God is my Director

Youth ministry, movies, no drugs and a variable amount of Rock ‘n Roll

Notes from America – Pt 4: Chicago

Posted by Martin on July 4, 2007

And the legend continues…

Our hotel in Chicago – well, Schaumburg if you’re going to be picky – was the Renaissance – a massive, spanking new hotel / conference centre with about a billion rooms and some impressive architecture and interior design. When we got there, Jim immediately started running around with his camera, as if he’d had to win a golden ticket to get in there. Our hotel room was fantastic, and I say that for one reason:

A television, in the bathroom.

Better than that – a TV which was built into the bathroom mirror, and which only stopped being a mirror when you turned it on. Idea being: if you’ve got a desperate call of nature, and you’re enjoying the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, you don’t have to miss a minute. Although quite why that’s an issue in a country with five commercial breaks an hour, I wasn’t quite clear.

Early Friday morning we followed our new Sat-Nav, in our new, (total rip-off) hire car, to Willow Creek Community Church. The Sat Nav sent us to Canada, meaning we almost didn’t make it to the church for the final day of their Arts Conference. Fortunately, we realised that it was going snowier, turned around, and got there – quite in spite of the directions we were being given – just in time for the start.<

I can’t really put into words what the first session did to me. I was privileged to hear the story of a couple who are worship leaders at Willow. They’d had a truly traumatic few years, which involved the very premature birth of twins. Although one of the babies was entirely healthy, her sister faced many, many problems, and almost didn’t overcome them. She lived, but she had many serious medical problems, including profound deafness. The couple were devastated – and for a year or so, life for them was just about existing; getting through the next day. And because they were being real, and honest, they admitted how angry they had been at God. They had thought at times about giving the whole thing up. But they stuck in there – and in retrospect they can see how God carried them in the toughest times. They were amazing people.

As this couple told their story, both through words and then through music, it was very hard not to put myself in their place. And as I did, I don’t mind admitting that I started sobbing involuntarily- something I don’t do often. All around me, people were crying too. And then something hit me about this church – something wonderful. I was hearing this story for the first time, but many others were not. This church had walked with these two people, in their pain, in their struggle, in their doubts. It struck me that whatever people say about this ‘mega’ church, it’s truly expressive of what I think church should be about – people who journey together, whatever that really needs to mean.

After that, we were treated to the wonder that is Donald Miller. I heard him a few months ago at a Youth Specialties convention, and thought he was a pretty average communicator. Well, now I repent. Don’s theology of Romeo and Juliet (my title) was just wonderful – probably one of the best three Christian talks I’ve heard in my life. I know a lot of people have already noticed, but this guy is important.

Finally, we were treated to ‘scribble’; a session led by Erwin McManus and a creative arts team from his Mosaic church in Los Angeles. What a precociously talented group of individuals. If I was feeling critical, I’d say that Erwin’s talk – which was woven into the mix of drama, dance, comedy and music – was just as rehearsed as the rest of it, and for that reason it lost a little resonance and impact. Still good though.

We left the extraordinary Willow Campus (it’s like a University, except bigger), but not before checking in with Youth Ministry legend Bo Boshers. Great guy – and what a servant to youth ministry he has been – so that was a bit of a privilege. From there, we raced to a couple of too-boring-to-tell-you-about meetings, but then came the weirdest part of the trip (and one of the top 10 weird moments of my life. That’s right, it’s time to tell you about the big scary mutant bugs from the planet Splurg.

We had to travel to a different part of the Chicago suburbs to meet Steve Wright – brother of my good friend Dave – who had hooked us up with super tickets for the baseball the following day. Steve lives in a nice little street, normal in every way imaginable… except that it had been INVADED BY GIANT MUTANT MONSTER INSECTOIDS FROM BEYOND THE STARS! Sorry, I’ll stop doing that.

What actually happened is that Jim and I pulled up outside his house, and could hear the horrific screaming of hundreds of tiny voices. In that respect, it was like standing outside a screening of Norbit. In addition, there were giant bug-eyed insects flying past, landing on and generally being far too close to our car.

‘Go on then’, said Jim. ‘Go get the tickets.’

‘You go and get them!’ I whimpered in reply.

Jim pushed me out of the car. I can only imagine that the Lord himself protected me in the moments that followed. For while both Jim and Steve were attacked by bugs (which, incidentally, are harmless), I escaped unscathed. Had one of them landed on me, I should surely have required new undergarments. I mean, these muthas were mean!

Steve explained why he’s prepared to live in a street with a monster bug infestation, and things made a little more sense. Turns out these were Cicadas – insects which appear only once every 17 years(!) before breeding and then dying off again a few weeks later. Apparently it was an utter privilege for us to even see them! That’s nice, but it sure didn’t feel that way.

Anyway, the previously ‘big man’ Jim screamed like a girl when one landed on his shoulder. Steve handed over the absolutely ace seats, and we were on our way again. The evening was wasted in the time-I’ll-never-get-back quest for Jim’s wife’s shoes, and to make matters worse, we ended up eating at Rockin’ Roger’s diner, or something like that… which turned out to be America’s worst restaurant. Robbie’s Rod maybe?

Couldn’t take the shine off a great day (Reggie the Robber?) full of exciting new people and horizon broadening. And to make things much more exciting, we had a baseball game to look forward to in the morning…

One Response to “Notes from America – Pt 4: Chicago”

  1. Jimbo said

    I so didn’t scream like a girl

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