The Summer of 1980

by Andy Wood on June 10, 2013

in Turning Points

toilet seatSummer 1980.

We were standing in a line. A food line, snaking its way into the church fellowship hall.

It was an interesting mix of people.  Some of our church members, who were hosts.  Most of our youth group, over which I presided. And a touring youth choir from Kentucky. It was a fun atmosphere, and everybody was having a good time as they got to know each other and anticipated the concert later that evening.

Standing at the rear of the line there in Lumberton, Mississippi, were the pastor of the Kentucky church and the pastor of the Mississippi church – my friend Rick.  The Kentucky pastor made an interesting observation, especially for somebody who hadn’t been there very long.

“There’s something different about this church,” he said to Rick.

Little did he really know. But he would soon find out.

And it all started at camp.

The Plan

I guess as long as there have been youth ministries, there have been youth retreats and camps. We were certainly no exception in the summer of 1980. I had only been there a couple of months, but we were ready to hit month of June full-throttle. I was blessed to have a pastor in Rick who not only was willing to fight my battles for me (he actually taught me that that was the senior pastor’s job… imagine that!),  but who had himself just come from a successful career in youth ministry himself.

“Tell you what you need to do,” Rick said.  He was always telling me what I needed to do. On his dying day last Thursday, I’m sure he said that at least a dozen times to somebody.

Anyway, what I needed to do was find a camp near the beach somewhere in the Florida panhandle.  “Don’t worry about how nice the camp is,” Rick said.  “Make the beach your drawing card.”

Find a camp:  Check.

“Tell you what else,” he said.  “Let’s do the program ourselves since we’re both still pretty new.”

Line up speakers:  Check.

“A lot of camps get it backwards,” Rick went on.  “They do all this teaching early in the week, then on the last night of camp they have this big invitation for people to get saved.  I think we should present the gospel early in the week, say Tuesday night, then spend the rest of the week discipling.”

Plan the themes for the services: Check.

“One more thing,” he said.  “See if you can find an old toilet seat.”

A toilet seat?

“Yeah.  Get a seat and lets spray paint it gold, and we can have an award every day for the dirtiest cabin. The Toilet Seat Award.”

Find a… a… toilet seat.  Check.

The Hijacking

We took a great group of teenagers to camp that week, along with about 8 adult sponsors. I can still see the faces and remember the names. It was an incredible time.

Only one thing didn’t go as planned… that whole Toilet Seat Award.

I should probably explain that Rick and I had a separate little house that the camp provided for camp speakers. I should also explain that he and I were going to be the ones making the presentation of the Toilet Seat Award every day. I should also point out that he and I were too lazy and too busy and too important to clean our own room up every day, so Rick got the bright idea to haul our bedding out to the truck and hide all our stuff in there.

Uh, somebody saw us.  And while we got everybody to chant, “Toilet seat, toilet seat, toilet seat!” Betty Ann Bixbe hijacked the award and gave it to us.

We were busted. I’ll always remember Rick accepting the award and sticking his face through the seat and behind the lid.

I think we retired the Toilet Seat Award after that.

The Real Adventure

As planned, we targeted Tuesday night as the time we presented the gospel and called for people to give their lives to Christ. The response was incredible. I don’t remember how many, but a good, solid group of teenagers prayed to receive Christ that night.  I took them to a separate room for counseling while Rick stayed with the larger group.

After I’d been in there a little while, Rick stuck his head in the door and said, “I think you may want to come back in here.” I don’t know how to describe what was happening except to say that it seemed that the glory of the Lord had descended on the place. Christians were weeping, asking for forgiveness, and joyfully worshipping a great God. It was an incredible experience.

As the week went on and we taught more and worshiped more and played more, we had the typical questions about life after camp: Was all this just an emotional high or was there something real going on?

It didn’t take long to find an answer.

In a unique movement of God, this little revival began to spread from teenagers to adults after we got home. In addition to our regular worship schedule, Rick started teaching an adult Bible study while I had a youth Bible study. We went through a season in which every single day somebody was giving his or her life to Jesus.

And right in the middle of all that, we had to stop.

And play host.

To a group of strangers.

The event had been scheduled for weeks, so we were troopers about it, but honestly, we weren’t very motivated.

“There’s something different about this church,” the pastor had said.

Maybe, at least for that season, he was right.  But it wasn’t really about us. It was about what was possible in a little Mississippi town when some people gave control of their lives to Jesus.

That night the visiting choir presented their concert.

And four of them got saved.

One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.

Keep it Simple

As long as I knew him, this man with the mind of a genius always had a way of keeping things simple.

“Ministry’s not that complicated,” he would say. “Just win ‘em and grow ‘em.”

And in the summer of ‘80 and beyond, that’s what we did, albeit imperfectly. But in the process Rick was also winning and growing me.  And if I’ve ever touched your life in any way, in some small way in the economy of God, he has too.

So, in honor of my friend… Tell you what you need to do…

Keep it simple.

Make Jesus Lord of your life.

Tell somebody else about Him.

Let God do the rest.

Oh… and keep that toilet seat attached to the bowl.

Martha Orlando June 10, 2013 at 8:07 am

Amen, Andy! Bring them to the Lord and keep them there! What an incredible experience you have described here. It absolutely made my day. 🙂
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..And, We Will Be Changed . . .

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