“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV).
The days leading up to Easter are some of the busiest for our church. Our members and staff go beyond expectation to take advantage of this annual window of opportunity to share the gospel in our community. This year, they did even more…
We went door to door in local neighborhoods on the two Saturdays before Passion week, to collect food for our annual Hope Station Food Drive. The first Saturday we hung 1800 bags on doorknobs inviting our neighbors to fill them with food. “Help us feed the hungry.” declared the flyer stapled to every bag. “We’ll be back at the same time next week to pick up your donation.”
And our neighbors responded. We collected 522 filled bags or about 13,050 pounds (6 1/2 tons) of food the following Saturday. As we went through the neighborhoods collecting the food, we also put doorhangers on every door inviting them to our Easter EGGstravaganza event. We figured that since our army was already on the field, we may as well get full use out of them!
After collecting the food, we delivered it to the Hope Station. The director was ecstatic! She couldn’t believe how much food we’d collected. We brought in so much food that it completely filled the pantry, so we had to stack bags down the halls to get it all inside.
A TRAGEDY IN OUR CHURCH FAMILY
On the Wednesday before Easter, April 1, 2015, a tragedy occurred. Eleven year old, Julia Manuel, the daughter of Percy and Amanda Manuel, was hit by a pickup truck while apparently crossing the road in front of her house to get the mail. She was killed almost instantly.
I received a phone call from Percy to come to the hospital quickly. Arriving at the hospital, I sat with Percy and Amanda at Julia’s bedside as we prayed and surrendered her to God’s loving care. When we came out of the emergency room, we found nearly 30 people lining the hallway. Manuel family members, friends, and a great many WCC members had come to lend support. There were so many of us that we were hindering the hospital’s work.
Turning to one of our church members, I asked, “Since the Manuels are in your Community Group, and since your group normally meets tonight, may we bring them to your house to be with their family and receive comfort?”
“Absolutely.” She replied, before I could even finish asking.
In no time at all, we had the Manuel family at the Bryant home and their Community Group members and other WCCers had filled the house with food and support.
On the Thursday evening before Easter, several members worked hard to set up a meditative experience called “The Twelve Stations of the Cross.” Our church family was so grief-stricken over the loss of Julia that we questioned whether we could accomplish all of our Easter week plans. But this was a night that helped prepare us for the Easter weekend, as we contemplated the cost of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins.
Each station depicted a scene from the story of Christ’s passion, offering a multi-sensory experience with instructions for Scripture readings, prayers and response. It concluded with a station for remembering the Lord’s Supper.
Some of our members wondered about having our annual Easter outreach after Julia’s death, but when Amanda Manuel heard talk of this, she said, “You better not cancel! It was one of Julia’s favorite events!” So, we decided to do it even better in honor of Julia.
Our WCCers wore purple, Julia’s favorite color, to the event. And so did most of the community who attended, because the Wilson Times had published a front page article the day before telling Julia’s story, and promoting our Easter event.
Nearly the entire WCC family served in some capacity in order to offer this year’s EGGstravaganza event. I was astounded at the work that our WCCers put into this outreach. We stuffed 15,000 plastic Easter eggs with candy and offered age appropriate egg hunts. We offered everything free to our community. Games, bounce-houses, cotton candy, hotdogs, drinks, chicharrones, snow cones, live music, and demonstrations from local dance groups and even a police dog demonstration from our local police were offered. Our mayor came and greeted our gathering and thanked WCC for its community work. Dozens of local vendors set up booths. We estimated that over 3,000 people attended our event.
We held four services on Easter Sunday morning, three in English and one in Spanish. Actually, we had a fifth service in our theater room on Sunday afternoon. A local church that had lost its building the week before Easter contacted us, so we offered to let them meet in our building. After all, we remember what it was like to be homeless as a church.
Dozens of WCCers offered their weekly service of greeting, ushering, teaching, leading worship and serving. We had a baptism service during the first service, witnessing five candidates identify with Christ in believer’s baptism. We showed a video of the baptisms at the others service, so everyone had a chance to witness them and to praise God for their testimonies.
The deacons had to set up the baptism pool the day before (while doing double duty at Easter EGGstravanza). Then, immediately after the third service they had to empty the 400 gallon pool and dry and disassembly it, to get ready for the evening visitation for the Manuel family. The deacons and their wives really worked hard all weekend. Setting up and then tearing down the baptismal. Ushering at both the visitation and the funeral for Julia. And also preparing and serving lunch to the family after the funeral.
CELEBRATION OF LIFE FOR JULIA MANUEL
But Easter weekend was not over yet. On the Monday morning after, we held a Celebration of Life service for Julia Manuel at WCC.
The night before, the Manuel family had stood in our worship center for two hours while people waited in line to offer their condolences. The train of people ran from the parking lot, through our foyer and into the worship center for nearly the whole time. The publicity in the Wilson Times concerning Julia’s untimely death, and especially her life and faith, had deeply touched the Wilson community. We weren’t sure what to expect at the funeral on Monday, so we prepared for a large crowd. We had volunteers working late on Sunday night setting up a live-feed from our worship center to our theater room for overflow.
It’s a good thing we did. The worship center was packed within minutes as the crowd started to gather nearly 45 minutes before the service started. People were then directed to the overflow room, where we were happy to hear that the live-feed worked perfectly on the large theater screen.
The funeral service was Spirit-filled and marked by gospel preaching and congregational singing of worship songs. Our worship band did an amazing job of leading us. And the Lord gave me the words to say to celebrate Julia’s life and to offer the family godly comfort, while preaching the gospel to those in attendance that might be far from God.
THANKFUL FOR GOSPEL OPPORTUNITIES AND PARTNERS!
As we left the WCC campus for the graveside service, I was amazed to see the entire front parking lot and most of the side parking lot full of cars. What an opportunity God had given us to declare the resurrection of Christ and also because of the gospel, the future resurrection of the saints, to our community in Wilson!
Looking back on the last couple of days and weeks, I am filled with thankfulness to God for the gospel partnership we have at WCC! I am both humbled and amazed to be your pastor.
As one of our staff commented this past Tuesday, “The 80/20 rule has been turned upside down at WCC. Where most churches experience the usual 20 percent of the members doing 80 percent of the work, in our church, we have 80 percent of the members serving. This is not supposed to happen.”
Yet, it is happening in our church. Praise be to God! We give Him all the glory for our gospel partnership!