Chapter Fourteen / Too Much Food and Two Star Housing
A few years into our summer travels with the "Gospel Illusions with Riddles the Clown" show, it was necessary to politely not accept breakfast, lunch, and dinner invitations. The final determination was made one evening when a realization became obvious. We were losing energy, gaining weight, and becoming sick.
Churches, in order to bypass the food costs of hosting a family for a week, would put the burden on the congregation. Church members would sign up for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner option on a particular day. Sundays, our time of arrival, were usually a pot luck after the initial church service when we were introduced as the VBS speakers for the week. On Monday the visitation feast schedule began. Faith, myself, Christy, and Mandy would go from breakfast with a host family, to another host for lunch, and a final host for dinner. Our VBS program was either in the day from 9 - 12, or in the evening from 6 - 9 at the discretion of each church we visited throughout the summer.
Each day began with the journey for the breakfast location. GPS was not an option in the early 1980's. A piece of paper with a few directions was our only hope of finding the house at the fixed time. The directions were not always clear. Breakfast began with the stress of getting lost and the frustration clearly voiced from everyone in the vehicle. Upon our arrival, on time or late, the smiles were plastered on our faces and we entered the home with our prepared Oscar winning enthusiasm. After a 15 to 20 minute meet and greet of all of their children, pictures of their relatives, and a tour of their home, it was time for breakfast. Unfortunately, there was no consideration for our lunch and dinner appointments, in that each host prepared a feast. Every church lady who signed up to feed us wanted the news to spread they had the most food offerings created with state fair blue ribbon qualifications.
Themes were also a great thrill for our culinary artist. A taco breakfast included spicy ground beef or sausage with all the "fixin's" including lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, olives, onions, and jalapeños. Refined beans, rice, and a Spanish stye scrambled egg dish might also be on the table. Of course, it was all delicious. Additionally, our host was not convinced we enjoyed the food unless we had seconds. So we did. Then we visited again for a while up to the time we needed to leave for lunch. There was another set of directions and more stress in the vehicle with, "I think it's that way," or "You were supposed to turn," and then smiles again as we met a new church family. Again there was the, "visit, overeat, visit," and then the dinner. After a huge breakfast and an enormous lunch, dinner was usually the largest meal. There was so much food and offerings of seconds and thirds.
The day came when one of the girls cried on the way to a host meal and said, "Do we have to keep having meals with all these people?" Faith and I felt the same way. Absolutely, love and compassion filled every home. But traveling all day long every day to consume calories and mammoth amounts of food became too much. Our new contracts for the following year insisted on a food allowance, or having food brought to the church which we would take with us to our lodging. The food issue was solved, but an improvement was also needed in where we called "home" for the week.
Camps offered accommodations according to their facility. We would usually have our own cabin or room. There were several times it was necessary to voice opposition. A family camp in Kansas neglected to secure and save a place for us. Upon our arival they discovered all private rooms were filled. "No problem," was the response from the camp rooms' coordinator. "We have four rooms with 24 bunk beds in each. There's a girls, boys, men's, and women's. You will all be separated, but at least you'll have a place to stay."
"That's not going to work for us," I immediately made clear.
Since this was a week after week, month after month, and year after year ministry, there was only one solution to longevity... boundaries.
"I'll pay for our own motel if other accommodations cannot be made," I said politely.
The camp president overheard the dilemma. "That won't be necessary, Steve and Faith. We didn't have you come all this way to serve us and then not have a good place for you to rest and relax. No one is in cabin 14," he said.
Checking the roster, the room coordinator stated, "Mrs. Dempsy and Clara Norquist have had that cabin for the past ten years."
"Did they reserve it?" he asked.
"It's just known that that's their cabin," she said with a definitive voice.
His response...."They didn't reserve it and they aren't here yet, so give it to the Treagues."
"They aren't going to be very happy when they get here," she said.
"I'll take care of it," he responded. "I'll just let them know they are giving their cabin this year for the children's speakers and thank them for demonstrating God's love through their generous sacrifice."
When the two ladies arrived, their demonstration of God's love was not very evident. The displeasure they presented was increased upon discovering the chapel was ours every morning as well. The camp's initial decision was to have us present the children's ministry on the grass down the hill every morning. They did not want us in the chapel, since the ladies were going to meet there on Wednesday morning for a prayer and Bible study.
I made it known our ministry wouldn't work at that location, since we have a sound system, eight totes of Illusions and props, and a full stage set up with curtains and decorations. The camp president said their one meeting could be held somewhere else.
Faith and I were met with distasteful looks and stares from the ladies that entire week, but the children's ministry was a great success. As Faith and I would head to our cabin each evening we would say,"God's got this." In the struggle and opposition, God always found a way to keep us going.
Churches would benefit financially if they could put us up in host homes. In Wyoming, Faith and I were enjoying our evening in the living room of a home where the owners were on vacation. I heard a noise at the door and Faith was startled when a couple walked in. " May I help you?" Faith asked.
"You may help me by explaining why you are in our home," the lady demanded.
When the husband and wife came into the living room we all sat together and I explained that we were the children's speakers this week for Vacation Bible School.
"The Pastor said you were on vacation and this was the home he had decided we would stay in," I explained.
The lady responded this was news to her because the pastor never asked them if it would be okay. We found out later that the pastor was very controlling and did whatever he felt was necessary even if it was not to the approval of his congregation. The homeowners were very understanding and certainly allowed us to spend the rest of the week, but they did have a conversation with their pastor and I believe that did not go very well for him.
There were, of course, very many wonderful people we stayed with such as Opal and her husband, and we became fantastic friends. But the struggles with several of the homes and the liability we faced when staying in someone's home in case something was broken or they couldn't find it later was enough for us to decide that host homes were not going to be something we would offer the church as a possibility for housing. We then, in our contract, determined either we would stay in a camper at a park or they would put us up in a motel. That worked well for the rest of our years of ministry.
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