By Gayla Parker, BCM/D WMU Executive Director, BCM/D Missionary for Missions Education and Customization, Missions Innovation Specialist (SBC WMU)
Last fall I was part of an event in Kissimmee, Fla. Nothing was going as planned. The Power Point presentation worked on the trial runs prior to general sessions, but refused to work during general sessions.
Conference leaders were delayed at airports; others were sick; lunch was delivered late, well…you get the idea.
In the midst of it all, I was to be the last keynote speaker on Saturday morning. By Friday afternoon, I was not even sure I would be alive by Saturday morning.
The stress was building and I knew it was critical to find some time alone with God. Instead of going to dinner with the crowd, I chose to stay behind and look for a quiet place to pray. I found my quiet place outside in a grassy area behind a Piggly Wiggly grocery store. It was there I sat on the grass and poured my heart out to God. My plea was, “God please remove the distractions and stresses from my thoughts.” It was about then I caught a glimpse of something moving in the water that had collected in a ditch. “Was that an alligator?”
Almost stopping in mid-sentence, the conversation with God ended. There just a few feet away was an alligator. He turned his head and looked right into my eyes. My mind was racing. “Do you stare back at an alligator? Do you look away? Do you run? Do you sit still? Do you yell for help?” I had no idea what to do should the alligator decide to do more than stare at me. All I knew for sure was that he had very sharp teeth that had potential to remove my shoeless feet from my body.
We stared at each other for several seconds (seemed liked several hours). Without taking his eyes off me he turned his body and started moving in closer. He stopped continuing to stare. Then he moved yet a little closer. He stopped again still staring into my eyes. And then for no reason he turned and went on his way. All I could do was laugh out loud and thank God for sending an alligator my direction.
You see God had just removed all the distractions and stresses from my thoughts! An alligator was not what I had in mind when I asked God to refocus my thoughts. As a matter of fact an alligator was nowhere in my thoughts. I was thinking in lines of God sending a passage of scripture to mind, or the memory of His presence, but no, God sent the alligator. And I might add that it was quite effective.
Before that prayer time began, I was totally stressed and physically and mentally exhausted. My heart and mind were not where they needed to be when I stood as a speaker in less than 24 hours. One glimpse of an alligator changed everything. It was immediate. It was complete. When the alligator left, my mind never went back to the stresses of the event. All I could think about was the alligator. God had already answered my prayer. And I praised Him with a very joyful heart.
How do I know the alligator was from God? When I returned to the church, I mentioned my alligator sighting to the pastor. He said, “Gayla, I have been at this church for 24 years and I have never seen an alligator this far inland. Are you sure it was an alligator?” Oh yes, I was sure. I had just spent several minutes eye to eye with my very special alligator friend.
It has been some months since that trip to Kissimmee and there have been other stressful moments. Whenever they come, I think about the alligator and how God answered my prayer in a way that I could never have dreamed or imagined.
Eph. 3:20 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine….” Gideon experienced it when he went to war with a few hundred men. Joseph experienced it when being sold into slavery led him to a place of leadership. And I experienced it when God sent an alligator instead of a Bible verse.
The year 2010 is well underway. My goals and plans are in place. But should the year turn out to look differently than I planned, I will praise God for His work that always exceeds mine. And I will remember the alligator.
For more information about mission education, contact Gayla Parker at email@example.com.