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July 30, 2011

Heavenly Treasures on Casino Road

 

BMW

From the book,  The Old House, by Curt Iles

The silver BMW zooms by me as we head west on US 190 outside Reeves, Louisiana.  It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in June, and as always, our Louisiana summer humidity is tough to bear, and impossible to enjoy.  I’m driving the camp van, loaded with a dozen sweaty and laughing boys, and the AC doesn’t work very well.  We’ve got the windows cranked down, but it’s still just plain sweltering inside the vehicle.

But the heat is probably not bothering the two occupants in the BMW.  Their darkly tinted windows are tightly shut.  As the car speeds around our slow van; I’m not at all surprised to see the Texas license plates above the rear bumper.

US 190 is what we call the “Texas Casino Road.”  It is used by the multitudes of Texans who come to our fair state to gamble at the Grand Coushatta Indian Casino, north of Kinder.

This shiny new luxury car is in stark contrast to what I’m driving- a 1978 Ford van.  In addition to being hot, this van still bears evidence from yesterday’s canoe trip – the lingering aroma of wet bathing suits and soured towels, and some of the remaining creek sand on the floor is being whipped up by the wind and stinging our eyes.

I’m sure our Texas friends, who’ve just passed us (if they even noticed us at all) thought we were a pretty motley crew.  This van has seen many miles, first carrying foreign seaman from the Port of Lake Charles, and now hauling kids to and from camp.

As this luxury car quickly puts great distance between us, I think, “Well, I wonder how they did at the casino?  Are they going home happy- with more than they brought- or like most visitors, are they leaving with pockets empty and broken dreams from a weekend which they had hoped would be profitable?”

Then I recall a story.  (It seems everything makes me think of another story!)  It’s one concerning a Texan who bragged after returning to Houston after a weekend at the casino.  “Boys,” he said between puffs on a big cigar, “I went over there in a thirty-thousand dollar car and came back in a three-hundred thousand dollar bus!”

. . .The only part he omitted was that this bus was a Greyhound Bus. This funny story is a sad reminder of the troubling practice as to how casinos will quickly loan you more gambling money in exchange for your vehicle title.

As my mind contemplates this and the silver BMW puts distance between us, one of the boys in the van hollers and my eyes are diverted back to the rear view mirror.  It is important to keep a check on these campers I’m taking home to Lake Charles.  These are Opportunity Camp boys.  They’ve come to camp because their parole officer sent them.  Some came to camp as an alternative to juvenile jail time, while others have come because their parents were more than happy to have them gone for three days.  Regard-less of their reason for attending, they’ve all had a great time and been model campers during the three days of camp.

As I glance again at them in the rear view mirror, I don’t see criminals, or a certain race, or any hate- I simply see young boys who’ve had very little guidance, spiritual or otherwise, in their lives.  Boys who need male guidance and involvement.  Boys who, most of all, need the life-changing love of Jesus in their lives.  I recall how many of them, including most of these six, made first time decisions to follow Jesus as Savior, Lord, and guide of their lives while at camp.

Returning my attention to the road, I recall a thrilling experience from the last night of camp.  After our evening service a camper came up to me.  He asked, “Are you a counselor here?”  There was an urgency to his question that riveted my attention on his dark brooding eyes.

“No, I’m not really one, but how can I help you?”

“Man, I want Jesus… and I want Him now!”  he blurted out.  As we went outside and sat at a picnic table, it was my privilege to be there when he asked this Jesus to become real, forgive him, and come into his life.  I’ll always remember his simple, crude, heartfelt prayer:

“Jesus, you know I done a lotta wrong in my life, and there’s a whole lot of forgiving I need, but I know you can, and will, save and forgive me.”

I’ve been with many young people when they’ve reached this decision to get to know God’s Son, but I’ve never heard anyone pray more earnestly and passionately, than this young man.

As the van bounces along in the rutted lanes of US 190, I recall other neat stories from these three wonderful days of camp.  What a joy it is to be part of God’s life-changing work at Dry Creek Camp!

Looking ahead down the highway, I can barely see our Texas friends in their BMW.  They are now only a distant speck.  Then the thought hits me and I really believe it is from God- Even if these Texas travelers hit the jackpot and are returning home filthy rich, they aren’t nearly as rich as I am.  Here’s why:  I’m hauling a van full of new Christian young men.  Who knows, there might be a preacher sitting behind me, or one of those three sitting in the back seat may mature into the kind of Godly man who will break the cycle of heartbreak and sin that have marked his family for generations.

A verse comes to my mind from Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:  Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and  where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there  your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6: 19-21)

You see, the only things going to Heaven are people’s souls!  Nothing else will make it, not even one single dollar of all the casino jackpots ever won.  I think of the words of Mr. Leonard Spears, “Son, I’ve lived here on the road to the cemetery all of my life, but I’ve yet to see a hearse drive by with a luggage rack.”

Therefore, when we view life with an eternal perspective, we realize our earthly possessions are temporary and will be someday left behind.  Therefore, we need to be busy storing up heavenly treasure while we are here on earth- the everlasting treasure of investing in the lives of our greatest resource- young people.

Yes, our business is to be busy about His business.  As Jesus said, “I’ve come to seek and save that which was lost.”

Yes, I wouldn’t trade these “heavenly treasures” laughing in the back of the van for anything material this world has to offer.  Because in the long run, and the eternal view is always the long run, the things that matter aren’t “things,” but people.

As the popular MasterCard Ads say, “Certain things are priceless.”  And being part of God’s life changing work at summer camp is priceless…and eternal… and worth doing whatever it takes to be part of.

What good will is it for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

– Jesus as quoted in Matthew 16:26

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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