It was 6AM and pitch black outside. We were on the road again headed for St. Louis and the rain started to pelt against our windows. The forecasters had warned us that it was coming, but we were not prepared for how intense it would become. Our intrepid band of four women, two men and a trade show booth was headed to the Urbana Student Missions Conference and had been praying for divine intervention on our behalf, but this was not what we had been hoping for. Given that we were on the western end of the Eastern Time zone, we had no idea when the sun would come up and how long this torrential rain would last. At that time in the morning as we were buffeted by the high winds we were grateful that it was only us and the truckers on the road.
Little did we know how badly this same storm system had affected the St. Louis area to which we were headed. About an hour from the city, we got a message from the woman who had generously agreed to provide housing for us during the week ahead. She suggested that we watch a video she had just posted to Facebook. As we watched the video, we realized that her housing development had been completely cut off by the flood waters all around her and we had no way of getting to her. Now we really knew that we needed divine intervention — and it came. After a quick prayer, we checked on housing options in downtown St. Louis for a couple of nights and were astounded that we could find accommodation. Hotwire (a great hotel app) found us a couple of rooms within walking distance of the convention center for only $50 a night. That should not have been possible. Every room should have been filled with the 16,000 college students attending this conference and certainly no available room should have been that cheap. We had experienced a miracle and we knew it.
As we set up our booth later that day, we had the sense that God was working on our behalf in a special way. While our booth space was small, it was quite adequate and happened to be located strategically at the end of an aisle. Our goal was to create an environment which would draw students into conversation and we had made the risky choice to go low tech with the booth. Instead of utilizing lots of new technology, we brought an old typewriter, some 200 year old books and a few very used wooden crates for display purposes. We had designed some really fun t-shirts to give away and decided that in order for a student to get their shirt, they had to tell us their favorite Christian book and how it had impacted their lives – on camera. That’s right, we had set up a little video studio in the back of our booth to capture whatever these students wanted to share with us. Somehow this crazy combination of low tech and video was a big hit.
It was amazing to watch how many students stopped to play with the typewriter that simply had a sign in front of it that said “Try Me”. Many had never touched a typewriter before and some had never seen one at all. Lots of students enjoyed the tactile experience of opening and examining “ancient” books that looked so different than the ones they were used to reading. As we began giving away the t-shirts and doing the videos we heard some great stories and learned a lot about this generation of college students. To our delight, many of them were still readers and actually loved books. It was not hard at all to get them to talk about how a Christian book had impacted their lives. Not surprisingly, David Platt and Francis Chan (speakers at Urbana 15) were mentioned frequently as favorite authors, but interestingly, for many C.S. Lewis still held great appeal.
By the end of the third day of the week we had run out of t-shirts and were overwhelmed by the number of conversations we had been involved in. Our goals had been far surpassed and by the last day of the event, we had close to 200 students who had provided us their contact information for us to follow up. On a daily basis, we had experienced a flood of humanity as students waited patiently to talk with one of the four of us in the booth. We hardly had space or time to breath, as students engaged with us for hours each day. Once again we had experienced a miracle of God’s goodness and faithfulness to us.
One story captured the essence of what took place that week. A man who looked older than a typical college student approached our booth and noticed our CLC logo. He stood back for a minute and then approached me and said “CLC – I Love Corrie ten Boom”. While we were the publishers of Corrie’s books, I was not quite sure why this seemed to mean so much to this man. Then he shared the rest of his story. He had been in prison not long ago and was now out looking to see what God might want to do with the next season of his life. While in prison, he had written to us looking for some free books. One of our team had provided these books which included some written by Corrie ten Boom. He said that these books had changed his life and that this was one of the ways that God had turned things around for him and he was grateful. What a divine appointment – that we would be in that place at that moment to hear his story.
On the very last night of our time in St. Louis, something extraordinary happened again. We had finished a very busyday and headed into the huge cafeteria hall for our last meal together. We got our food trays and headed to a table to eat. As we were sitting down, I looked up to see who else would be at the table with us. The organizers of this event were very efficient and made sure that every table was full and so our team of four expected to have at least four or five other people at our table. What we didn’t know was how strategic God was in arranging this group. As we sat down to eat and talk we discovered that one of the people was from Mexico, two were from India and one was from Africa. This was a great reminder to us that God has brought people from all the nations to study in the USA and that our ministry can impact people in many different ways.
As we drove home from Urbana, our hearts were full. We passed many fields that had been flooded and rivers that had spilled over their banks and were reminded to pray for the people of St. Louis that were still suffering from the heavy rains of the previous week. At the same time, we were rejoicing in the floodtide of people with whom we had interacted. We prayed for more miracles as we followed up with these young people who might become the next generation of missionaries to serve with our ministry.