Today we are at Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, IL, a city in central Illinois on Interstate 55 between Springfield and Chicago. Normal is next to Bloomington, home of Illinois State University. We came at the invitation of Pastor Ralph Wingate, a good friend I met a few years ago. Several times we had lunch in Oak Park when he was in the Chicago area. Today marks the start of their annual missions conference. I spoke this morning on “Ballistic Christianity,” and tonight I’m speaking on “What Happens to Those Who Never Hear About Jesus?”
From all indications Calvary is a very healthy congregation. During his 24 years as pastor, Ralph has seen the church grow in many ways. About a year ago they converted one of their two morning services to contemporary worship and now are drawing more and more young families to the church. The church sponsors a thriving Christian school as an integral part of its outreach. Children from 40 different churches attend the school.
As a side note, Ralph told me that there is more corn grown in McLean County than in any other county in America. I found that easy to believe because on our way here yesterday, we drove past mile after mile of cornfields, some of them already harvested. The Wikipedia article on McLean County adds this bit of information:
"McLean County boasts some of the richest soil in the world. Only patches of farmland in Argentina, southern Ukraine and along the Yellow River in China match the fertile ground that covers much of the northern half of Illinois, particularly a high-yielding band through the state’s midsection. It is the top-producing county in the United States for both corn and soybeans."
As a completely unrelated bit of trivia, McLean Stevenson, the actor who played Lt. Col. Henry Blake on the TV series M*A*S*H, was born in Normal.
This morning Steve and Marlene Lau drove down from Chicago for the service. Their daughter Jodi attended Calvary Baptist Church while she was a student at Illinois State. I also met several folks who years ago attended Harrison Street Bible Church in Oak Park. We reminisced about Peter Blakemore, the beloved pastor of the church who died in 1995 when he was around 40 years old. Peter was one of the first pastors I met when we moved to Oak Park in 1989.
After the service tonight we’re driving to Elmhurst to spend the night with Dave and Lynette Hoy. Tomorrow morning we fly to Durango, Colorado to begin a conference at Rocky Mountain Renewal. More about that later.