Let’s just call him Joe. This would be appropriate, because his name is… well…. Joe.
But this ain’t no “Ordinary Joe.” Not on this night, especially.
Background: I am the Program Director here at Mount Carmel Family Camp and Retreat Center in Alexandria, MN. It is my job, among a long list of other things, to schedule the events and activities of the week. I try to line up a nice combination of silly fun, meaningful worship, Bible study, family time, music, drama, meals, games and planned joyfulness. It is a crazy, stressful, exhausting and delightful gig.
And so, along with some wonderfully gifted young adults on staff, I create the weekly schedule. And then, in the midst of MY plans, God shows up and does something far better than anything I, or anyone else, had planned.
Enter Joe. At the talent show. Wednesday night. Two-thirds of the way down the list.
Context: This weekly extravaganza of “talent” can be counted on to feature the usual suspects: budding “not-yet-ready-for-primetime- but-you-gotta-start-somewhere” 8-yr. old singers, a soulful teenager on guitar, a silly skit from the summer staffers, a senior citizen telling a few jokes… you get the picture. It is all great fun, but nothing too terribly profound. And so it was this past Wednesday night. Until Joe showed up. And God said, “Let’s turn this moment into something Holy.”
So I announce Joe’s number from the back of the room. “Our next act is JOE STEVENS!“ (That’s not his real last name, but you get the picture.) I was using my best “Let’s get ready to rumble” announcer voice. Everyone applauded. But no one came to the stage. To encourage Joe, I started chanting into the mic, “Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe!” and encouraged the audience to join me.
Truth be told, I didn’t yet know Joe’s unique situation. I was just having fun encouraging whomever this next camper was, to get over what appeared to be a slight case of stage-fright. I thought the audience might help me. And they did.
“Joe! Joe! Joe!” But still … no go for Joe.
I wait a bit longer. The chanting dies down and then I see a man… not a child or teenager… a man… step up to the stage. He looked normal. A little shy, perhaps, but ready to perform.
And then, standing down-front center stage, he seemed to hesitate for a moment, then quietly blurted something into the microphone that I couldn’t quite understand. I was later told that he had said, twice, “I think I need help.”
One of our other staffers who knew more about the situation than I did quickly whispered to our group of college-age staffers in the back of the room, that Joe needed some help. To my surprise but great appreciation two of our guy counselors… both strong, well-liked, jock-types…. jumped up immediately and ran to the stage to help Joe out.
So, there they were… suddenly standing on either side of Joe, and facing the audience.. with Joe holding the microphone between the three of them. I don’t think these two had a clue what was going to happen, or how they were going to help. I certainly didn’t.
And then, Joe started to sing.
It was not what I, or the two guys, or anyone else there, expected. It was the ABC Song. No joke. No spoof or “camp skit” version where there was going to be a sudden twist or a surprise ending. Just the ABC Song.
I finally realized, hearing the pattern and tone of Joe’s voice and now noticing his demeanor more closely, that Joe has some sort of mental challenge that probably sets him back a bit, by academic and social standards… but puts him at the front of the class in God’s classroom. (Not sure if you’ve noticed, but God tends to use the “less-than-expected” to do his coolest stuff.)
So, Joe starts singing the ABC’s. And to my .. and everyone else’s delight…. these two jocks start singing with him. (Both of these guys DO have hearts of gold, by the way. I failed to mention that. But, still, this was unexpected.) And suddenly, because these two are totally comfortable in joining in with Joe, the whole room starts joining in as well. And now, the entire place … the whole staff and all our weekly campers, young and old… are now singing the ABC Song.
And it is beautiful.
And I have to tell you, in all honesty, though my creative team of staffers and I planned some pretty cool stuff throughout the week, there was… at least for me (and I suspect I was not alone) no more “Holy” moment than THIS moment, in the silly little talent show… with this act called “Joe”… two-thirds down the list.
There is joy in Christian community when we love each other well and share the journey, and welcome and embrace and hold onto Christ at the center. In this particular moment, the way God did that was to have two young “cool-dude” men stand beside a man a few years older who probably never made the “cool” list back in high school. And together, they sang the ABC’s. And everyone joined in. And God marked it as Divine.
Okay, I am a sap. We all know that by now. But I will admit, back in my AV booth, in the corner of the room, with my microphone now silent, I cried just a little. And I am fairly certain I was not alone.
God chooses the simple to work the profound. I love it when God does that. These things happen often here at Mount Carmel. And they happen in your world too, when you take the time to stop and look and listen for them. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.
Ordinary Joe turned Extraordinary Joe.
We serve a very cool God.