North Platte, Nebraska is a relatively sleepy little mid-western town with a population of only some 20,000. It sits just north of I-80. It isn’t Lincoln or Omaha. Few today would know its significance. In the days before the interstate, North Platte was big. It was a railroad town. During WWII, it seemed that half the armed forces passed through the little Nebraska town, coming or going. Every day from 1942 to 1945, as many as 10,000 servicemen and women came through North Platte on the troop trains on their way to war. The total? – Six million? Eight million? No one knows. But patriotism ran deep in and around North Platte, and in nearby little towns like Elk Creek, Buffalo Grove, Lodgepole and Dry Valley. Those hardy Midwesterners met every train, fed every sailor and soldier, and never collected a dime from anyone.
What a model for the church! The North Platte people learned that a Nebraska National Guard unit was being activated and would travel right through their town. One resident recalled, “Lordy, everybody that had anybody that knew anybody that was in the service was down at that station with cookies and candy and what have you.” The whole town waited all day. The train came in late, but it was not the Nebraska Guard, but the Kansas Guard. In the end, it didn’t matter. They gave their gifts to the Kansas boys along with hugs and tears, and meeting the troop trains in North Platte never stopped.
The effort involved some 120 little towns as far away as 200 miles. “They came with baskets of food!” There were birthday cakes. Sweets. Chicken. Pheasants. Coffee. Relish. An eleven-year-old boy showed up regularly at the Nebraska cattle auction. He would auction the shirt off his back to the highest bidder and use the proceeds to buy a beef for the soldiers. Most of the time, he got his shirt back and left with a donation for the troops. Officers and fresh recruits both got the same treatment. Those who lost loved ones in the war came to serve, never letting a soldier know the tenderness of their own heart. At times, some sat down at the piano and the whole room lit up in song. North Platte was an island of joy in the middle of a nation at war. Joy. Sacrificial joy.
The church ought to be a little like the folks of North Platte. It should be a place where people on their way to an unknown fate loaded with potential danger could hear the music, get a cup of coffee and sense a bit of caring love. What if we parked in an intersection full of people in transition, and offered prayer wrapped in care? What if we found the location where a stream of hurting people moved through our town, and we discovered a way to demonstrate the love of God?
Prayer should never be used solely as a personal and private benefit. It ought to be given away – and wrapped in joy. Who do you know that needs the gift of joy this Christmas season?
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.
 Charles Kuralt, “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” American Names (New York: Fawcett Gold Metal; 1985), 18-23.