God has consistently showed up at M25 camps. However, there are times when He not only shows up, He shows off.
A couple days before one of the mission camps started, I got phone calls that canceled a number of our worksites. So, I started calling everyone I knew to find another place to send the groups. I called around 20 different people and ministries and got nothing but no’s. Then, as I sat in my cube with my head in my hands, an idea came to mind. It was one word: Carnival. Now, I’m not a carnival type of guy. So, I knew the idea was not my own. And my initial reaction was, “A carnival? God that’s stupid.” But He continued to put the word on my mind, until I eventually said, “Fine, but it’s never gonna work.”
So we hung out downtown in Woodruff park on Monday and told people about the carnival coming on Wednesday. A handful of people said they would join us, but I still felt pretty sure it was going to flop.
Then Wednesday rolls around. We decided that Hurt Park, about 2 blocks from SafeHouse, would be the best place to hold the carnival, but when we arrive, my heart sinks. A giant corporate event is being set up, and the entire place is covered by people setting up large tents and booths. So now I’ve got 40 students and leaders looking at me with even more skepticism than they had when I first announced the idea. Great.
I manage to find the lady running the event, and she utters words that I rarely hear with this ministry, “Oh! We’re gonna make this work.” The event was actually for free HIV testing, and they had been hyping it up for quite some time. So, she carves out a chunk of the park for us to use that’s over in the shade, and we start setting up.
Our games included: throw the ping pong ball in the bucket, ring the gatorade bottle with a ring, hit the tree with the frisbee, hit the bottles with a ball, and throw the football through the hoop. We also had a giant inflatable bowling set. It was probably one of the most cost effective carnivals ever. And by playing the games people would win tickets to trade in for hygiene kits, socks, and candy bars.
As we set up, one of the leaders of a group from Florida asked me, “How many people do you think we’ll have?” And very honestly, I responded, “If we can just have ten or so, I’ll be happy. Just get into double digits.”
And God laughed.
People started coming out of the woodwork. I mean hundreds of people. Some came for the HIV testing and then came to the carnival. Some came for the carnival and then went to the HIV testing. It was crazy how many folks stopped to play these goofy little games. Fifty year old men were laughing like children. People were talking trash to each other about tossing a ping pong ball. They were cheering each other on. They were discussing proper techniques on how to hit a tree with a frisbee. It was awesome.
One man made a point to come up to me and tell me about a man he had known for two years who he had never seen smile. But on that day, that man had an enormous smile on his face. It was incredible.
By the end of it, we had given away around 350 hygiene kits, 300 pairs of socks, and 150 candy bars. But more importantly, I had students coming up to excitedly tell me about the hour long conversation they had had with someone. With pure joy, they shared the stories they had learned that day.
That’s what we’re looking for.
A couple other ways God showed off: As we left the church, I realized we hadn’t brought anything to play music, and I was a little annoyed with myself. But when we got there, a dj booth was already set up for the HIV testing and played music the whole day. Also, on Monday as we talked to people about coming, many of them wanted to know if we were going to have carnival food. I told them we wouldn’t, but when we got there Wednesday, there were booths set up giving away free hot dogs and popcorn.