Friday, August 8, 2008

worship confessional (8.3.08) -- from the road

So you may have already seen my post regarding my Alaska trip... as much as I enjoyed the trip, I was actually not even on vacation. I was brought into Cordova by the folks at Cordova Community Baptist Church as the featured guest of a small worship conference. The conference consisted of several evenings of worship, teaching, etc. in addition to some songwriting workshops and culminating in CCBC's usual three Sunday services, all in which I was asked to participate. So this week's confessional is a story of sorts... bear with me, as I feel it's worth telling. :)

Ok, so I arrived in Cordova last Tuesday afternoon, around 1pm, which in my hometown of St. Louis was already 4pm. I had left my house for the airport in St. Louis at roughly 12:15pm the day before, with only a five-hour hotel stay (from midnight to 5am) in Seattle to break-up the five consecutive flights I took to eventually land in Cordova, so needless to say I was tired. As I landed, I quickly discovered just how remote Cordova actually was, as the airport couldn't have been more than 2,000 square feet total and my cell phone, though it said it was roaming, was completely useless. I must confess, as Donald and Gayle picked me up and we headed into town, my smile was a bit painted on and optimism wasn't the first emotion I felt. Boy did God have a lesson to teach me this week... :)

A brief view of my itinerary will communicate the truth that, while I certainly had loads of time to explore Alaska, I was also working a ton. My week basically looked like this:

Tuesday night: arrive (1pm), rehearse with band (evening)
Wednesday night: 7pm - CCBC band kicks off conference, followed by music and testimony (me)
Thursday night: 7pm - lead worship, followed by teaching on worship
Friday: meet with select band members for songwriter workshop
Friday night: 7pm - Concert at CCBC
Saturday: 9:30am - songwriter workshop followed by listening session.
12pm - rehearse with band
3pm - memorial service (I'll discuss in a moment)
Sunday: 9:30am - first service
11am - second service
6pm - rehearse with band
7pm - third service

Ok, so I had a lot planned in the evenings, days basically free. I'm alone in Cordova, AK, a small town of under 2000 or so, and I have no family, no cell phone, no Starbucks, slow-crawling 512K "high-speed internet"... woe is me. It got worse. Gayle sweetly offers me a calling card number so I can try to get a hold of my wife from the hotel room later. My wife is supposed to be calling me to let me know that she got into Montana safely with my 4-year old son and has absolutely no way of getting a hold of me. I find out early the next morning when Carolyn (my wife) returns the message I left on her phone at almost 2a.m. the night before (it wasn't quite midnight in Cordova) that my family's trip to Montana was far less than smoothe, and I had no idea 'cause I wasn't able to check messages. Thankfully, they made it, they were fine, and I just wanted to be with them...

Then God really began to step in. Gayle, Donald, Piper, and everyone else there had already been wonderfully nice and hospitable, and in the process of their tireless efforts to make sure that I saw a bit of Cordova and experienced a taste of life as they knew it, I began to really connect with these people. Add to that the unfortunate--but eerily timed--passing of the long-time Sr. Pastor of CCBC (and father of the current pastor) and now I find myself smack dab in the middle of a grieving community in the Body of Christ. I was asked to attend, and in fact play a small musical role in, the memorial service on Saturday. Afterward, a game night at the Pastor's house ensued and we stayed up until almost 1am, enthralled with one another's company. In five short days, these folks had truly become my friends.

By this time, the reality of the over-the-top hospitality, the continued interest in my life and family, the overwhelming willingness to share their lives with me, and the realization that God had ordained this week of my life far before I walked on this earth really began to tug at my heart. As much as I still wanted to get back to my family, I was truly going to miss these people--and if I didn't screw it up by missing the miracle of this moment--they may miss me, too.

I submit to you all that in that week in Alaska, while a 'worship conference' was held, the Body of Christ shared a victory. We laughed together, cried together, lived together and loved together in a way only God's children could. Without prompting, Gayle bought my son a Cordova coloring book... Pastor John shared with me that one of my songs in particular would likely always remind him of his father's passing--in a good way... Piper and I shared a great talk over a cup of coffee while walking back to the church in the misty Cordova air... Donald and I shared stories over lunch and later, breakfast in a local restaurant... searching for bears at almost 11pm--still dusk in Alaska... roasting hot dogs and marshmallows across from the first glacier I'd ever laid eyes on... the blessings can scarcely be counted.

... and I was paid to come in and bless Cordova. HA... thank You, God. Thank you, Gayle, Donald, Piper, John, and all at CCBC.

The setlists really don't even matter so much, do they? That's what I call a worship conference.


Gary Durbin said...

Wow...that's an amazing adventure you had. I was just talking to people at my church last week how sometimes when you go to encourage people that need it, they end encouraging you more. God is so sovereign. thanks for sharing.

and, yes, i'd love to see you down here sometime. I think it would be an amazing moment to see you lead our church in "The Least I Can Do". They absolutely have grabbed that song and made it a cry from our church's heart. If you'd like, you can email me your # at, or call me at the church during the week-321-727-2495. I'd love hear any possibilities for that. God bless man. Have a great weekend.

NetLady said...

Ahh...good stuff, my friend. Thanks for filling in the gaps for me. :0) Sounds like you got all kinds of fresh air! And just so you know, I had a real "breathe moment" in worship a couple weeks ago when you encouraged that freedom. Barely above a whisper (from one who can belt it out without reservation!) but I allowed myself that moment. So thank you for holy space to you offered.

gayle groff said...

Hey, Mark. I can't tell you how delightful this blog was to me - an answer to prayer, really! We KNEW we were going to be blessed by your presence in Cordova, and for months before you came we prayed that you would go home blessed as well. God is so faithful to his children, don't you think? I love being in this family, and it was wonderful to get to know another brother! (A younger and more talented brother, granted, but since you are also a goofball, and of course I mean that in the nicest way, I won't hold the other stuff against you! You fit right in here!!) :0) May God continue to use you for his glory, just as he did here in Cordova, Alaska.