Years ago, I had our sr. high group out on the road on the North Carolina coast, where we were working with Habitat for Humanity. The trip was going really, really well.
One of the work days was rainy, so the Habitat chapter asked us to go to a different work site, where we could do interior work. By noon, the rain showers had ended and the Habitat director asked us to head back to our original site after lunch, to resume our exterior work. So we loaded up two 15 passenger vans to make the 15 minute drive back to our primary site.
The road to the site followed the coastline north. About 10 minutes into the drive, we joined a line of cars stopped on the road, waiting for a drawbridge to go back down after a fishing boat went through. I was driving the lead van.
While waiting, something caused me to look in my rear-view mirror, where without warning, I saw the van behind us lurch up and down violently, and an explosion of glass from the back end of the van. I turned around to the group in my van and said “stay in the van!” and hopped out. I went to the back of the second van and saw a Ford F-150 with its front end buried in the back end of our van.
It turns out that a 75 year old driver somehow had missed the line of 5-6 vehicles lined up for the drawbridge. I opened the side doors of the van. “Is everyone ok? Are you ok?” The van had 14 in it. All 14 were in shock. Some of the groaned…some started to cry… People in the other cars had hopped out to help, and several were on cell phones, calling 911.
Ambulances came from all over. At one point, I found myself inside the van, holding Sarah’s head and neck stable, while the EMT checked her out. I looked out of the van window. The members of our group from the other van had climbed out of the van (they never followed instructions…sigh…) and were standing in a circle, holding hands praying. It’s an image I will never forget.
Ambulances were loaded…probably 5 or 6 of them, and all took off together for the local hospital. I was on my cell phone, calling my senior pastor…calling parents… The doctors, nurses and EMT’s did a fantastic job caring for our group. I will be forever grateful to them.
But the thing that really took my breath away happened once we arrived at the hospital. I walked in, holding Sarah’s hand as her gurney was being rolled in. In the other hand I was juggling my 3-ring binder with their medical forms and a cell phone. When I walked in to the hospital, the pastor from the Methodist church that was hosting our group was in the lobby awaiting us. He walked over, put his arm around my shoulder and said “we’re here for whatever you need.” and he pointed to 5 other folks who I’d never seen before. They were other local pastors and youthworkers. They had just heard about what had happened by word of mouth (did I mention that we were in a small town?) and came. They just came. Word had spread in their local ecumenical network and they just came, to see what they could do.
Every one of the 14 people that were in the van were checked out by the medical providers. 6 or 7 of them were on gurneys, and needed more attention. After a few minutes of organizing I was able to assign a one of the pastors to each of these young people. One of the pastors also just went with me, to be supportive as I was on the phone communicating with all of these parents.
No one was seriously injured. The worst we had was one young person who had whacked their head on the side of the van when it got hit and may have had a very minor concussion. No question…we were blessed. Very blessed.
But here’s the thing: It was that group of pastors, who came without being called, and who sat with, listened to, calmed, and prayed with our young people, who were the miracles that day. They were amazing. They were a gift. They were God’s presence in the midst of our group. I have no doubt.
This group of pastors was our safety net.
This is what I hope our Network can be for each other. 99,999 out of 100,000 times, it will never be anything this dramatic. But in lots of ways, both significant and insignificant, we can be a safety net (or any kind of net) for each other. When I travel with a group now, I print off the names of the Network members who live in the area where we are going. Should we have problems…should our bus blow a tire…should someone get sick…should we have problems, big or small, there is, I know, someone I can call.
And if your group is coming through Maple Grove (right on I-94, in the northwest corner of the Twin Cities!) and you have problems or issues, call. We’ll be glad to help.
This is what the Network is. This is what God is calling it to be. We are a support system for each other. We are all a safety net.
Thank you for being that for each other.