To savor the best barbecue in the world, you just have to know how to get there: located on an old road that used to be beside another road, now an interstate. Once there you will stand in line for at least fifteen to thirty minutes. If you’re lucky enough to get a table, you may share the space with another group. So, why would anyone, especially someone as impatient as me, go to all this trouble? Because for nearly fifty years, this is where I go to savor the best barbecue sandwich ever placed between my lips and from the looks of the crowds, many people agree.
In 1971, a roadside food-stand opened near Williamsburg, Virginia called Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Cue. This so-called restaurant was nothing more than a shack with an order window. Only one meal was served: barbecue on a bun, with coleslaw or without, plus French fries and a drink. Their meat was slow-cooked in a special pit behind the store and mixed in a tomato sauce that can only be described as — heavenly. Truckers from Florida to New York spread the word on their CB radios and the rest is history.
Several years later the two-lane highway became four and a wire fence was erected cutting off Pierce’s Pit Bar-B-Cue from the main road but by now, it made no difference. Cars and trucks by the dozen simply stopped along the side of the road while people scaled the fence to walk over and place their order. Later an exit ramp was built nearby partly because of the traffic jams caused by this little food-stand.
Over the years, the roadside stand became a full service restaurant and the surrounding area is now full of outlet stores, hotels and many other attractions. Was the success of Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Cue the reason why all the change occurred? Maybe, maybe not, but no matter how you slice it, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Cue is an interesting part of the Williamsburg, Virginia story.
Why am I telling you this? Because I discovered Pierce’s Pitt in 1971 while traveling from home to college. I was one of those nuts who parked a car on the side of the road to climb the fence and place an order. At least once a year, I still visit the Williamsburg area and you can bet that I will find an excuse to eat one of those delicious barbecue sandwiches. Are you getting hungry yet?
Also in 1971, I preached my very first sermon in church. Now don’t get any ideas. I was not yet a minister. You may wonder if I was even born in 1971 because of my youthful appearance. (Please don’t answer. Let me enjoy the fantasy.) 1971 was my first year of college and not going well. I was lonely, homesick and scared. Grades were terrible and I was worried about failing out.
I received a call from the pastor of our church asking me to preach at my home church for youth Sunday. His invitation changed my whole outlook. Never once, had I seriously imagined myself standing in a pulpit. Me preaching? Never! Suddenly my life had meaning again. The library rather than the student lounge became my next stop that night in order to research a topic. Within days there were seven pages of notes in my folder. I was ready.
On the big day, I wore my finest (and only) suit. The service seemed to last forever before finally coming to my part. When the big moment came, I hesitantly strode to the pulpit area, laid out my notes and began to speak. There was so much to say about my faith journey. Was it me or did time fly? I finished, sat down, looked at my watch and gasped. It was only 11:30. My entire sermon lasted six minutes – six whole minutes. It was probably the shortest worship service ever. People still remember, not what I said. No! They remember how early they got out of church one day, because of me.
Fifteen years went by before I would again stand in the pulpit. Looking back, however, I’ve discovered that every experience along the way was carefully crafted by God to shape and mold me. The encouragement of a church and pastor who believed in me was an invaluable aid toward shaping my future. For that encouragement, I will always be grateful.
In 1971, I had a lot in common with a little roadside stand, Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Cue. We were both just beginning, and our future success depended upon so many factors. Looking back, I realize the reason we are both still around is because of the support we received along the way. Now, I encourage youth to become a visible part of our worship services. I pray they will receive the same sort of encouragement that changed my life.
Here is what the Bible says about encouragement: “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
First, we are commanded to stay strong in our faith and continue to trust in God’s promises. So many are watching everything we say and do. Our continuing trust in God despite the obstacles we face is a huge part of our witness to others. Second, we are commanded to look for ways to encourage one another not just in general but specifically toward outbursts of love and good deeds.
The encouragement of ecstatic customers turned a barbecue stand into a cultural phenomenon. The encouragement of a preacher and a loving church changed my life. Your encouragement always makes a difference. As followers of Christ we can be a wonderful source of encouragement along the way whether the road leads to the pulpit or to the barbecue pit.