At the end of the performance of The Complete History of the Old Testament in Twenty Minutes, Larry Burgess, the pastor of Clairmont Hills Baptist Church, asked those in the Good News Players (the church drama group) whether or not they might consider performing in conjunction with a weekend conference at a church up in Gowanda, New York.
A group of eleven, including me, the pastor's family, and several others from the drama group, formed a mission team to lead the events of the weekend.
We left from our church in Decatur, Georgia, at 7:30 A.M. on Friday morning. We headed for the Atlanta airport whence we would fly to Buffalo, New York.
The flight was enjoyable because many of us were able to sit together and talk and laugh. The flight only lasted a couple of hours.
At the airport, we were met by Spencer Brown, the pastor of the Gowanda Baptist Chapel. Our pastor, Mr. Burgess, was given the sad message that a child from back home was nearing death from a similar disease which had just been diagnosed in a child from the church in Gowanda. It was sad.
We rented two vans for travelling. A couple from our group took the pastor's car (I believe) and headed on to Gowanda to do some last-minute preparations such as securing a few props that were not feasible to carry on the airplane. Since there was not really anything on our schedule for Friday, the rest of the group went to visit Niagara Falls.
Before arriving there, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I had a good club sandwich, but I didn't really get any water as I ordered. The woman across from me who ordered milk didn't get her drink at first either, but her insistence prompted the waitress to attend to her. Alas, the milk she was given was the curdled scum of the vat. She settled on coffee instead.
The falls were gorgeous! We were on the Canadian side called the "horseshoe falls" due to their shape. I took several photographs, although that was not easy due to their vastness and clouds of mist.
My wife had told me that I had better bring her back a T-shirt and also get things for my children. I found a Niagara Falls T-shirt for my wife, but I did not see anything suitable for my children except possibly a plastic tambourine for my littlest boy. However, I was warned by another in our group that, since he likes to chew on things a lot, he might bite off one of the bells and choke on it, so I reluctantly ignored it, hoping to find something more appropriate for him later on during the weekend.
Several of us went down through some tunnels to visit a special observation area. There was an admission charge of $5.50 (Canadian) [$4.13 (U.S.)] for adults and $2.25 for those 12 years old and under. There was one 12-year-old child who didn't have proof of age and therefore had to pay full price. We all were given thin plastic raincoats to wear to protect ourselves from the mists; they came in handy!
After visiting the falls, we went by the Buffalo Children's Hospital to visit the previously mentioned sick girl just diagnosed with a long-term disease. Only one of three elevators was working. A few of us went up at a time. I went with a group of four. We put on a little corny performance as we entered; the child smiled. Although chipper during our visit, the child apparently felt worse when the next set of visitors came (maybe they didn't do a dramatic entrance). I felt awkward because I forgot the child's name--boy, is it hard to pray for someone present whose name you have forgotten. (I know the name now but don't reveal it to avoid any possible embarrassment to the child.)
We then went to Gowanda. We were staying at the Teepee Bed & Breakfast, which was a small inn on a Seneca Indian reservation. Since we had gone by the hospital, we got there a bit later than we expected, and our go-ahead team making the last-minute preparations had assumed that we had forgotten about them and so they went on to supper without us.
We eventually met up at the Olympia Restaurant in downtown Gowanda. I had a reuben sandwich, but I couldn't eat it all, so I asked for a doggie bag. [If I forget to tell you later, I just stuffed the sandwich in the fridge and never took it out--even when I left.]
On Saturday morning was the one-day conference being held at a local high school. My responsibilities included taking care of the 1st-3rd grade children who came, but there were only two boys. We had fun though.
We were in the gymnasium. As the children arrived, we let them play with some of the inflatable beach balls we had brought. When we thought they all had arrived, we had the children decorate manila folders into which they would be putting papers they collected during the morning.
We had lots of little activities for them to do related to the Life of Jesus, trying to convey the fact that he grew up just as the two boys there did: jigsaw puzzles, word finds, rhebi, pages to colour, and so forth.
Of course, we did lots of other things like relay races, make colourfully decorated frisbees out of paper plates (and aerodynamic testing/contest thereof), and even more so forth.
One thing I did in preparation for the free conference was to make a sign on a piece of construction paper. I was given a marker with a rectangular nib--the kind that cannot produce anything but beautiful letters. Somehow the beautiful script was attributed to me, and I became the official signmaker for the trip.
As I was busy with the children, the conference was in full swing. To be honest, my absence leaves me in the dark as to the precise substance of the conference, but I believe they were dealing with aspects of how to deal with the many concerns of life. I do know that a few skits were performed because I saw their rehearsal.
I also know that all the women were given a cloth bag because I lugged them about.
Saturday evening was the dinner theatre. The dinner theatre was held at Reynold's Restaurant in a nearby village whose name escapes me at the moment.
The group decided that we would leave a little bit earlier than we would have to otherwise in order to go by an Amish toy store. "All right!" I thought, for I still had to get some presents to take home to my children, so I was looking forward to it.
On our way to the toy store, the navigatrix of our van told the driver to stop at a cheese factory. Well, to make a long story short, there wasn't enough time left to go to the toy store, and I ended up with no gifts.
We arrived at the restaurant where we were to perform the dinner theatre. We were putting on a production of The Tax Collector by T. M. Williams. Originally, I played only the part of Saul Asher, a taxpayer, who had to deal with the ruthless Zacchæus of the Israeli Revenue Service. But, I was understudy for a man who couldn't make the trip, so I assumed the rôle of Mr. Bildad as well. Mr. Bildad was another taxpayer who had less material possessions yet more lines in the play.
The play is based upon the true story of how Zacchæus, a mean, cheating tax collector has a change of heart after meeting Jesus and having supper with him. Zacchæus makes amends for his wrongdoings of the past and vows to live above board from that time on.
The play was well received by the forty or so patrons of the restaurant that evening.
On Sunday, our group assumed the responsibilities of teaching Sunday School and leading in the worship service. We had singing and puppet shows and dodecahedra (how'd that get in there?) and preaching and so forth. People seemed quite encouraged.
Mr. Burgess talked about our relationship with God by concentrating on the many references in the Bible that use the metaphor that God's people are his sheep and that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Afterwards, we went to a potential churchhouse site for the Gowanda Baptist Chapel. They were currently meeting in the pastor's house, but looking for a more suitable place. We visited an old, abandoned church building. The site was wonderful. It was on high ground off of a main road. The extant church structure would have to be fixed up a bit, but it looked promising.
Before we knew it, we were on our way to the Buffalo airport. We went into the canteen, where I spent $2 for a root beer just so that I could get a plastic cup that said "Buffalo" and "Niagara Falls" on it--at least I could get one of my children something!