Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Long Bus Ride
On Friday night, I get to travel to LaCrosse, Wisconsin and speak at Bethany Evangelical Free Church; I will be speaking to a group of deer hunters and eating chili with them. I am especially interested in being there because this is Dave Martin's former church where he put together a rag-tag group of high school singers and travelled all over the United States winning every national Free Church choir contest. It was this wonderful group of young people whom Dave transformed from the radical 60's and 70's into a crowd of future preachers and missionaries that would serve all over the world in the years after. I am thrilled to return to Bethany and to hear one more Dave Martin story from a member.
The following story is a slice of Dave's life while serving at Bethany EFC.
“The choir was the gas that ran my engine” said Dave. “I loved everything about it: the kids, the travel, and the opportunity to lead young people in their faith. I never turned one kid away, and I never kicked one person out. I came close a few times.”
By 1979, Dave and the choir were known all throughout the Evangelical Free Churches in America. They received invitations to come and sing locally and as they traveled to national conferences.
The choir was loaded up on 3 green school buses in to attend national conference in San Diego. The 115 voice choir had grown and matured, and Carol and Dave had recruited as many chaperones and drivers as they could to help keep the kids corralled and in place on time. Rick and Jackie Perry were one of the couples who went with the group.
As usual, little Bethany church from La Crosse Wisconsin won the national choir contest. The Arlington Height’s leaders were heard saying, “Next year we will have our new youth choir director in place. Things will be different.” They weren’t.
After the conference, the choir was scheduled to spend a day at Knots Berry Farm, before the Sunday morning concert in the Hollywood Evangelical Free Church. Dave was awakened at 4 a.m. that Sunday morning by a phone call from the Annandale Free Church pastor. "Dave, there has been a gas explosion at Jackie’s parents house. Both of her parents were killed along with their baby daughter Jessica, but the small baby boy Jonathan, was blown out of the house while on a couch and is still alive and at the hospital.”
Things changed quickly. Hysteria ran wild amongst the girls; tears and more tears. The young men were stunned. Plans were changed. Flights were scheduled to get Rick and Jackie home quickly. Instead of staying in California with Carol and the girls to visit relatives, Dave would replace Rick as the bus driver to get back home. The service would go on at the Hollywood church, and the rest of the group would leave early Monday morning.
Even the three pigeons used in the magic show felt the emotions of the day. Throughout all the prior performances, the 3 young magicians and their pigeons had behaved beautifully; but not in Hollywood. The three boys pulled out the birds from their cage, and the birds exploded into the church auditorium. In their confusion and excitement, two birds flew directly into the back wall and fell lifelessly to the floor; there were feathers floating down into the back pews.
There was another evening performance and the plans developed that Dave would take one of the loaded buses and go as fast as he could in order to make it back home in time for the funeral. Dave drove straight through, without a relief driver. The 1700 mile trip was made without any sleep. “There were hundreds of miles that I don’t remember driving,” comments Dave.
Dave continues, “I limped into the Des Moines airport, and was met by a small plane that would take me up to Annandale. Another driver had arrived from La Crosse to finish out the bus ride. I arrived 2 hours before the funeral began. They sat me up on the platform.”
Dave fell asleep immediately. Later, Rick commented, “The deaths of Jackie’s parents and our daughter were devastating, but as we sat in church during the funeral, both my wife and I poked each other and smiled often as we looked up and saw Dave sound asleep throughout the entire service.”