Last September, Gander Citadel, N.L., installed a large, illuminated sign in front of the church on the busiest street in town. It had the dual purpose of advertising upcoming events as well as sharing words of hope and encouragement to the community.
From the very first phrase posted, “A World of Hope Makes a World of Difference,” it was clear that it would create a positive buzz within the community of 11,000 people. The message coincided with the town's commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9-11. As we placed the words on the sign, a man walking down the street stopped to read it and remarked, “No truer words could be said.” He was one of the many displaced passengers from the 9-11 flights who had returned to Gander for the memorial service taking place that week.
Every week or two, the sign is updated with new captions, such as “God Wants Spiritual Fruit, Not Religious Nuts,”
“1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4given,” “Forbidden Fruit Creates Many Jams” and “Can't Sleep? Don't Count Sheep, Talk to the Shepherd.”
With Gander being the snowbelt of central Newfoundland, we were very concerned about how snow buildup would affect the sign's visibility. And so at the height of our winter, the sign suggested, “Whoever is Praying for Snow, Please Stop.” This one caused quite a stir as our town is equally divided among the snow-lovers and the snow-haters. But all appreciated the humour.
The sign has become a popular discussion piece in our community. Our corps members are often approached by people who exclaim, “I love your sign,” or who ask, “Who comes up with the phrases?” Young people have even taken pictures of the sign with their cellphones and posted them to Facebook. Under a photo of the sign that read, “Sign Broken—Message Inside,” one commenter wrote, “Those clever Bible thumpers!”
Many people intentionally drive by the church to see what the next statement will be. We have recently been interviewed for two separate media interviews, one for the community cable channel and another for CBC Radio. In one of these interviews, a woman called in to share that her agnostic neighbour talks about the signs and looks forward to seeing what will be posted next.
It is our hope and prayer that our sign will continue to interrupt people in the busyness of their lives and give them pause for thought. Yes, many times it will bring a smile, but mostly we want them to be challenged to think about God and living for him. It continues to amaze us how a few words on a sign have impacted this community, and we pray that these tidbits of truth will continue to influence others.