I began to panic as I realized I was lost and about to drive over the bridge into Paterson, NJ.
Growing up in rural PA it was culture shock to drive through the suburban streets of Bergen County when I married and moved to New Jersey. It was a real challenge and required a lot of courage to navigate Route 17. But city driving was something I avoided for over thirty years, with no intention of ever facing that fear.
One winter afternoon, as it was just getting dark, I was driving through Hawthorne with my daughter looking for a thrift store we wanted to shop at. I thought I knew how to get to the store, but somehow I ended up on the wrong road. When I saw the bridge in front of me that crossed over into Paterson and realized there were no more turns I could take to avoid going over it I began to panic. My fear increased as I drove across and once on the other side, once I was “in Paterson,” I was officially afraid and all I could do to help feel better was to lock the doors. As I was loudly expressing my fear I found the first place I could turn around and drove back over the bridge as fast as I could. I gave up looking for the thrift store and thankfully found my way home.
Fear keeps you in your comfort zone.
Later as I told my story of fear and panic to Mark and to others I was able to laugh at myself, but inside I never wanted to experience that again.
About a year after that terrifying experience a friend and I went to a ministry seminar that taught about sharing the power and love of God with others that we meet as we go about our day. After each teaching session they provided time to go out and practice what we had learned. The first time we kept it safe and went to a strip mall close to the church. But the second time we got into my car and decided to ask God where He wanted us to go. My friend really wanted to go into Paterson. She felt God was calling us to go there.
Paterson! No way!
But it must have been God, because I couldn’t even believe it myself as I agreed to go there. I told her I would only do it if she promised to use her GPS and told me where to go. Well, she did find directions how to get into Paterson, but once we were in the city, she had no idea of where specifically we should go. So since it was lunch time we looked for a place to eat. Well, if you’ve ever been to Paterson you will now there really aren’t many familiar eating places. We finally saw a pizza shop. Now, where to park? Thankfully God was gracious and there was a convenient parking place close by.
After eating our slice of pizza we asked God to give us a “word” to share with the girl behind the counter. We each felt we had something to encourage her with so we went to her and told her what God had to say. We only got a few words out and realized she didn’t understand English. But to our delight she went back and brought others who could interpret for her! There was something very rewarding about blessing her with a “word” from the Lord.
The return trip was successful and I was thankful for the way God “set me up” to face my fear, but it was only because my friend was with me and something I still wouldn’t want to do again.
There was something else that happened at that seminar. In hind sight, I realize it was very significant. There was a prophesy given about Paterson. How God was coming in new and powerful ways into the city of Paterson. I remember as I heard the prophesy given it resonated with my spirit. I didn’t understand why, especially since I had such a fear of being there. But it definitely made an impact in my heart, and I left that evening pondering the words, wondering what they meant.
Several months after that seminar I woke up with a very vivid dream. It was a dream that had an urgency about it, one that filled me with passion. I dreamt about having a cafe. A place where people could come to talk, share life, a safe and caring environment, and of course to drink coffee!
I didn’t know what to do with it, but it filled me with desire. I told my family, my friends, whoever I talked to about the dream.
Then again, several months later, we received a letter from a ministry in center city Paterson, Star of Hope. In their letter they told about some of the new directions they were moving in with their facility and one of them was to open a cafe! When I read the letter the desire from my dream rose up within me. I asked Mark about it and since we know several of the leaders that work at Star of Hope he set up a meeting to find out more about it. We found that the cafe wouldn’t be open for several months so I took an application to volunteer, not sure if this was what God had or not.
In my dream the cafe was a white “house” located on a street in a small town. Star of Hope looked nothing like that!
Life got busy. I rarely thought about Star of Hope. But, one morning I did. I found myself wondering what was happening there. I was sure it was opened by now. As God would have it…that afternoon I received a text from one of the leaders at Star of Hope asking me what I was thinking about helping out with the cafe. I couldn’t help but be amazed that I had just been thinking about it that morning. I even answered his text by saying, “funny you should ask me today!”
I knew God was calling me to consider helping out. It was June and I was about to help with summer day camp, so I told him I would pray about it and let him know by August.
As I prayed I was amazed how peaceful and even interested I was in doing it. One summer day I was in the area, Mark’s business is just 10 minutes from Paterson, and I felt the Lord prompting me to drive to Star of Hope. I kept trying to excuse it away, but I knew God wanted me to do it alone, and afraid. So, with my GPS set, I headed my car into Paterson. I was just crossing into Paterson when I looked at the car’s license plate in front of me and this is what I saw…
What are the chances that I should be behind that car, at that time, while driving into Paterson alone and afraid!
I felt like Gideon when he was told by God that if he was still afraid he was to go down into the enemy’s camp and listen. When he found himself beside the exact tent where the soldier had the dream and it was interpreted loud enough for Gideon to hear, he was in awe of God, and fell to his knees in worship!
I couldn’t get down on my knees in worship, but Oh my goodness, I was in awe of how incredible God is! God knew my fear, yet He loved me, and wanted to show me that He is greater than any fear that I face!
I will never forget that visual!
That license plate on that white car is forever imprinted in my mind!!
When I arrived at Star of Hope the person I needed to talk to about volunteering wasn’t even there, but God accomplished what He wanted to do.
He dispelled my fear of Paterson, and I have never been afraid since!
I did begin volunteer at the cafe and have driven into Paterson every Thursday since September. There is much I have been learning…too much to tell about now, but I am convinced, just as with my fear of working with teens…
that behind every fear lies an incredible opportunity for God to reveal His glory!