Monday, June 30, 2008

Heart to Heart...

Over the last ten or so years, I have participated with our Church's youth group. It is one of those things in my life that give me peace, joy, and hope. Each year we travel to some part of our country to serve others through mission work, and this summer is no different. Last week we made our annual mission trip. We teamed up this year with youth groups from Zachary and St. John's UMC. Our destination this year was New Mexico, and we spent a few days in Carlsbad followed by some time spent in Roswell. For fun, we visited the Carlsbad Caverns and the Alien Museum in Roswell. These trips are very special to me as they are full of fun, hard work, and also an opportunity for us each to stretch ourselves spiritually. It is a special gift when all three of those activities can be accomplished as one. This year we accomplished quite a bit of work; maybe even more than I have ever seen our group complete in one trip. We painted the exterior of a church in Carlsbad as well as repaired some windows and sheetrock. In Roswell, we painted the interior of a church, made some roof repairs, did some yard work, and uncovered a beautiful stained glass window. The Boys and Girls Club of Roswell hosted us in Roswell. There, we painted a room for teens (complete with a mural), helped with younger kids in arts and crafts, organized a weight room, served meals, and again did yard work. The yard work at the Boys and Girls Club included spreading a truck load of manure from the zoo! All of this, of course, is something to be proud of, but for me it is all worthless unless we have grown within our own spirituality and found deeper meanings in the experiences we have had. This year, I found all of the meaning I needed to find in an old stained glass window.

Removing plywood from a stained glass window.

On Wednesday, of our week in New Mexico, we began work at El Divino Pastor United Methodist Church. Located in Roswell, NM it is known by the locals as the Spanish Methodist Church. Sadly they have lost all but five members. In an effort to inspire growth, they invited us into their church to give it a facelift. The facilities at El Divino Pastor are not perfect, but are all intact. There is a mid-sized sanctuary, a large fellowship hall, several classrooms, and a small kitchen area. Nothing really is lacking as far as the buildings are concerned. Our work list here included patching some roof leaks, cleaning up the church grounds, and painting the interior of the church. I set out early that morning to show four teenaged girls how to spackle cracks and holes in drywall in preparation for painting the sanctuary(...and they did a great job!), but that was just my task. We were a group of nearly fifty, so if you can imagine a swarm of bees decending on this place and going to work at different jobs, then you will nearly have a picture of all of the activity of that morning. In the midst of all of this buzz I noticed on the back wall of the sanctuary near the peak of the ceiling a darkened stained glass window. I could barely make out a few details because of the darkness, but I was positive that it was of an intricate design...and quite old. I couldn't help but wonder why it had been covered, and then I saw the holes. The window had been broken.

An art project made with the plywood that was removed from the window.

After awhile, when I was sure that our sheetrock patchers could be left to their own devices I made a tour of the building to see what other work was being done. Eventually I found my way to the roof. There, I realized that the stained glass window had been covered over with a simple piece of plywood to keep the rain out. I thought that it would be pretty easy to remove the plywood and replace it with a thick sheet of plexiglass. Not neccesarily what the window really needed, and not on our worklist, but definately a way to allow light to pass once again through that stained glass. I suggested this "fix" to one of our other adults. He and I then convinced the other adults that we ought to at least give it a try. Everyone was onboard with the idea. A few phone calls later, I had located a local supplier of plexiglass who had enough of the stuff in stock to cover the window. All the supplier needed was the plywood covering to be used as a template to cut the right size and radius on the arch at the top. Three of us then went up to the roof to remove the plywood so that it could be taken to the glass shop. Removing it was simple work that required a screwdriver and a ladder. I remember picking up all the loose screws as well as a couple of small shards of the broken stained glass that were lying below the window on the roof and put them in my pocket to be thrown away later. I was later told that while I was away at the glass shop an adult woman who had come from Baton Rouge with us began crying at the sight of the window once it was uncovered. It was that beautiful.

Worship at El Divino Pastor with the window lit by the afternoon sun.

I would have liked to have been a part of repairing the window, but on Thursday I began work at the Boys and Girls Club of Roswell with part of our crew while the remainder went back to El Divino Pastor to complete the work we had started. I am told that the plexiglass installation went smoothly, yet I was unable to see the finished project until we held a worship service in their sanctuary on Friday evening, our last night in New Mexico. On that night it was lit very well by the setting sun, and later was a beakon to the surrounding neighborhood by light from within. Two of El Divino Pastor's members were present at that service, Carmen their lay pastor and her older sister-in-law. Carmen spoke to our group briefly through a shower of tears expressing her thanks, and telling the kids how much they have inspired her. She was without a doubt the most greatful person I have ever seen, and to show her gratitude she had us line up so that she could give us each a hug, a kiss, and a thank you. She wanted to be certain that she had not missed thanking us each and all personally. I had the feeling that the inspiration we had given her paled in comparison to what she had given us. Carmen had to leave for work before we were done with our worship time, but her sister-in-law owns a fireworks store, and we were to visit the store that evening and be treated to a box full of fireworks for our own enjoyment, so after the service, myself and another adult went to the fireworks store so she could show us the field that we could use to set off all the gizmos in the box. This is when I found out what the stained glass meant to at least one of the members of El Divino Pastor.

A Son who lives eternal.

On a gravel patch in the middle of a field on the outskirts of Roswell she leaned against the door of her car and said "thank you". " Thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over again as tears trailed from her wrinkled eyes. In her heavily accented and broken english she says to us " I have seen that window once before, but only once." "My son would have been fifty-two this year" she says "but he was killed young in a skydiving accident....but I remember that window". When he was seven, he was christened on Mother's Day. She had attended her own Catholic Church that day for the christening, and then gone on to her mother-in-laws church, and now her own church, El Divino Pastor for the Mother's Day service. She said that she never noticed the window until the service was over and it was time to leave and then "Oh, it was so beautiful, and the sun, and I could only stand there and stare, I could not speak". By my math that day was Mother's Day forty-five years ago. On this night the most beautiuful archetectual element of her sanctuary had been returned to her and it had ressurected long ago memories. Memories of her dead son's christening returned by gazing into a picture of a Son who lives eternal.

Later, while packing, I found the two shards of stained glass I had pocketed. I have always collected tidbits such as this to be tucked away into the box my Bible came in. It is full of cards and letters and other momentos from my experiences with our youth group. This may seem too sentimental for some of you, but the things in that box mean the world to me. On a whim, I offered one of the shards to Jill. She is the lady who travelled to New Mexico with us and cried at the sight of the uncovered stained glass. She didn't say, but I have a sneaky suspicion that her shard means perhaps as much to her as the rest of the window means to Carmen's sister-in-law.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story-telling and images. I love how God blesses us in unexpected ways. Thanks for sharing your blessings.

Elaine Heasley

s2tapurdy said...

What a beautiful story and a wonderful thing for the youth to experience. You are so right - our only true hope is in Jesus Christ. Thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Purdy