Below is a story and a few photos from my congregant Brea Watson's scrapbook, documenting her participation in a mission to the Ohio State Special Olympics. All of this was made possible by a partnership Cooperative Parish of Bristol and the local YMCA. By doing so, our small congregation was able to participate in events that we would not have normally been able to support. This cooperation has allowed us to also initiate a regular "Youth Night at the Y" for local churches which, again, helps churches like ours allow Christian youth to meet other Christian youth without leaving their small congregations.
– Rev. Curtis Frye, Benham’s Circuit, Abingdon District
By Sabre Watson
BRISTOL, Va. (Nov. 7, 2016) -- On June 23, I went with three of our youth on a service adventure to Ohio State University with John Mack and several youth from the Bristol YMCA. Our goal was to participate at the Ohio State Special Olympics as huggers, along with some fun escapades along the way. My purpose was to teach that being a Christian is more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. What surprised me is how often I encountered God in Ohio.
Our first stop was the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum. It is a stunning museum bursting with history. There is a holocaust exhibit, and while reading the placards and personal letters, we witnessed how person after person tried to help in any way that they could. Some gave money while others gave shelter or food. This was God’s love in action on display for us to see, even though it happened more than 80 years ago.
When we reached Ohio State, we were met by officials and volunteers who genuinely seemed happy to have us. We were quickly made to feel welcome and then put to work! As huggers, we waited at the side of the track until the Olympians’ races were over. We then offered a cold cup of water and congratulations.
The hugger then escorted the athlete over to have his or her time recorded and then to the award ceremony. We didn’t know any of these people. and yet their journeys became ours in mere moments. We cheered, shouted encouragement, shed tears and celebrated in their victories. My daughter, who has never been shy, jumped right in as if she were a veteran of the games. My son, who is much more reserved, amazed me with how quickly and comfortably he interacted with strangers and seemed to enjoy himself. Again, I realized, God’s love was in action before me.
It averaged over 100 degrees on that track, and yet for three days these young people forgot their sunburns, blisters, thirst, and aching feet until the last race was completed. Even then, it wasn’t their discomfort that led their conversations, but how well their Olympian friends had done: How many medals he or she had won, how much better this time was than last year’s, how teammates cheered each other on. The atmosphere of these games and the dignity shown by the athletes were lessons in how we should model our own attitudes (It’s about more than “me"). It was revealed to us this is an action to show God’s love daily.
The adventure continued on towards Cleveland to explore the USS Mather and the USS Cod. The Cod came to the aid of the Dutch submarine 0-19 during World War II and rescued all 56 crew members. This was the only sub-to-sub international rescue in history. The Dutch submarines could have been left to their own fate. It was war, after all. But God’s love was in action that day, and those men were saved.
Next stop was Whipps Ledge Park in Hinckley, Ohio, for a cookout. While appreciating the beauty of God’s nature surrounding us and waiting for the hamburgers and hot dogs to cook, we had a little visitor. A young raccoon came out of the brush sniffing the air. It did this several times, obviously as anxious for the meal as we were. One hot dog accidentally fell from the grill, and with lunch secured, the raccoon disappeared into the words from whence it came. The youth ventured to the ledges while I sat at some magnificent rocks watching a chipmunk run. Sitting there listening to the sounds of the woods, I realized that I was seeing God’s love in action all around me.
That night we stayed at a YMCA and when I went for an early morning walk, a deer wandered out of a grove of trees just about 50 feet from me. A train went by and she didn’t even flinch. In a very urban place God’s love was on display in this gentle creation and in that quiet moment.
On to Cedar Point amusement park! What an experience: Roller coasters everywhere. The heat continued to be oppressive, and yet at this park we could go to any food stand and receive free cups of ice water. It was such a simple gesture and yet so appreciated. We saw it as yet another example of God’s love in action.
We next ventured across Lake Erie to Put-in-Bay Island. It is a gorgeous place, and I think it must be the golf-cart capital. We swam in Lake Erie at South Bass Park and went into Crystal Cave. Then we went to the lighthouse. It reminded me of Psalm 119:105. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. It brought to mind John 8:12: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Like this lighthouse, Jesus guides us and protects us. This is God’s love in action.
Matthew 5:14-16 says: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Through this trip to Ohio, God showed us his love in action again and again. And from the verse in Matthew, we learned that we are to be God’s love in action.
When we returned home we didn’t want to forget all of the love we had witnessed, so we made a scrapbook. Now we can revisit these blessings anytime. This adventure with my children was such a blessing, and they want to do it again next year. Don’t hesitate. Take your adventure and be God’s love in action for someone.