So far I’ve brought you through the story of my spiritual and emotional growth as far as probably my sophomore year of college or so. I want to take a step back now and share something that happened during the summer after my freshman year of high school. It was maybe the first of that long series of events I wrote about in my last post wherein God began to humble my intellectual pride.
My youth group was on its first-ever mission trip. We were in Juarez, Mexico, (before it became the murder capital of the border) helping to install a dropped ceiling in the new sanctuary of a church there. We were also putting on a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for the kids in the surrounding area. Part of our work was just spending time with the kids outside of the actual VBS building relationships. One of the ways we did that was by playing basketball in this church’s parking area.
The parking area was enclosed within a concrete cinder-block wall (it was Juarez, after all…), and had a basketball goal attached at one end. We played quite a bit, especially those of our group who had some ability in basketball (this number did not include myself).
On our second-to-last full day in Juarez (Wednesday), a group was playing basketball and one of our guys, Chris Jones, jumped up for a rebound and one of the other kids accidentally took his legs out from under him. Chris’ head bounced off the cinder-block wall that enclosed the parking area, then hit hard against the concrete slab we were playing on. Chris was a tough, athlete type, so he bounced right back up and said he was fine. We tried to get him to sit down and take a rest, but he wouldn’t hear of it. And, knowing that he was the tough, athlete type, we carried on.
Later that evening Chris started having painful headaches. He left VBS early and went to lay down. We finished VBS and then started getting ready for bed. Not long after we had lain down to sleep, we woke up to hushed but worried voices. Chris wasn’t responding to attempts to wake him up. The missionaries who lived at the church hustled him into a van to make the drive across the border to El Paso, Texas.
We only found out later that Chris had a severe concussion, that his brain had been slowly swelling all day, and that the doctors in El Paso said that he was not far from severe brain injury, possibly brain shutdown, when he arrived at the hospital there.
All we knew was that our friend had been taken away unconscious. We left our sleeping quarters and met in the sanctuary of this church, knelt down on the stage there and began to pray as a group for our friend. We went around the circle, each person praying fervently for Chris, then said ‘Amen’. Then we stood around and talked for a bit, sharing our concerns with each other.
After a few minutes, a couple of girls in our group knelt down and began to pray again. Soon thereafter, most of our group had joined them. Here’s where my pride kicked in…
Another guy from my youth group, Paul, and I huddled to ourselves on the other side of the sanctuary and began to (for lack of a less damning term) badmouth our fellow students for their “vain repetitions” (see Matthew 6:7). We talked about prayer, and how we believed in prayer, and how God already knew our thoughts before we even prayed, and how praying once was enough because God was sovereign. After close to an hour of this, we decided to move back over towards the praying group just to see what they could possibly still be praying about.
I swear I am not making this up. As soon as we were within earshot of the praying group, we heard our friend Shannon praying, “…and God, please move in Paul and Joseph to come back over here and join with us in prayer.” Seriously. That’s what she prayed.
We must have made a sound in our shock or something, because everybody looked up at us then. They smiled at us, and made room for us in the prayer circle. We knelt next to them and, as one group, we continued praying. For hours…
When Paul and I went back over to the group, it was about 10:30 PM. I know this because we had been looking at our watches wondering when these “vain Pharisees” would stop “endlessly repeating their prayers” (did I mention that I had a pride/judgmental issue?). After we joined with them in prayer, we lost all track of time. I can’t remember exactly what was said, or who said it, but I can tell you what it sounded like. “Suddenly, there was a sound… like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). There were 12-15 of us, and I can’t be sure that we even said anything out loud, but the sound in that sanctuary was deafening.
When we finally stopped praying, it was 5:30 AM. Our group had prayed continuously for almost 8 hours, 7 of those with me and Paul.
That day was our last full day in Juarez (Thursday). The following day (Friday) we went shopping at a market in Juarez, then headed across the border back into El Paso. That night we ate at a Tex-Mex restaurant, and Chris was able to rejoin us, and he told us his side of the story. It seems that from the time he got to the hospital in El Paso (about 9:30 PM) until the next morning, things were very iffy. Doctors were very concerned about the swelling in his brain, to the point that they told him later that his life had been in danger. Then, suddenly, miraculously even, at about 5:30 AM the following morning, Chris showed sudden and remarkable signs of improvement. Sudden and remarkable enough that the doctors decided to release him after only about 30 hours in the hospital.
Just so you don’t miss it, Chris got to the hospital in El Paso at around 9:30 PM, which was about the time we started praying for him. He regained consciousness and began a remarkably quick recovery at about 5:30 AM the following morning, just about the time our group finished praying.
Looking back on it, this was one of the watershed moments in my life. When the Apostles heard the sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, it was the moment when they first received the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Holy Spirit was with us that night, and with Chris. The experience of physically being in the presence of God’s Spirit is one that you just don’t forget. That was the big take from it. But it also hasn’t ever escaped my mind how God humbled me that night. I was arrogantly judging my peers, while they were seeking God in the midst of a potential tragedy. And I will never forget how, if more of our group had had the same mindset I did, we might have lost a good friend that night.