We recently returned from a five-week trip of a lifetime to celebrate my upcoming 80th birthday this month. The trip was planned to precede my actual birthday so that all our family could gather before school began for the fall semester. We visited many friends along the way, but our main purpose was to spend extended time with our family— especially our four special granddaughters.
Our 5,325-mile trek culminated at the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells area. We had a fantastic time as a family staying all together in a huge rustic log cabin, and enjoying a few action-packed days. Aside from some interesting drama that caused us to “improvise, adapt and overcome,” we had a fabulous time. The capstone to the trip was a memorable birthday dinner at the premier restaurant of the resort. Our little three and half-year-old granddaughter wondered why Grandpa’s birthday went on and on…but she can’t imagine the memories that will live on for years to come.
During the trip, we passed through several states, cities, and smaller towns. I came away with some definite impressions and observations that led me to take notes and plan to write my reflections. Here are some of those thoughts:
Everywhere we traveled there seemed to be evidence of prosperity — at least the appearance, or “shell” of prosperity. The highways, shopping mall parking lots, entertainment venues, and vacation locations were teeming with vehicles and people. Americans were out — unmasked and masked — in droves, everywhere. Still, at a closer look, there were obvious cracks in the outer veneer.
Large “anchor store” spaces were obviously empty in most shopping malls. Even the famous Mall of America has store closures and has resorted to clever concealment of large empty spaces. Lesser strip malls are often severely lacking or are barren wastelands. And everywhere the ubiquitous “hiring now” signs cried out from fast food shop doorways to prominent help wanted banners on larger businesses.
Then the evidence of aging and deteriorating infrastructure were all over the place. City streets in the environs of the embattled Twin Cities seemed to be in especially bad shape. We steered clear of the problematic areas where violence previously erupted, but the signs of wear and tear on public roads highlighted the conundrum prevailing in cash-strapped municipalities.
People were out spending and enjoying their prosperity, but it seems to be only skin deep.
Maybe I am showing signs of my age, but travel seems to be much more difficult than we’ve previously encountered. We drew on many years of experience traveling for Positive Action for Christ when we were still working. I believe right now things are much more complex all over the country. We visited familiar areas from the past and found expanded highway interchanges and roadway challenges. Metropolitan expressways were especially daunting.
Then there was the lingering, and in some cases surging, influences of Covid on so many facets of life. Hotels offered grab bag breakfasts, instead of the usual fare. Many restaurants still prohibited indoor seating, and the confusing signage on doors often gave unclear guidance about mask policy and social distancing. The majority of patrons were going about their business without masks or concerns about distance. However, some individuals, or whole families, steadfastly wore masks, but still entered into proximity to maskless people. It was bewildering at times.
We also encountered disappointing customer service situations where telephone personnel or online systems seemed incapable of helping at all. We continue to struggle with several issues after we have returned home. One thing we learned was that most companies are shorthanded and struggling to find workers, or to cover their customer service operations with the overworked and under-supported staff that they currently employ. The refrain seems to be: “Go to our app or website to get your problems solved,” and that medium just does not provide individualized solutions at all.
There was an underlying feeling of uncertainty due to the possibility of civil unrest, continuing divisive politics, mixed messaging about Covid, and the unpredictable effects all of these things are having on a tenuous economy. In spite of all of this, people were going about the business of their daily lives.
Everywhere we went people were out enjoying summer to the fullest. Families were traveling the highways and jamming the fun places far and wide. And the truck traffic was abundant. I have a theory that trucking has increased on the interstates to supply the distribution points for the online ordering that then gets fulfilled through more truck and delivery traffic to the consumers. At the same time shopping areas seem to be alive with eateries, niche shopping enterprises, and creative entertainment ventures.
The most encouraging aspect of our trip was the ministry we were able to participate in among family and friends, and the churches that we were privileged to visit. All of the ministries we visited were vibrant and vital – even during these challenging times. We met, and heard, for the first time the new pastor at Calvary Baptist in Chattanooga, where our daughter and family worship and serve. Pastor Powell assumed the pastorate during the Pandemic and he is bringing blessing and leadership to that large work.
Then we were greatly blessed to share in an unusual and thoroughly encouraging Sunday morning at Pastor Bruce Cournoyer’s church in Madison, Wisconsin. Our son Kirk joined us as we participated in an outdoor service followed by a cookout with the folks of Calvary Bible Fellowship. This warm and growing body of believers was not able to use their usual rented facilities on that morning, and so one of their members hosted the church family at their beautiful home and yard in the country. What a delightful group!
The next Sunday found us at the historic Fourth Baptist Church in suburban Minneapolis. This is the church body where Connie grew up. It is where we met and were married and served before launching out into ministry 55 years ago. However, today Fourth is growing and prospering in their relocated facilities in the expanding western suburbs, while their sister church Family Baptist continues a vital urban ministry in the city neighborhood. Both bodies of believers are serving and showing evidence of health and effective ministry. We were especially struck by the large attendance and marvelous congregational singing on a summer weekend. Pastor Morrell’s expositional message was so practical and it is easy to see why the Lord is blessing that work.
Our final church opportunity was unusual because it was the annual meeting of Calvary Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin, where we attended for a time when serving at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. What a blessing that service was to us! Our dear friend, and faithful tax accountant, Corey Pfaffe gave a stellar church treasurer’s report with great news and spiritual discernment. His presentation was a testimony to the goodness of God during the last year and a half of faithfulness on the part of the Lord and His people. Pastor Bob Loggans gave a wonderful challenge in the service and then treated us to fellowship at Culver’s with his wife and dear friend Char Cedarholm.
We also spent time with many treasured friends and family members along the way and shared memories of past ministry experiences with them. They were all a great blessing to us. What a joy in each one of these experiences to see how God is faithfully sustaining and using His people to declare His glory.