Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Eph 3:20, 21
The grace and sufficiency of God know no bounds. From March 10 through March 12, we had the privilege of hosting William P. Young, author of The Shack, for eight speaking engagements throughout Edmonton and Sherwood Park. During those three wonderful days, we listened to Paul minister – through authentic, heartfelt dialog – as he spoke to many people from varied walks of life.
After meeting Paul in June 2008, Connecting Streams Director Donna Mitchell was impressed by his authentic character, his love for people, and his desire to speak to others about a genuine relationship with God the Father.
“I realized the Holy Spirit could use his story as a catalyst for spiritual discussion,” Donna says. “Paul’s book, The Shack, was stirring conversations throughout the city, province, and nation – between friends, in the workplace, even in prison – and we wanted to facilitate and continue the ongoing conversation.”
As Paul so eloquently explains:
“We live in a world of uncertainty in which religion has not been able to produce the authenticity, forgiveness, and love that resonates deep in the human heart. Unexpected and unanticipated, this little story is touching the precious places of the human soul in transformational ways, and can only be properly characterized as ‘a God-thing’. I am humbled and grateful to be invited on this beautiful – though sometimes painful – adventure.”
With the help of 40 to 50 volunteers, a limited advertising budget, and God’s faithful provision, we used a variety of media to inform people of the upcoming events: a news release, event posters and emails throughout town, an event website, Sherwood Park News and Edmonton Journal articles, a Facebook invitation, and numerous promotional opportunities through the Breakforth and Missionfest events.
We knew God, through the tapestry of Paul’s simple story, was revealing His character and drawing the broken-hearted to Himself. It was essential we extend the event invitations into the uttermost parts of our city – “to the broken-hearted and to all who are thirsty…come!”
To provide audience-appropriate venues for each event, we partnered with The Park Church, Chapters bookstore, Taylor University College, Edmonton Institute for Women, City Centre Church, and Strathcona Christian Academy. These venues individually hosted or coordinated the following events: a Pastors/Ministry Leaders Breakfast, Chapters public book signing, a forum for post-secondary Students/Teachers at Beulah Alliance Church, a meeting with women inmates, an inner-city lunch for staff/volunteers of agencies and the inner-city community, and a forum for high school students/teachers at Strathcona Christian Academy. Other events included a dessert evening for men and women at the Fantasyland Hotel, and a women’s dessert evening at Festival Place in Sherwood Park. Overall, event attendance exceeded 2000.
The Father truly is a God of Wonders. During each event, Paul shared from his heart, revealing the pain and anguish of his own story and its relevance to people broken by tragedy, loss, and pain. As he interacted with each audience, he was authentically vulnerable, and treated each person with compassion and respect as they conveyed the grief and frustrations of their own stories. With courtesy and understanding, he answered questions relating to the perceived controversies in his book.
The most common recurring question related to the meaning of Sarayu, Paul’s name for the Holy Spirit. Sarayu means a gentle, enveloping kind of breeze that takes you by surprise on a warm day and changes everything – changes everything indeed! This description echoes John 3:8.
No question went unanswered, and as a result, many misunderstandings about the book were resolved. After Paul spoke at one event, the President of Taylor University observed – “Paul…showed us the Father’s heart.”
Indeed, the Holy Spirit used these events to break down our traditional, legalistic religious perceptions and remind us of the true Father heart of God. The response from many attendees reiterates our inspired decision to bring William P. Young to our community.
One attendee rejoices, “I am so glad you invited W. Paul Young today… it’s a wonder how Papa works. A wonderful perspective on God I can go with.”
Another declares, “I am speechless. Thank you, all of you, for all you have done to honor God.”
One woman, who met Paul at the Chapter’s book signing, collapsed into his arms and wept profusely as she told how God met her in a significant way, through Paul’s book.
Other attendees exclaimed, “The women who attended from our church were very pleased with the evening, and we’ve got some rich conversations going around here…Thanks again for helping to instigate a great dialogue in our faith community! (That comment alone affirmed our purpose for the events.)
Another attendee expressed with gratitude that “The Shack has opened my eyes & changed my life. Paul Young is a messenger from God. He was an amazing speaker.”
However, Paul takes absolutely no credit, saying “it’s way beyond me… it’s completely a God thing.”
As a result of the Paul Young events, many people discovered new friendships, new freedom, and renewed faith. And so, the conversation continues. Throughout these events, Paul’s story resonates of God’s unfailing grace amidst circumstance, tragedy, and shame. Repeatedly, Paul reminded us that, regardless of our self-worth, God loves us, pursues us and desires an intimate relationship with each one of us.
Paul’s story, the purpose for the book, and our affirmation for hosting these events comes from a question whispered to Paul by a woman inmate. Her question resonates from the depth of every human heart: “Do you think God might be fond of me?”
Paul’s answer echoes the heart longing within each of us to know the soul-satisfying, unfailing truth of the Father’s heart – “He is especially fond of you.”