I took off of work on Friday, so that we could get an early start on our trip out West. Our plan was to go to visit Adriene’s sister in Arizona, on our way to the desert land in Quartzsite. We have been there before, but we know that that congregation of people is part of our assignment, so we will continue to make that trek every year until the Lord says different. The desert population of Quartzsite, Arizona, swells from a few thousand people, to an estimated million-plus people during this time of the year. It is the largest (campground) in the country during this time, and a great opportunity for us to share the Good News of our Risen King.
The first leg of our westward journey took us from San Antonio, Texas (our home-base), to Ft Stockton, Texas. On travel days, we usually get an early start after sunrise, and stay on the road until about an hour or two before sunset. If we can avoid it, we prefer not to do any nighttime driving. We pulled into a familiar rest stop in Ft Stockton to spend our first evening. Honestly, I think I may have missed a ministry opportunity. We are always trying to be sensitive to the leading of the Lord in where we stop, or spend the night. A couple of hours prior to our stopping for the evening, I had pulled over to a rest area for a quick stretch and “potty break”; while there, I saw a couple outside walking their dog; we noticed each other and exchanged waves (they too were traveling in a motorhome; we parked behind them). Adriene told me that the guy looked like he wanted to get my attention as I was heading to the restroom. When I came back, they were about to pull off, but I rushed outside and went to speak with him at the drivers window. I introduced myself, and as I usually do, I also introduced he and his wife to our mission on the road. I gave them a couple of our ministry cards, and found out that they too were planning to stop for the evening at a campground in Ft Stockton, Texas. The campground that they were going to, was one that we are familiar with; we had stayed there last year. After our short encounter, they pulled off and headed back on the road; we ended up seeing them a couple more times on the road.
As we passed the campground that they were stopping at, I wondered if we had missed an opportunity to minister to their needs, but we continued on the road and ended up spending the night at a Ft Stockton rest stop. Our goal is to never allow our planned schedule, to get in the way of yielding to the leading of the Lord. Often, when we are stopping for just the night, we will stay in rest stops, or an occasional Walmart parking lot, because it is “free camping”, and we are leaving early the following morning. We are fully contained, so hookups to electricity and water are not required.
We pulled in to another rest area for the evening; we got settled in and it wasn’t too long before we were starting up the generator to get some dinner going, and searching for the perfect movie. One of our ministry partners blessed us with a “Roku Stick”, which provides us Netflix, Hulu, and Pure Flix. As long as we had cellular service, coupled with unlimited data, we were set for a movie night at a rest stop in the plains of Arizona. We had a nice evening; even with the “low roar” on vehicles passing on the highway, we still rested quite nicely.
The following morning, we had our sites set for “Crystal’s House”. We set the GPS to lead us to Phoenix Destiny RV Resort in Goodyear, Arizona. Crystal is Adriene’s sister, and also one of our ministry partners. As we travel, we look forward to visiting those that have aligned with our vision, and helping us in fulfilling it. Check-In time at the campground was 3 o’clock, but we arrived at about 2 o’clock. The main office was closed, it was a Sunday, but the security guy got us all checked-in ready to head to our site. We were only planning to stay at this campground for one day, but we reserved this campground for a couple of reasons; one was that it was a nice campground, that was close to Crystal. Secondly, we wanted to be at a campground for a night, before heading out to the desert that next day. We wanted to dump our waste tanks, and fill up our water supply as well. I also wanted to get a layer of road dirt off of the rig and tow vehicle, before heading back out again.
We went over and spent much of the day at Crystal’s house. Actually, Crystal was heading to California the next day, so I suggested that Adriene spend the night with her that night, while I head back to the campground and crash in the “Bachelor Pad” for the evening. She didn’t argue one bit about that suggestion :-) Before, leaving for California, Crystal blessed us and the ministry alike. She not only blessed us in our immediate needs, but also provided Bibles and food to share with our community in the desert (food for the the soul, and the body); she was quite the blessing …
I went back in the morning to pickup my co-pilot; Crystal had already left for the airport heading to California; we loaded up her “blessings” into the car, locked the house up, stopped by Walmart for a few things, and headed back to the campground. Check-out time for the campground was at 11 o’clock, so we had a couple of hours left to finish our preparations for heading to the desert. We had a “short” day of travel (only 150 miles), to our location in the Quartzsite desert. While outside finishing up, my neighbor came out of his fifth wheel trailer to meet me. I was in the middle of dumping the tanks, so rather than shaking hands, I gave him an “elbow bump”. His name was Paul, and he was a Retired Army Airborne Ranger; I found out that he and his wife were Christians, and their son was a Pastor that was starting a church in his home in the area. After spending a little time “jousting” each other, as retired Army and Air Force people tend to do, his wife came out and I had the opportunity to meet her as well. I shared our mission for campground ministry with them and they were very excited to hear about our assignment. I gave them a couple of our cards and they pledged to pray for us and our travels. They were heading out, so I finished up outside, while Adriene finished up inside. It was finally time for us to leave, so we pulled out, got the car hooked up, and started on our way to Quartzsite.
While we were at Walmart that morning, I gave my supervisor a call to touch base about the shutdown, and to see how he wanted to handle the signing of documents putting all of us “Government Employees” on furlough status. He agreed to send me the documents via email, and I agreed to sign the documents electronically, and return them to him. Yes, I signed my furlough papers, while sitting in the desert in “ministry mode”. My supervisor confirmed that he had received my documents, and that was that. The shutdown only lasted one day, but come to find out, the government shutdown saved me a day of leave because you can’t be on leave while you are furloughed … All I have to say about the Government Shutdown is “Thanks”.
As previously mentioned, we were in the land of “boondocking”, which means there are no hookups at all (no electric, no water, no sewer, and no cable); everyone has to be self-sustaining. Effective boondocking takes a lot of practice, but we are learning more each time we experience it. From our “campsite”, if you find yourself in a pinch, you can move from your campsite, drive and a mile down the road, dump your tanks and fill up with more water. That is what you are paying for when you stay in this area ($40 for a 2 week stay - do the math, that is about $3 per day) - no brainer on that decision for us.
After getting settled into our spot, I didn’t waste any time, I was heading out to see who I could see, and meet whomever I could meet. There were some people that I recognized from last year, but there were many other new faces to meet as well. The community was very welcoming, and I immediately found myself in “Campground Pastor” role. A couple of people came, thanking me for the Bibles that we gave out last year. One lady came and led me to her coach so that she could let her husband know that we were there. His mother wasn’t doing very well, and he was in need of prayer.
The beauty of camping out with other “Monacoers” is that we are all there to help one another. Everyone, has their area of expertise, and everyone was willing to share their specialty with the group. Motorhomes are very complicated pieces of machinery, and having others with similar models, and similar problem areas, is nothing but a positive. I am not necessarily mechanically inclined, but I had people over at our rig helping me resolve some of our “motorhome issues” as well. We didn’t really have mechanical expertise to share with the congregation, but we brought “spiritual covering and guidance” to the group.
We even had a few guys come over to help me with our tow vehicle, it decided to overheat during our time in the desert. Just to give you an example of the generosity of the group; after our tow vehicle overheated, we determined that I would need a new thermostat installed, well, one of the men in the group let me drive his truck into town to the automotive store to get my needed parts. The store didn’t have my specific thermostat in stock, but ordered it for me, with the expected arrival of the following day. I placed the order and came on back. The next morning, I called to see if my part had come in; it had. I went out of our rig and walked around our camp for a few minutes to see if anyone was out and about; there were a few guys out talking so I went over to them to see if anyone could take me to town to pickup the parts. While talking to them, another guy walks up and says “Aren’t you the one that is fixing your tow vehicle?, I said yes, he told me that I could take his truck and do what I needed to do, they were going to do some sightseeing with another couple for the day, and wouldn’t need the truck”. I am confident to this day, that I don’t know his name, and he doesn’t know mine, but one day after meeting him, he let me take his truck to town; now that is “community”.
Church takes on a different definition for us when we are traveling. It is indeed, “Church Without Walls”; there are no pews, there is no choir, there is no praise team, there are no flashing lights; just a group of people, with needs in their lives, that need to be met; whether they be spiritual, or tangible. Introducing people to Jesus, the problem solver. I think this best resembles what Christ did during His earthly ministry, He came upon a need, and addressed it, either publicly, or privately. Lives were changed, and people left different than they were before they encountered Him.
We also went to visit the “Big Tent” a couple of times. Anything that you need to enhance your RVing experience, can be found in, or around the Big Tent; it is the major draw for some people to visit Quartzsite each year; not to mention the typical 70-80 degree weather. We came across a booth for those that were planning to travel to Alaska, well Adriene and the booth attendant decided to break out in the “Alaska State Song” together; they drew applause after that one. We only purchased a couple of things at the tent, and on our second visit, we toured some new motorhomes and visited some of the surrounding vendors. The “Big Tent” is a must-go if you are in Quartzsite this time of the year, but it was certainly not our priority.
Remember the food that Crystal blessed us with for the community, well, the day of the group potluck, Adriene went out and found some other ladies that were willing to help her cook the meats, so that we could share it with the congregation that afternoon. The “potluck” is to the RVing community, what the “fellowship dinner” is to the local church. It is a great time to meet new people, and “enter” into each others world. During the potluck, and the evening campfires are times when many needs are identified, so we don’t miss them too often. I’m told that there were 50-55 rigs in our group, that equates to 100 or more people joining us this year. I’m known as Pastor Robert in our congregation, and I don’t take that lightly. Adriene and I, and the partners of Altar to Altar Ministries are becoming the Church Without Walls in the Quartzsite desert; I’m excited about what God has in-store for the future.
We stayed in Quartzsite for about a week, before we decided to continue our travels further west. We hadn’t told them yet, but we decided to continue west into California, so that we could go and spend a little time with Adriene’s niece that had delivered her 2nd child, just about 2 weeks prior. That is also where Crystal flew to, so this would be a surprise to her as well, and we would be able to give her a report on how she blessed our “desert congregation”.
“And There, We Built An Altar …”