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Two disasters yield promising opportunities

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Looking at the twisted metal frame, I sighed in resignation. At least the fabric was not torn; maybe we could still make use of it. The big 16x20-foot canopy and frame were still intact. But, I had hoped that we’d be spared such strong winds and could use the smaller dining-type canopies again next year.

We just returned from Sandy Valley, Nev., and another mission endeavor among the children and adults in that isolated, poverty-stricken community about an hour outside Las Vegas. This trip was our 10th in 13 years. We have seen numerous children grow to adulthood and have repeatedly sought to be an encouragement to a small church on life support.

How different the spiritual climate is in that region. Here in the Bible Belt one can spot a red brick or white clapboard house of worship every half-block. The valley, however, is home to only two evangelical churches, 5 miles apart. Beyond them, the nearest church is an hour or more away. Resources abound in our area, but they are scarce in the Southwest.

Because of generous donations, we were able to buy three dining canopies to use along with the large 16x20 already there to shield the children and adults from the harsh sun during Vacation Bible School. In previous years, such shelters lasted only one trip, the hot desert wind ripping the fabric before week’s end. This year, I was certain a little extra care would spare the canopies for later use and save us much-needed dollars.

Tuesday afternoon was especially hot and breezy, but the tents seemed to be holding their own. Toward the east, I could see a rainstorm in the distance. Suddenly, it was upon us — and it was not a rainstorm but a dust storm. In a matter of moments, the wind was whipping hard. Several of us worked feverishly, undoing cords and anchors to rescue the canopies. But, the dust! The silt-like sand blew into our eyes, our hair and our clothing. It was literally raining dust on us.

Moments later, the storm died down. We had secured the large canopy and rescued two smaller ones. But, the third was twisted beyond recognition. We’d have to make do without it.

The next afternoon, as breezes once again began to stir, I stepped outside the cool of the small church sanctuary. One of the small canopies had collapsed. Going back inside, I informed the others, and we began to discuss how we could salvage the fabric and build new frames. Ten minutes later, again checking outside, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

The large 16x20 canopy was gone. Looking up, we spotted it 30 yards away — over the fence and upside down. The frame had received only minor damage; we could set it back up. But, one of the smaller canopies was also over the fence and upside down. It was a complete loss.

A dust devil had hit in that brief 10-minute span. A dust devil is an appropriately named mini-tornado, a common but destructive sight in the desert.

Back inside, Michael, of our group, had an epiphany. “The Lord wants us to come back here in the fall for a few days. We can build a permanent structure with a roof sloped to minimize the effects of the wind.”

The group became excited as we discussed the possibilities. Local men could help with the labor. We could have bible study around lunch breaks. Local church members were delighted with the idea.

So, a devilish desert wind may have opened up another avenue for ministry.

While we were gone, a tornado ripped through some houses in our area. While I feel for the families involved, the Lord may use such hardship to inspire another avenue for ministry right here at home to these poor victims.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28).

Bill Horner lives in Campbell County. His column appears regularly in the Faith section. He also started a blog with human interest stories at www.aweintheordinary.com.