LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–Marilou “Piddle” Johnson’s seven legal pad pages tell the story of the mornings she spent in a church bus at the Kentucky Horse Park during the World Equestrian Games (WEG), Sept. 25-Oct. 10.
On day one she shuttled two people from Israel, six from Great Britain, six from the Netherlands and eight from South Africa along the half-mile stretch between the parking lot, stadium and stables. That list grew day by day in volume and variety.
Some were horsemen and horsewomen, some were spectators and quite a few were on crutches or in a wheelchair, including para-equestrian athletes who spent the final days of the games showing just how far one can go even with a missing leg, arm or with some type of paralysis.
“I keep an eye out for people in wheelchairs and crutches,” said Johnson, a member of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Ky.
“That’s an amazing thing to watch,” she said of a few brave souls. “They stay in their wheelchair, strap in, grab on to a bar and off they go.”
A volunteer opportunity made available only weeks before the WEG began, the shuttle service was the suggestion of Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear. Affiliated International Ministries (AIM) pulled together more than 50 volunteers and 35 vehicles from area churches to shuttle people around the horse park. AIM is an interdenominational group of churches working together to share the Gospel with World Equestrian Games visitors.
“I just had a little girl come up to me today at our exhibit booth and she said, ‘Hey, those are the people who provide the shuttle!'” said Larry Martin, AIM’s director. “It’s made an impact on people.”
Johnson, a native of Kentucky’s coal field area, greeted an array of people who entered the games through the tented checkpoint where she parked her van.
“There are people here who can rent out an entire floor of a hotel and those who are riding someone else’s horse,” Johnson said. “Those who can afford the $600-a-day Maker’s Mark tent and those who are sleeping in a barn.”
Volunteer shuttle driver Chuck Jacobs said the shuttle service gave him a five-minute window to share a “More Than Gold” horseshoe pin and, sometimes, a word about why he was giving free rides.
“Where you from?” Jacobs asked as three men piled into the minivan he was driving.
“Colorado Springs,” one of the men replied.
“Here’s a pin,” Jacobs said. “And here’s a card that explains what the pin means.”
At the end of the ride of small talk and silence, the men piled out.
“You don’t always get a chance to share,” Jacobs said. “But just that they know we’re here because of Jesus is sometimes enough. Then sometimes you get someone who really is open. Like last night. I picked up a man and a woman. He was half-drunk. I shared, she listened and by the end something struck a nerve and she was getting teary-eyed. She said ‘Thank you so much.'”
Jacobs smiled and got a little teary-eyed himself.
“I miss my family and my grandkids and warm running water,” said Jacobs, who spent 15 days in a Starcraft popup camper. “But I love it. I couldn’t be any happier. I get to tell people about Jesus.”
For Marilou Johnson, “I felt God really put me in the right place at the right time.
“I lost my job in June and I’ve been working for the Census Bureau but I’m flexible. If we give anyone a drink of water or a ride in Jesus’ name, it’s like giving to Jesus Himself.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.