Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Church visits and thin places

Being back in the states this year has opened our eyes to the faithfulness of God’s people in so many ways.  We live a weird life.  Our paycheck comes from churches and individual Christians.  Our bills are paid by the generosity of others.

When we first started walking this path of overseas ministry I
had a mental image of our family standing in tattered clothing, gathered around a fire drum with a hat in fingerless-gloved hands outstretched asking passersby to “spare a dime”.  Our children would be waif-like thin with smudged dirty faces and shoulders drawn inward.  Their eyes would reflect a painful vulnerability that comes from abject poverty.  This image, straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, lent a sense of shame and timidity towards fund-raising.  Then one day God spoke to me in the midst of a prayer soaked in fear and loathing of having to ask others to join with us in support of starting the mission aviation program for Bongolo.

God questioned me (not audibly) “Do you trust a secular employer to pay your salary and not The God of the Universe to provide for all your needs?”  That question stopped me cold.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  Did I really believe that God could support us fully in all we could possibly need or hope for?

It was soon after that I confessed my faithlessness and banished my Dickensonian-fueled imagery.  We began speaking and traveling to churches near and far.  Our first presentation during a Sunday
service was not impressive.  In fact when Steve stood before the congregation he began with something like, “I was born at a young age…”  He had prepared a message and an outline of our God-sized dream to start an aviation program for Bongolo, a jungle hospital in Gabon.  What happened that morning was Steve looking at me from time to time, with a wide-eyed, slightly panicked expression, as words spilled forth, and I made the “land the plane” motion.

After the service we went out to lunch with the pastor and his wife.  As we followed in our car with our kiddos, Steve and I commiserated over what felt like a dismal failure.  The message was clunky and the presentation seemed messy and unclear.  At lunch with the pastor and his wife our youngest son, Sam, began drawing on the back of the paper placemat.  To Steve’s horror Sam drew a pentagram and proceeded to tell Steve where to put the candles.  Steve immediately shifted his attention from the conversation he was having with the pastor to ask Sam where he had seen such a thing.

It turns out Sam had seen a Frank Peretti movie in our home whilst he was being babysat by one of the girls from our youth group.  Someone had given us a movie to preview to possibly show to the youth group as it was about spiritual warfare.  It featured a homeschooled brother/sister team who
infiltrated a local high school to uncover a satanic ring operating in the basement of said school.  Not a movie that we would play for our young children but the babysitter thought it would be fine since it was “Christian”.  So a much-relieved Steve turned his attention back to the pastor and continued their conversation.

Steve and I were certain the church would never support us after our less than stellar presentation and our apparently satanic 8 year old son.  But to our amazement that church has supported us faithfully from 2007 to now.  When we recently visited the same church and asked the pastor what he thought when he saw our young son drawing a pentagram at lunch that day he responded he had no memory of that incident!  We were stunned.  How could he not have seen such an alarming thing?  It was a lesson of humility and one of knowing our support comes not from our brilliant presentations or picture perfect family.  Our support comes from the people of God joining in the work of God.  If we had had a slick presentation and perfectly behaved kids we might have been tempted to believe it was by our own strength that inspired people to join us.  Thank the Lord that we learned early on it is by His strength alone.

So we’ve been traveling and speaking for the last few months most every weekend.  What once induced fear and anxiety has become a source of wonder.  We get to meet people we never would have met before.  They inspire us as we inspire them.  Just this past weekend we drove to a small church in the mountains of PA.  It is the home church of friend’s of ours we met while in language school in France.  Shawn and Becky McCabe serve with the Alliance in Mali.  They have an exciting ministry there working with women in prison and teaching people how to start and run a fish farm.

Martindale Alliance Church welcomed us Saturday night with a dinner and a time of sharing our ministry with them.  We got to meet Shawn’s mom who is a former missionary with the C&MA.  Shawn’s mom, Joyce, told us the story of how she and her husband, Kevin, met and fell in love.  That prompted other love stories to flow.  It was a lively conversation that drew others in.  The next day we shared in Sunday school and the morning service.  During the service three elderly saints sang a song with wavering voices.  It was two men and a woman.  It was beautiful to see them sing with their whole heart to the King.

After the service we stood near the door to shake hands and get to know people.  Near the end of the line two of the three elderly singers came up to us.  We were talking to Shawn’s dad at the time and stopped to shake their hands and thank them for their special music.  The woman then shared that it was the first time she has sung in church since her son died.  She told us the story of finding her son dead and far beyond her ability to administer CPR.  She told us how she was able to lead him to the Lord before he died.  Her voice shook as she recounted the painful yet beautiful story of her son’s coming to Jesus.  His arm was outstretched as if reaching for someone when she found him.  It was a holy moment.  Those times when stories are shared that press us against the fragile edge of eternity, a "thin place".  I first heard of this term in a memoir by Mary E. DeMuth called "Thin Places".  It is a great read in which DeMuth beautifully shares, “Thin places are snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh."

I looked over at Shawn’s dad and saw his eyes shiny with tears as we all pressed into the surety we have in Christ that this life is just the beginning.  I hugged her as she headed for the door, her husband reached out and hugged me as well.  It was another church visit and another reminder that we are all connected by the love of Christ.  These moments that come out of nowhere remind us of those “thin places” that push us against the truth that we are here but a moment.  Our lives are like a vapor on this side of eternity.  Let us be about Kingdom living.  Let us allow God to burst through and shine fresh upon our everyday.

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