These last two weeks have been weeks of heavy sorrow for me and all of us at Hospitality House. Losing two dear friends who gave so much to see that the vision for this ministry would become reality has been hard. Not as hard on me, as it has been for their families and that is where my prayers are focused now.
People always want to hear the story of how Hospitality House was started. It's a great story, and I never tire of telling how God miraculously brought this vision about. He used complete strangers that would do amazing things to make sure His ministry of hospitality would be a reality in a short period of time. One of the first strangers that came across our path and propelled us into action was Chuck Stophel.
Chuck was very excited to hear about the vision of Hospitality House and vowed to help in any way he could. We had just formed the non-profit, had no money, no house, and nothing really except a vision. But to Chuck, that was all we needed!
One day that year, Chuck called me and said, "Toni, I just ran into a family at Saint Francis ICU waiting room and they need your help. They don't have anywhere to stay, tragic situation and you need to come meet with them ASAP!" I said, "Chuck, I have nowhere to put this family, we have nothing, no house, no money, nothing! What can I possibly do?" He encouraged me to just come up to the hospital and meet them and hear their story. So I did. (Have you ever tried to tell Chuck Stophel that you CAN'T do something?)
The family was Mickey and Judy Bell, from Farris, Oklahoma. Tragic story, yes, and they needed help. I called Chuck back to report that Brooke and I had met with them, but expressed my frustration of not being able to help them because we didn't have a house yet. He quickly said, "You know what, I don't have a transplant patient or family staying in the transplant apartment, why don't you use that to get your feet wet in this and we'll go from there." WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!? Chuck generously shared what he had available so that a family could be served and God could show me what He had in mind for Hospitality House's near future.
So, Brooke and I readied the apartment and checked them in. You can see the Bell Family Story here:
You see, when God had shared the vision of Hospitality House with me, I could envision a huge house, multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, common areas, which is the typical model of hospital hospitality houses. God had a different plan for our beginnings. By Chuck allowing us to use the transplant apartment to serve our first family, it opened my mind to how the ministry of hospitality is not confined to only one model of a building. The ministry of hospitality is about people.
Six months later, I received a call from the CEO of Hillcrest Medical Center that they had just bought an 8-unit apartment complex near their campus and wanted to offer it to us for $1 a year lease donation! If Chuck had not been willing to share what he had so that we could have that experience, I doubt my mind would have been ready to accept this amazing gift from God through Hillcrest Medical Center.
Chuck and I have remained friends since that experience. We would visit on the phone about the growth of Hospitality House and his music and speaking ministries. We were great encouragers for each other, although I knew I always walked away with more encouragement after each encounter.
We had lunch earlier this year, Cosmos, our favorite spot on Brookside. He shared that he was battling cancer again, but extremely positive and still encouraging. He asked me about my life and what God was doing. I shared about my new passion of ballroom dancing and my new friends through that. He loved it! Chuck is a very passionate and demonstrative character. He wanted to know more so we talked for about 30 minutes about dancing. LOL! He told me that day, "Ok, Toni, you've got me excited about this. When I recover from this round of treatments and get my legs back under me, we are going to dance!"
I kept up with his battle though phone calls and facebook posting and continued to pray. I went to the hospital two weeks ago to check in on Chuck's progress in rehab. He and Sara were eating in the dining room on the Rehab floor and when he saw me he said "Oh My Goodness, Toni Moore, what are you doing here?!" I reminded him that I was here for our first dance! We laughed and encouraged each other again in our lives. He was so ready to finish up his rehab so he could go home with his wonderful family and get back to work and ministry.
God had a bigger plan. Chuck went back into ICU last week. Yesterday he was looking into the eyes of his wife Sara and their children, and then... he was looking into the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. We had prayed for a healing and in a moment, it was given, completely and eternally. Chuck made the journey from his temporary home and body to his eternal home and glorified healed body.
He was a loving, committed husband, an amazing dad, incredible friend, wonderful vocalist and communicator of the gospel message. He left a huge heart-print on so many peoples' lives across this country. I'm one of them. Thank you, Chuck, for your passion, humor, excitement, encouragement, gifts and for glorifying God in your life and your death. I know you are praising God face to face now in song, words and dancing. I will see you again, my friend, so save me a dance!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEihOGxlRFM - Chuck Stophel, When Life Gives You Lemons