It happened in mid-March. The report was submitted in April. It will be printed in June and read in July. Nevertheless, we think this account is so exciting that readers will easily be able to imagine a snowstorm even as they fan themselves and sip their iced tea or lemonade.
They dubbed it worst storm of the century." The snow was falling so fast in front of our headlights that it felt like our Liberated Wailing Wall bus was slicing its way through a wall of white at lightning speed. It was 1:30 a.m. before we made it to Wytheville, Virginia and stopped for the night. The next morning the snow and wind continued fast and furious. For two and a half hours we tried to ascertain road conditions. When Stephen, our sound man/bus driver, phoned his family in New York, we heard that the East Coast storm had been declared a national emergency.
As leader of The Liberated Wailing Wall, I felt a heavy responsibility for the safety of my team members. I was so glad that David Brickner, Jews for Jesus Minister-at-Large (and my advisor), was with us. David's surprise visit that week had brought the comfort of his experienced counsel. Now his noon flight home to San Francisco had been cancelled.
Our team's final destination was Newport News, on the east coast of Virginia. The roads to the south were wet and icy, and the roads to the north were covered with snow. Were any of them even open for travel? Should we get on the road again and risk the lives of eight people?
As we weighed our options, I recognized that we might not get to our Sunday meetings. I phoned ahead to the churches. First I spoke to Becky, the wife of the music minister at our Sunday morning church. Becky knew someone with a home-base radio and would try to find out road conditions for us. The church was very helpful. It was clear they were really looking forward to our coming. Just as we finished our phone conversation, Becky told me excitedly, "There's a couple who has been attending our church. The husband recently joined, and his wife is Jewish. She is seeking, and I know they're planning on coming to hear you tomorrow."
Immediately I thought, could this be a divine appointment that the Lord has planned? Is the weather an attack by the enemy? Or is it a test of our faith for safety in the Lord? Regardless, I was excited to contemplate the potential of God's victory.
Fifteen minutes later the phone rang. Charlie, the church's minister of education, was calling with a report from the highway patrol. To the south the roads would be icy; to the north there was a lot of snow, but the roads were open and being plowed and treated chemically. Charlie recommended that we take the "high" road. David and I looked at each other. "North it is. May the Lord keep His hedge of protection about us!" Our next stop would be Richmond, Virginia, and David scheduled a 6:15 p.m. flight out of there.
As we got back on the road, conditions were horrendous. Our big bus was practically the only moving vehicle. Trucks were overturned. Cars were stuck. We forged through the storm at 40 miles per hour. As the bus slid along the snowy plain, I kept thinking about the Jewish woman who was supposed to come to church the next morning. I knew our safety rested in the hand of God. I knew He had a plan for us to make it.
We made it through the worst part of the storm but missed David's flight out of Richmond by one hour. (God knew David's job in Virginia wasn't finished yet.) The team stayed in Richmond that night. Reports were that church services were cancelling all over the region, but not in Newport News, Virginia. The next morning the roads were a bit icy, it was windy, but the storm had passed. In 75 minutes we reached the church.
About ten minutes before the service was to start, the music minister walked by and whispered, "She's here!" I was puzzled for a moment. Then it dawned on me that "she" was the Jewish woman who was supposed to attend. "What's her name?" I asked. "Rhonda," he replied. I was so thrilled that Rhonda had come. I felt certain that she was our reason for being at that church.
The team got together and we all prayed, "May today be the day of Rhonda's salvation." I spoke with the pastor about the service. He had planned for a 30-minute program, but he told me to take as long as we wanted. I felt it was appropriate for him to bring some kind of message, so together we decided that the team would sing for 40 minutes and then he would preach for 20 minutes. But as our team left the platform, the pastor approached me and whispered, "Is that traveling evangelist still with you?"
I started to say, "Yes, but…"
"Do you suppose he could bring a ten-minute message or a testimony?" the pastor asked. I hesitated briefly as I quickly tried to decide what was appropriate. Then I said, "Well, sure."
"David, could you come forward please…," the pastor asked. Then to the congregation he said, "You people hear me preach all the time. We have a traveling evangelist with Jews for Jesus. He braved the storm with the team and missed his flight. I believe he is here so that he might share with us this morning. After all, the Lord's servant is to be ready in season and out of season!"
The next thing I knew, there was David up on the platform preaching a powerful evangelistic message from Matthew 23:37-39. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.' " The call to return to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came through loud and clear. Was anyone going to respond? I wondered what was going on in Rhonda's heart.
As we bowed in prayer and David extended the invitation to come to Jesus, I heard him say six times, "OK, I see you. You can put your hand down. Is there anyone else?" It was a powerful moment. I couldn't help but wonder if Rhonda was one of those who had raised their hands.
Then the pastor came forward and called for an invitational hymn. After two verses, he paused to extend a verbal invitation once again. As the third verse began, a gentleman and his wife came forward. As the couple prayed with the pastor, I looked up at Don, the music minister. The sparkle in his eyes told me that this time it was Rhonda who had come forward! My heart was filled with such joy.
After the service, many people in the congregation crowded around Rhonda and her husband, embracing them and crying with joy. So much prayer had been lifted up for this family. I, too, wanted to embrace Rhonda. I wondered if that would make her feel uncomfortable.
When the crowd thinned out I walked over to introduce myself. Rhonda shook my hand as she expressed thanks to me and thanks for David's ministry. She had related so closely to my testimony and the struggles that I had experienced. With tears on both our faces, we hugged as I whispered, "Baruch haba b'shem Adonai (Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord). Jesus brought us here, just for you."
"I know," Rhonda cried, "I know!" What a victory we had that day. The church doors had remained open in spite of the terrible storm, and now a new name was written in the Book of Life. As I write this, I can't help but think of the time Y'shua calmed the storm. "[He] rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?' " (Mark 4:39-40).
The previous night as we had driven through the storm, the knowledge that Rhonda might be at the service had been a gift the Lord had given me to believe that we would be brought there in safety. In human terms the danger was real, but with God all things are possible. I'm so grateful Y'shua gave me that spark of faith. What a lesson!
(Upon arrival at the church, team member John M. headed straight to the cargo bays to unload the equipment. There he discovered a reminder of what the team had gone through the previous night. The bays were frozen closed with strips of ice along both sides of the bus. The front of the bus was covered from the base of the windshield down to the bottom of the bumper with a solid block of ice, about 5 1/2 feet by 8 1/2 feet and about 4 inches thick.)