40 Years in America

The Lord Is Always Welcome!

Michael Balcomb

It was a blistering hot summer in 1977, and I was on a struggling MFT team out in the remote reaches of Western Nebraska. Everything was going wrong. Our team leader was injured. Our van broke down regularly and needed parts from out of state. We snapped at each other and complained of the heat, day after day. But even more torrid than the weather was the hostile reception we received in those isolated Western towns. Time and again we would be told by the police "No soliciting here!"

Often we would arrive at the next town to find the police or sheriff waiting at the city limits, happy to run us right out of town.

Armed with faith in our constitutional rights, we would sometimes try fundraising anyway, for a few minutes or a few hours until the inevitable police intervention and usual arrest. Scotts Bluff, Hastings, Broken Arrow...I still remember those jailhouses today, 25 years later.

Finally, there were just two of us left driving round in a huge old Chevy Caprice we had rented. One morning, after having already been stopped by the police by 10 in the morning, my team leader Ted said, "This is hopeless. Let’s leave this state!" Trouble was, the only nearby town was Martin, South Dakota, and that was three hours away, too far to drive and risk failure.

So we called up the City Attorney’s office and told him who we were, what we were doing, raising funds for our church, and how we could find no place to lay our heads in Nebraska. We could hardly believe our ears when he replied, "Boys, you come right on down. The work of the Lord is always welcome in Martin!"

So we drove on across the endless prairie, the old Chevy wagon swaying like a boat as we sped down the country highways, arriving in mid-afternoon at Martin.

An Indian reservation stood on the outskirts, so we started there. From the beginning it was great. We worked through it quickly, then went through the business district, the residential areas, until about 9 pm the only place left was the City Hall and the Police Station. "Why not?," we thought, "if the Lord is really welcome?" So we went in, feeling ridiculously like Daniel in the lion’s den. But the spirit of the Lord was there too, and we finished in high style.

In that half-day, we probably made more money than we had in the past week. It wasn’t the external results that I remember, of course, but the warm-hearted welcome of one pure town that stood out after so many days of despair. I still shed a tear to think of those people, and the words of that righteous city attorney still echo in my mind down the years, "The Lord is always welcome."

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