I received the initial phone call in the fall of last year. The idea of a ministry tour throughout the state of Illinois was the topic of the conversation. A minister from Alabama was suggesting that a team from his network and a team from my network cooperate to put together a series of meetings throughout the state. As we looked at our calendars and our commitments, we projected ourselves ten months into the following summer and tentatively put a hold on a block of two weeks.
As the months unfolded, we set our itinerary. We would travel from the southernmost part of the state at Cairo to the northernmost part at Zion. We would not just go straight up from the bottom to the top, but we would zig-zag our way in order for us to touch the eastern border at Mt. Carmel and the western border at Peoria. Just in case our 2800-mile caravan would not be strenuous enough, we decided to add a meeting each day at noon and another each evening; and these two-a-day gatherings would be in different locations. So the twenty-four cities in twelve-days tour was conceived and constructed.
July arrived and our tour began. Our team consisted of no less than 12 members at all times and as many as 15 at other times. We caravanned in five vehicles because we carried our sound equipment and instruments with us. Some meetings were conducted in parks; others gatherings were in churches. Because of our prior advertising, folks were awaiting our arrival. Each meeting was unique and each meeting contained a special touch from the Lord. In spite of a rigorous schedule, the expectations of God’s people and the presence of the Spirit at each location kept us refreshed and revitalized.
Then – there was the driving. We covered interstates, state routes, and country back roads. We traveled along river roads and big city skylines. Although our journey never left Illinois - the state in which I was born and have lived all my life - I saw sights that that I had never before seen and viewed scenes before unknown to me. Illinois is a land rich with heritage, plentiful in character, and excellent in beauty.
Undoubtedly, the most reoccurring attraction of the state was the fertile farm lands In mid-July, one can see corn “as high as an elephant’s eye”, to quote the musical Oklahoma. Spreading out into the horizon were straight rows of tall green corn stalks boasting of the strength they received from the prolific soil and the warm summer sun. From north to south, the fields were full and fruitful with the agricultural commodities of corn, and soybeans, and hay. Grain silos stretched heavenward. Cattle grazed in fields. Tractors were parked near the barns waiting the time of harvest. Day after day, the farm land sights celebrated the abundance and prosperity of Illinois.
Many routes directed us through small town, USA. Main streets were lined with local, family owned stores. A few locales looked like they had been created to be the back lot of a movie set. Rural, quaint, home-style, and reminiscent of days-gone-by, I almost believed that Sherriff Andy, Opie and Aunt Bee still lived on in our Illinois version of Mayberry. Several times we stopped for a home-cooked lunch at the town’s diner – sweet tea and all.
Then there was Chicago. What an amazingly lovely town displaying the shores of Lake Michigan as its grand border and parading the Chicago River that runs through the center of the town as one of its cultural charms. With both the attractions and the trappings of big city and suburbs, Chicago fascinates the heart of the visitor. Of course, the Chicago-style pizza bid our appetites to stop and dine.
By the end of the tour, I forgot the fact that Illinois has no oceans or mountains. I was awe-struck by the natural and man-made wonders that give our state beauty, dignity, value, and distinction. Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, will soon celebrate her 200th year. I intend to commemorate that anniversary on December 3rd, but I have even more to celebrate now that I have taken my twenty-four cities in twelve-days tour.