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Entry 4 Hope Went Viral: Bag Check

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Day 13 continued...

After class ended, I grabbed my things and headed toward the chapel. The line was visible from my office representing at least a 4 hour wait. I naturally met with a gentleman I didn't recognize strolling in the same direction. It was cloudy but not rainy and chilly enough to need a jacket but not a thick coat. We chatted as we walked toward Hughes. I assumed he was a visitor but he modestly revealed he lived in the neighborhood across the street with a recognizable last name legendary in the town. On a typical day in the small town of Wilmore, it was easy to identify the towns people versus the University staff, faculty and students but this week there were more strangers out wandering about than residents. The people I normally saw walking every day weren’t getting out as usual. On a normal day, I wave to a homeless lady on my way into work and back. She has a very predictable routine. I haven't seen her in days. The towns people are generous to the homeless in the area without judgement - offering a soup kitchen, a community store and rides to the shelter in a nearby town when it gets below freezing temperatures. I wondered how it affected them. On most days, the residents of Wilmore kept to themselves, were kind and passionately supportive of local businesses. Many people here call Wilmore “Mayberry” or “The Holy City”. No one immediately outside of Wilmore cares to challenge the claim. I’ve experienced this "Mayberry" utopia during the parades, among live, Hillbilly music by elderly musicians on Main St. It feels like a Curious George episode. This past Christmas, our heat went out with temperatures below freezing. I let out a weak cry for help and within a couple of hours, a half a dozen residents offered a place to stay, space heaters or other resources. These last few days, visitors were parking in these generous neighbors' yards and many felt invaded upon and unsafe. I began reading a few understandably frustrated comments in private groups on social media this morning. I posted in the private group thanking everyone for being so patient and tolerant with a prediction the coming week would decrease in traffic -along with a disclaimer saying no one could promise relief.

As I entered in the volunteer entrance behind the chapel, I saw my friend and colleague, Megan. A petite faculty member serving as the “bouncer” - checking name tags, press passes and University IDs. Her job was important, but there seemed to be little concerns. Although an armed officer was nearby and many undercover throughout the building. She was the one who alerted me about the “Asbury Revival” groups on social media forming on day six. These groups weren't formed by anyone at Asbury but were obviously growing rapidly. Before lines were forming, she told our assistant and I she had read posts about bringing “buses of people to Wilmore to experience God’s presence”. After talking with her I immediately attempted to join the groups. Most had members in the 100s and one private group had over 1,000. It took 2 days to get into the private group due to the demand of people requesting to be members equalling around 1000 per day. Today, the groups total 75,000 with more forming.

When I walked into the "command center", the check-in staff were different. Their names were familiar from emails but I didn’t know them. I saw a friend who lead worship at a ladies retreat last fall sitting by a friend, Maria. This time, I passed by Maria sitting behind a table with an exchange that was more joyful and relaxed. We made eye contact and smiles that seemed to communicate “hey look at where we are now”. After talking to Megan and joining the “fan clubs” on social media on day six, I recognized the scale Asbury could be seeing and felt I should warn everyone. I walked down to the chapel to find anyone who would listen. I found Christine Endicott and Maria Brown gracefully managing everything on their own, hyper focused on the tasks at hand and little room to chat or relax. I asked Christine if I could talk to her about a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a man who owned a large amount of land walking distance from the college which once hosted a large Christian Music Festival called Ichthus. On day six, it seemed to be a reasonable idea to move the event to that location. It had a stage, an enormous amount of electricity, bathrooms and indoor space for organizers. Christine quickly said they had already contacted him a few days before. I was embarrassed for bothering her then saw Maria. She was also ahead of me and was taking the same campaign approach I was by distributing information directly from cabinet blessed internal communication. She quickly screenshot her phone with information and sent it to me. The two were clearly holding things together with energy only God could provide. Feeling silly, I walked back to my office concluding my "warnings" were unnecessary and God didn't need me to be the paramedic no matter how prophetic I knew I was.

Today, day 13, I followed a volunteer through that same hallway. She was a very put-together, soft spoken young girl wearing a black, modest, casual dress and trendy sneakers. I walked behind her to the chapel where I thought I was headed when she kindly reminded me I forgot to put my bag away. I followed her again through the crowd. The musicians were quietly playing while visitors were still filing in orderly. One of the ushers was a tall, thin, intimidating man confidently and forcefully shouting directions. The lady I followed seemed to need to explain what she was doing with me and he very aggressively shoved me with two fingers in the direction I was walking to communicate the intense pressure for control in the room. I struggled to keep up with her has people walked in front of me and ran to catch up. She escorted me outside in front of the chapel to the bag check where four volunteers were at a table under a black “Asbury Eagles” tent originally put up during the downpour. All were quickly shouting “do you have pepper spray or knives?!” Along with a funny joke or compliment to diffuse the intensity of the questions. The volunteers were no longer internal or even from Wilmore. One cheerful volunteer came from Indianapolis. He told me a story about his daughter, now 32, called President’s Day (today), “hit your chin day” after a hospitalized accident she had as a child. Another lady was even more cheerful as she told me all about her daughter and how proud she was. Her daughter attended Asbury then UK for her Masters and when she had heard about the event, she wanted to be available to give back to a place that had given to her daughter. Another volunteer who helped train me had to leave to pick up her kids from school in Louisville, 1.5 hours away. When she discovered I worked at Asbury she asked me many questions about the schedule and what was happening. The schedule had changed enough that I didn’t know off the top of my head, so we looked at the schedule on my phone together. She was hoping her husband could come. She didn’t say, but it seemed he didn’t share the same faith she did. I gave her the bad news that the only people allowed in after today were 25 and under. She seemed to understand and asked if she could peek in herself before she had to go. I told her I didn’t know of any specific rule in place for volunteers participating without standing in line, but I had overheard those in charge of the operation encouraging others to do so.

Most visitors did not have bags. A few days earlier, signs were placed along the line saying “no bags in Hughes”. Now that a bag check was in place every 15 or so had a bag with them. Most were full of snacks and water. One lady had 6 cartons of yogurt and laughed at herself as I checked. Although Hughes had donated snacks and water, most did not know and expected to need fuel while waiting for hours. I asked those with a bag “is there anything sharp in your bag?” “Any knives or pepper spray?” I felt around the outside and peaked in the inside of each bag. After a while a volunteer and I swapped as I was now to shout “open your coat, please. Thank you” repeatedly as I demonstrated myself with my blazer to share the vulnerability for those uncomfortable. I looked for pocket knives or mace on key rings. The only items I confiscated were voluntarily given to me. I placed them in a used amazon box under the table knowing they wouldn’t have them returned.

As the line began to move slower, some asked if they could go to the bathroom. The ladies with me exclaimed “of course!”. About 30 minutes later, a volunteer came over a little frustrated as he was in charge of making sure people weren’t allowed entry close to the stairs. Event fences are placed everywhere with unclear entrance zones so volunteers were placed for instruction. He said he told many they weren’t allowed to come in with many replies saying they had a friend holding their place in line to go to the restroom. As a result he didn’t have much control and wasn’t sure if what they were saying was true. He told us of one man who begged to get in. He had flown from Puerto Rico and couldn’t get in before Hughes was shut down for those 25 and older at 5pm. Those begging this volunteer for mercy seemed to put noticeable weight on him. Christine was nearby during the conversation and intervened. Finding problems and issuing solutions wasn’t unfamiliar to Christine as she had held the operation together from day one. It was also unbelievable to witness numerous times how when someone had a problem, the person to solve it was miraculously available to solve it. The day before, a lady came up to me with high energy asking for security while I guarded a door. I hadn’t seen a security officer all day and didn’t know how to remain at my post and find someone at the same time. Before I could even reply, in the distance a security officer was walking down the stairs toward us.

I continued my duties as serious bag-checker while listening to the Sheriff of Danville tell stories about the Presidential election they hosted and other chatter that resembled the same dialogue I was seeing on social media. People were posting wild nonsense about loyalty to the King James Bible, not seeing things “in the same box they saw God in” and other opinions easy to disagree with. The sheriff was friendly and of typical personality to one in public service in a small town. He paced back and forth a bit bored while remaining aware and reminding us of what to look for without much urgency.

When my shift was over, I returned to the "command center" to check out. They thanked me and I proceeded to grab a snack. The room is in a 70’s style, stadium classroom with blue furniture, carpet and decor. In the center of the stadium seating is a plateau where tables had been set up for days. Donors provided food with meals more appetizing each day. Today, extra large, industrial-sized, stainless steel pots were filled with roast beef, potatoes and Mexican rice with chicken in another. Fresh fruit accessorized the table. Homemade cakes and desserts were at the end. It didn’t look messy but it didn’t look organized either. There wasn’t any indication who had provided the food but it was clearly someone or business who wanted to nurture those working the event without any recognition. It was like a tithe. Hundreds of water bottles were stacked along the perimeter of the room. Most had the label “Highbridge Springs”, a local water bottling company just 5 minutes down the road. The week before, I watched a large delivery truck back up on the sidewalk to deliver them. Kentucky is known for their natural limestone that contributes to the making of bourbon and other manufacturing. This local water is sourced from springs along the limestone with proven health benefits. I cringed looking at all the plastic but took a bottle anyway without guilt and headed home.

Photos above by Lisa Weaver-Swartz

A nearby classroom became temporarily transformed into a "command center" for volunteer organization, donated meals, storage and security. Photos by Heather Hornbeak

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i love Asbury Revival!! It is the beginning of rescuing our youth to walk with Jesus.. 🕊💕

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