God & Country in Lebanon, MO

For three years we were privileged to be a part of an event in Lebanon, MO that can only be described as a miracle. Six Years ago Joe Wilson, pastor of First Church in Lebanon, had a dream of an event that would be fun and cheap for the entire family and that would give his church an opportunity to share Jesus with their community. It started small. Several hundred people, good music, a piece of farmland, and a killer fireworks show. They called it God & Country.

My family joined the church when the event was in its 3rd year. We had about 600 people in attendance and I thought the event was incredible. Jamie and I used to live in Washington DC, but the God & Country fireworks were the best we'd ever seen. For year 4 of G&C, we were blown away when 3,000 people showed up. It really felt like the event was beginning to build momentum in and become a Lebanon tradition. As we prepared for year 5 of G&C, we set our sights high. Maybe we should prepare for 6,000? That would be 50% of the town. God would really be blessing if we could pull that off!

But God had something different in mind.

In July of 2007, on a little farm 5 miles outside of town, 12,000 people showed up for First Church's God & Country event. We were blown away and completely unprepared to handle that many people. Despite the lack of food and drinks, traffic, and parking issues, the event was incredible! After a late night of clean-up I finally headed home and just wept all the way there. Pastor Joe put into words what I was feeling when he told me the next day, "Now I know how the little boy with the 5 loaves and two fishes must have felt!"

Oh, did I mention that First Church is a church of only about 150 people?

That's right! God is using a tiny church in rural Missouri to pull off what is nothing short of a miracle. I'm thinking about all this because yesterday was year 6 for G&C. Even though we're in Dixon, CA now - I couldn't help but pray for First Church all day yesterday as they prepared for another miracle. God didn't disappoint! This year the city of Lebanon allowed the church to hold the event inside the city limits. They shut down the little airport in Lebanon and had the event there. 20,000 people showed up for a fun and cheap event the entire family could enjoy and didn't leave disappointed from what I hear. You can read the entire story in the Lebanon Daily Record here - http://lebanondailyrecord.com/publish/article_6891.shtml. An event that was starting to become a Lebanon tradition is now becoming a Missouri tradition.

I write about this for a few reasons:
  • I wish some magazine or something would get a hold of this story. In an age that idolizes mega-churches and their pastors, it's inspiring to see God use a small church and a normal pastor with God-sized dreams.
  • The biggest thing I learned from Joe Wilson while I was his youth pastor is VISION. He taught me to dream dreams that I couldn't accomplish on my own strength and for that I'm eternally grateful!
  • I want to encourage other pastors to unapologetically dream big. First Church is not a perfect church and Lebanon is not a perfect community. There were (and still are) critics of this event both in the community and in the church, too. But there's nothing more fun than laughing in the face of critics after God comes through on a promise!
Keep up the good work, First Church! And keep dreaming, Joe!


julie w said...

Thanks for those kind words about Joe and our church! It is definitely a GOD THING!!!! We are still amazed at God and what He has done through this event for our community of Lebanon!
We missed you guys Sunday! I even looked at Joe during the fireworks and said that Jeff and Jamie would not have believed it this year! It was awesome! We knew you were praying for us!!
Our nay-sayers were even supportive after the event! They even told us to start planning for next year! How GREAT is our GOD!!!
I am so glad that you and Jamie got to help us with it for 3 years! You will have to make plans to come to it sometime in the future!
We love and miss you all!!!!
Julie :)

mike said...

Sounds like an awesome concept! Here's to hoping they don't take these great events for granted, and lose their heads int eh accomplishments!

Anonymous said...

That is just too cool! I was there for 2005 & 2006. By far the greatest fireworks show I have ever seen. Jeff, you failed to mention the pop. of Lebanon, MO. :)


Karen Coffman said...

Jeff, loved you commenting on the God & Country Celebration. We sure do miss you guys. I was thinking how little Miss Isla was last year and how I tried to keep the popping of the fireworks from waking her up.
We love you guys!