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|She shouldn't have been surprised at what God could do with a bit of food; she's read about the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospels. But the banana bread thing caught her completely off guard.
"When I first visited Hope Chapel," Shae says, referring to the small independent church she attends in Colorado Springs, "someone left a loaf of banana bread and a thank you card on my doorstep. I was really moved that someone who didn't even know me cared about me that much. I wanted to do the banana bread thing too."
Shae told Joni, the church secretary, that she wanted to help with the banana bread program for visitors, only to find that Hope Chapel had discontinued it. But Shae was determined to pay forward the gift she had received, so Joni gave her the name and address of a woman who had visited the previous Sunday.
After baking a loaf of banana bread, Shae headed out to deliver her own doorstep surprise ― only to find that her target lived on Peterson Air Force Base.
"Silly me," she says. "We're at war; you can't just drive on to a military base unescorted."
Having been turned away at the gate, Shae called a friend who lived on base and asked her to join the conspiracy of kindness.
"Call me on your cell phone when you get to the gate," her friend said, "and I'll come pick up the bread and deliver it for you."
But when Shae drove back out to the base that evening, her friend's line was busy. Shae waited at the gate for half an hour, calling her friend every few minutes, but she couldn't get through. Annoyed, she left again.
"I was really mad," Shae says. "I wanted so much to give this gift to the visitor and everything went wrong ― I couldn't get on base, I couldn't get through to my friend. I was so mad I rolled down my window to pitch that stupid banana bread right out on Highway 24."
But when Shae rolled down her window, she noticed something she hadn't seen through the tinted glass: two men walking along the median of the darkened highway.
"I don't usually pick up hitchhikers," Shae says. "But with the Lord tugging at my heart, I pulled over."
The two men were soldiers who lived off base; their car had broken down at a mall, and they were walking to the base for help. Shae offered them a ride; after hearing about her thwarted attempts to get on the base, one offered to escort her in.
After Shae dropped off the first soldier, the other turned to her. "Why do you want to deliver this banana bread so bad, anyway?" he asked curiously. Shae told him.
To her amazement, he abruptly burst into tears.
Between sobs, the young man managed to explain his outburst. Even though the Colorado Springs area is home to five military bases and thousands of military personnel, the soldier had received the same treatment as many Vietnam vets: He had been cursed at, called a murderer and spit upon by war protestors and others angry at America's actions in Iraq.
He was deploying to Iraq in two days, but why should he fight -- maybe even die -- to protect people who not only didn't appreciate it, but also jeered at him for serving his country?
He told Shae he was a Christian, but he had nearly given in to bitterness and despair. As his deployment drew near, he had challenged God to give him a good enough reason to risk his life, perhaps even die. And Shae, armed only with a loaf of banana bread, had been the answer to his prayer.
"If your church can go to all this trouble for someone you don't even know," he said, "I know I have something worth fighting for."
Shae's frustrated attempts to deliver the banana bread to Hope Chapel's visitor had instead delivered 11th-hour hope to a brave young soldier struggling in his own faith.
The young man and Shae talked, prayed and exchanged contact information; Shae plans to try to keep in touch with him while he's in Iraq and visit with him again when he returns.
"He finally helped me deliver the banana bread," Shae laughs, "but it almost seemed pointless by that time. God obviously had something else in mind all along." The gift still had its intended effect, though; the woman who had visited Hope Chapel was also touched and encouraged by Shae's kindness.
Shae points out that Jesus suffered and died for us while we were sinners ― before we knew Him. Similarly, thousands of men and women in the armed forces are also willing to lay down their lives to protect people they don't know, some of whom hate them for it.
As we pray for the safe and speedy return of our soldiers, let's also pray that they'll come home to find something even better than banana bread waiting for them: the thanks of a grateful nation that appreciates their sacrifice.
Banana Bread Thing by Greg Hartman