Santa Maria: Gas station evangelism

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Chance encounter leads to Army involvement.

Brian McPherson, Captain Bob Louangamath and Larry McPherson [Photo by Barbara McPherson].

Barbara and Larry McPherson found an invaluable resource for meeting their spiritual and emotional needs through a chance meeting with Bob Louangamath, captain of the Salvation Army’s Santa Maria, Calif., corps. Their cars had pulled up side by side at the gasoline pumps, and when she tried to pay at the machine in the pump, Barbara’s credit card became stuck. The next thing Barbara heard was “Can I be of help?” Captain Bob quickly retrieved the card and extended an invitation to attend Sunday services at The Salvation Army.

A new chapter
Originally from Globe, Ariz., the McPhersons had lived in Santa Maria since 1973. Barbara attended many local churches but they did not meet her spiritual needs. Larry spent his Sundays maintaining the yards and working on woodworking projects, mainly building guitars.

Barbara attended her first service at The Salvation Army on Father’s Day and her husband started attending the next month. Captains Bob and Joanne invited her to play her favorite hymns on the piano before the service and during the offertory. “It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life,” said Barbara, “as I became reacquainted with all of the wonderful old hymns I had learned to sing in my youth at the First Baptist Church in Globe.” Another new chapter began when the Louangamaths asked her to teach a Sunday school class, as the younger children (ages 10 and below) were growing in number. At the same time another chapter had begun in Larry’s life, as he had not attended church services in 50 years.

Ministry through music
Larry was diagnosed with cancer (multiple myeloma); as a result of the disease and aggressive chemotherapy, he had lost feeling in his hands. Captain Bob expressed interest in learning how to build a guitar—and Larry was happy to return to his workshop as a teacher. In the meantime, another young man from The Salvation Army began constructing a 12-string guitar, Larry’s son started a guitar, and Larry’s dentist and the Free Evangelistic youth pastor became his fourth student. Barbara’s goal is that Larry’s nearly finished guitar that has hung on the wall for eight years will be completed with the help of the four students. Ironically, the guitar builder has no personal guitars. “All of my completed guitars had either been sold or donated to guitar societies or Public Radio for fundraisers,” he explained.

Renewed zest of spirituality
Recently, the Louangamaths expanded the youth night to include a beginning guitar class. They were willing to modify the class by allowing Barbara and Larry to play baritone ukuleles, which can be adapted to guitar chords. Larry expresses how much fun he is having in the class; he is frequently asking questions about techniques and theory. Larry has also found common ground with a saxophone player, Gregory, who attends Salvation Army Sunday services and plays his sax as the congregation greets one another. Gregory is recovering from successful brain tumor surgery, largely due to help from The Salvation Army who transported him to the University of California, San Francisco, for the operation.

The McPherson family has a renewed and refreshing zest of spirituality thanks to that chance meeting with Captain Bob that fateful day at the gas station. They have grown to look forward to the routine of going to church together, meeting new people, making new friends, and helping where there is a need. Most of all it is the feeling, the spirit, that everyone is accepted as they are. “No” is not a word in Captains Bob’s and Joanne’s vocabulary. People leave Sunday service friendlier and happier. God, music, words of encouragement, spiritual and physical nourishment the soul are all there for the taking.

What else would anyone want?

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