Just before the Carnaval retreat, I posted an entry that contained various prayer requests. Today I would like to share with you what God did.
Two weeks before the retreat was scheduled to start Pastor Ricardo (the program director), Washington (assistant program director) and myself went out to look things over. The situation at that point looked bleak. The water level of the lake was very low. A total of three people had signed up for camp. We had to decide whether or not to cancel the retreat.
This is what the lake looked like two weeks before camp started. Notice–no water under the bridge.
Together we made the decision to go ahead. We stood there on top of the dam that day and prayed that God would bring the campers He wanted and do a mighty work in their midst.
When I got home that day I posted an entry in which I recalled how God had worked in other situations where the circumstances had been less than ideal. Now it was time for me to trust God to do the same thing with the Carnaval retreat. We asked God’s people–both here and in the US–to pray. Many of you reading this participated in that way, and God responded.
Almost from the time we left the camp on that Monday it began to rain. It rained and did not stop for almost the entire time. Rain here in our valley, however, does not always translate into rain in Iguatu–about two hours from here. We heard rumors that the lake was rising, but had no idea if it would rise enough.
Meanwhile I was concerned about registrations. Everybody who asked me about camp asked me how many people were going–with the idea that if there were not going to be a lot of people, they were not going to go either. Of course this kind of thing snowballs. By the time camp rolled around there were several people actively giving the camp “negative propaganda”, convinced that it was going to be a bomb. They weren’t going to go, and didn’t think anybody else should either.
I did all I could to counter this. I mounted my own propaganda blitz in the churches, on Orkut pages, and on the camp website. I also did a lot of praying, asking God for at least 100 people. It seemed, however, that for every person who had decided to go, another two had decided not to.
Finally camp day rolled around. The counselors set off in a van we had rented for them, and my own truck was packed with food and other supplies. It had rained the whole morning, and as we started out for camp at about 2pm I looked apprehensively at the threatening clouds, and at all the perishable items in the back of the pickup. As we drove along, clouds gathered to the left of us, to the right of us, in front of us, and behind us. We saw rain in the distance. Yet never once did a drop of rain fall on the truck. When we pulled into the camp we were met by the cooks.
“How wet did the food get?” they asked.
“It’s all perfectly dry” was our response.
“How is that possible? It has been raining here all day. In fact, it just stopped!”
“It’s possible because God controls the weather” I replied.
As we were praising God for his protection of the food, we looked at the lake, and had another motive for praise. The rain of the previous week had raised the level of the lake by over a meter and a half–making it usable for swimming. God raised the level of the lake–and kept our supplies dry. God is awesome.
The level of the lake during the retreat.
Notice the water under the bridge.
The next morning the counselors and staff gathered in the chapel to await the campers. And they waited. And waited some more. Finally a group of around 20 arrived shortly after lunch. The a couple other smaller groups. And that was it.
Campers gathered in the tabernacle
Oh how I battled discouragement. Oh how I wanted to just send everybody home, and go home myself. God used Pastor Ricardo, however, to encourage me. He reminded me that God was more interested in quality than quantity. We made the decision to invest everything in those campers who had arrived.
At 2pm we gathered everybody (campers and counselors and musicians–the total came to just over 50) in the chapel. I could sense the disappointment and gloom on the faces of all present. Their (and my) worse fears were being realized. We held a camp, and nobody came.
Well, not quite nobody. There were fifty of us, and by that time I was determined to make the best of it and see what God would do. Instead of starting off with my welcome speech, I had the praise group get up and lead everybody in some of their more “rousing” choruses. That got everybody involved. While they were singing, my mind raced for something to say. Finally, it came time for me to give the official camp welcome. What I said went something like this:
“Of all the people that were alive at the time of the flood, God chose eight to save the human race. Of the twelve spies that Joshua sent out, only two were reliable. Of the thirty-two thousand men who volunteered to help Gideon fight the Midianites, God chose three hundred. Of the thousands of people who followed Christ in his ministry, He chose twelve to be his inner circle of disciples.
“The point of all of this is that God seems to like to work with small numbers. And what we have here is a small number. God has made it very clear to us that we should have this camp. He has confirmed it in a number of ways, including raising the level of the lake to where it can be used. And He has brought you here for a purpose. We are a small group, but we are expecting God to do great things.”
After going over a few of the camp rules I turned the podium over to Pastor Ricardo and excused myself because I had some errands to run in town. I returned later that evening, and was amazed by the attitude I saw among campers and staff. In all the activities I have run, I have never witnessed more unity, more enthusiasm, more excitement. After the first message, all the campers gathered in the dining hall to present their team cheers and battle cries. The atmosphere was electric. After the competitions of the evening–which were a blast–everybody gathered ’round for some group activities.
Campers gathered in the dining hall for activities
One of my duties as camp director is to get up at five each morning (!) and get bread from the bakery in town. When I got up the next morning, there was a note plastered on my window saying I needed to pick up another camper who had arrived from Fortaleza. Tiago was waiting for me at the bus station, and I appreciated the company on the way back from town. It turned out that he had decided at the last minute to come to camp, at the urging of some friends who were there. He had never been there before.
As camp progressed it became evident that the campers were having the time of their lives. This is always gratifying, but I remember on Sunday asking God whether He didn’t have anything bigger in mind for that week.
That night, Tiago accepted Christ.
When Pastor Ricardo–who had stayed up all night talking to him–gave me the news the next morning, I looked at him and said “So…it has all been worth it”.
But God was not done. On Monday evening we had a bonfire in place of the evening service. Pastor Dan (my brother, who was our speaker for the week) spoke on being completely satisfied in God. We had a testimony time, and several young people opened up about areas where God had been working on them during the retreat. A couple were in tears.
Pastor Dan at the bonfire
The next evening–Tuesday–was the last. That night after the message, Pastor Ricardo gave an invitation. Two more young people stood to indicate that they had trusted Christ. Then almost the entire group stood to indicate that they had made a decision to put their future in God’s hands (the theme of the week). As I stood and looked at the group, I realized that God had indeed made it rain. Even as I write this, I have trouble keeping back the tears.
I remember that Monday two weeks before the retreat, as we stood at the camp and prayed, one thing we all asked for was that God would be glorified through the retreat. The following is a note I received not to long ago from one of the young ladies who was there as a camper:
Thank you very much for the camp. It was truly unforgettable. God took care of everything, even the smallest details.
Sunset over the lake at the Iguatu Camp.
I would like to be able to say that after this, I will never doubt God again. However, I know myself too well. Even now I am trying to figure out how we are going to make ends meet given low registration–and finding myself having to fight off the panic. However, if last week is any indication, God will take care of that just in a way that will bring honor and glory to his name–and leave me open-mouthed in wonder.
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