He had now been missing three hours without a word. No calls, nothing. Our worries plummeted to a new lower level. We began to envision the worst. What had happened to him? Where was he? How would we find him? What do we do next? The police had been notified in three counties. We were filing a missing persons report in one of those counties and an Amber Alert request was in the works. Every car available to us was searching back roads and highways where we thought he might be. But there were too many of them.
You will remember from last week that six of our young men at the Paul Anderson Youth Home along with an alumnus, three bicycling staff, and three staff in a van with a big trailer began a 1500 mile Bicycle Challenge to repeat Paul Anderson’s bike ride fifty years earlier from Vidalia, Georgia to Omaha, Nebraska and Father Flanagan’s Boys Town. We were nine days into the trip. Despite the horrendous heat wave in the middle of the country, everyone had performed beautifully; displaying stamina, perseverance, positive attitudes, and can-do spirits. Then in rural Tennessee one of our young men, in a combination of quirks involving a staff member stopping briefly to help one of the others with a flat tire, went straight where he should have turned, pedaling harder to catch up to the group who had been just in front of him moments before, but now were not; and ended up lost. Keeping a good head about him he tried to find his way back to the group. Unfortunately for us, it took him four and a half hours; those hours for us were a nightmare, as we searched high and low, and became increasingly worried. The one whose confidence in God was most visible and a testimony to the rest of us through these hours was the one who has been at this work for fifty years, including every kind of experience in parenting hundreds of young men who had come to live at the PAYH: Glenda Anderson Leonard.
Earnest, pleading prayers ascended to the throne of God from all of us, as every minute passed and we had no word. The fact we had received no phone call brought increasingly greater fears. The word had gone out to many others back in Vidalia and around the country. We really never knew how many were praying for his safe return. And then the call came from one of the Court Houses in a small town we had visited earlier explaining our plight. He was seen by a deputy biking into that town and they had him stay at the Court House with them until we arrived.
Now some of you who have had similar experiences will be able to imagine the overwhelming joy that flooded our hearts when we got the word over the phone, “we have him. The knots and pits in stomachs disappeared. The relief, the joy, the exultation was beyond words.
This is the joy, an ecstatic, spontaneous, tearful emotion of joy, which Jesus describes in the parable above by those in heaven when one sinner repents; one sinner who had been lost, and is found. It is the same joy the father of the lost son expresses in the same chapter of Luke. His son he thought dead, is alive; he was lost, and now is found. Just as I am trying to do now, you cannot explain it satisfactorily in words; this has to be experienced!
Dwell on that joy the next time you consider someone you know is lost, needs finding, and who needs you to be engaged in it. There is definitely something of the same intensity and focus which was exercised above in finding our lost biker, which you must apply to see your desire for their salvation come to fruition. Here is a joy which will forever make its imprint on your soul.
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