You Never Know What You’ll Find When You Serve

Service is one of the spiritual disciplines.

Maybe it’s one that you struggle with. It seems to be in my nature to help. But sometimes it’s more formal–like agreeing to do something or be somewhere.

I live in a small county in the middle of western Ohio. While there is a lot of manufacturing (which is my expertise), agriculture dominates the local landscape. Since the middle of the 19th century, the county fair is the time when all the farmers and other agricultural-oriented people come together to have fun and show off some of the fruits of their labor. Cattle judging, hog judging, rabbit judging. 

Our church has been the “face” of the fair for thousands of people every year as the gatekeepers/ticket sellers/greeters for as many years as I can remember. I think that I’ve been doing that for maybe 30 years.

You never know what you’ll see when you work the gate. Kids coming in with anticipation of the judging of their projects. Older kids trying to sneak in without paying. Watching tired children crying out of exhaustion at the end of a long day.

A storm blew through about an hour before my wife and I worked last night–the first night of the fair and we drew the 7-11 pm shift.

The storm lifted the canopy erected to protect the gate workers from sun and rain at this drive-in gate where mainly exhibitor come in with their large pickups and trailers filled with animals. When we arrived, the canopy was laying in a crumpled mass against the nearest building. We had nothing over us. Just standing in the middle of the drive with a table and two chairs.

No fewer than four people stopped and asked about the canopy offering to go back and bring us theirs. That Midwestern spirit of generosity and helpfulness was alive and well. As my wife said, “There are nice people in the world.”

On the other hand, there is sorrow at times. (And I’m confessing to a sin. If someone from the Fair Board is reading this, I’ll stop in and pay the $9 tomorrow morning when I work again.) I let a man in without paying.

It seems his 16-year-old daughter had run away from home, and he heard that she was at the fair with someone. He said he had alerted the police. He was obviously a distraught parent. I told him go ahead and good luck.

But, alas, later a deputy sheriff gave him a ride back to the gate. He told us that he didn’t find the child. The worst fear of a father. The next call might be from the sheriff’s office that they found a body in a rural ditch. Or the fear of her getting caught in the web of human trafficking. 

So, we serve. We see kindness, generosity, anticipation, pride (when the judging goes well), some of the great work of our young people, and then stories of young people who have dropped off the track.
You never know what you’ll find. But you are there.

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