesitation we did. My daughter and I bowed our heads and asked God to heal the areas that need to be healed. We asked God to clear a path for the man to see his son and to make all hearts receptive to the healing that could happen. But we also recognized that it was on His time schedule, not ours and that we would accept His answer and thanked Him for His love for us while we are yet sinners.
Then, the man started to cry.
He said that it has been a long time since love was shown to him. He was very touched that we, who are strangers, would take the time to pray for someone we didn't know and will probably never see again.
That touched us.
My daughter and I looked at the man as he wandered off and shook our heads. Why would we not pray for someone we don't know? At some point in my life, someone did the same thing for me. Are we not called to bow our heads and do just that?
Jesus calls us to be "in the world, not of the world". Because of Jesus in the Park yesterday, I have a clearer vision of what those words mean.
If you can come next year, please do.
The worship service was wonderful.
The evangelists were terrific. The dancers were superb and the preaching was amazing. The youth dancers of Souled Out really resonated with the teen/college age crowd. The music was wonderful. I had heard of Willie Kitchens but I had never had the experience of hearing the music made by he and his wife. If you get the chance to hear them, go. Forget about keeping your feet still. You can't stop the wind. This couple has a tremendous music ministry.
When it comes to an inspiring message Bishop Swanson (prayerfully supported by his wife Delphine) never fails to "bring it home". His speaking and inspiration to others is already a legend in the Holston Conference. This past Sunday through Wednesday he led Holston's Annual Conference in Lake Junaluska, NC. This is a grueling almost 4 days of 12 hour meetings. But he projected an energy and enthusiam that kept you drawn to his message. If this "energizer bunny" was tired it never showed.
There can be little doubt that Jesus was there throughout the event yesterday. I have not been this inspired since I took part in A Queen's Banquet by Stepping Out Ministries in Morristown a few years ago. Part of yesterday's Jesus in the Park will always stay with me. I was touched, awed, inspired and spiritually strengthened. It is always humbling to be part of what Jesus was doing and He did seem to be there, in the worship, music, conversations and tears.
For me, what I will always remember was the glimmer of Jesus in the tears of a street person in the middle of the park.
The world devours. It chews people up, robs them of their courage, their spirit and their homes. Then, when people are at their lowest the world spits them onto the streets. It leaves them to wander in their brokeness until someone crosses the street to pick them up. God is in that brokeness to heal and provide salve for the wounds.
I thank God for being there.