Another airport; another check –in; another long security line. Once again we remove our shoes, belts, and jackets and place them in the plastic tray with our laptop and carry-on bags. We shuffle along, and get patted all over and X-rayed. We retrieve our possessions and get dressed again. Travel these days robs everyone of their dignity. We trail our bags down the hall, we drink bitter coffee from a cardboard cup. We get on another plane. An hour and a half later we disembark. We find the carousel and pull our cases off.
We are met by a welcoming face from the church we have come to serve this weekend, our last in this long trip in USA. In spite of the constant travel, moving from place to place, living out of our suit cases, and the many different beds we have slept in (twelve in 5 weeks!), we are so thankful for the loving and gracious people who have met us, shared their homes, driven us about, taken us out to eat and let us use their washing machines!
Now we are sitting in the pastor’s home, drinking coffee and eating wonderful home made pumpkin cookies. The leadership team is meeting, and we go round the circle each recounting the story of how they met Christ. We don’t know these people yet, but our hearts are knit as we hear their unique and moving stories.
The first is an attractive lady in her sixties who tells us that she first encountered Jesus as a young mother whose marriage was in jeopardy., Her husband was in the navy and was living a dissolute life. She does not go into details but we are led to understand that things got pretty desperate. Then, amazingly, her husband got saved and changed completely! This led her to seriously seek God for herself. She was not only saved but the marriage was re-newed, and together they began to live for God. They have been married for 44 years now, and were able to raise their four children with Christian values.
The husband now tells the story from his side. As he simply states how far he was from God in those early days of marriage, his eyes fill with tears at the wonder of how God met him and changed him. I am impressed that he is so tender hearted that, forty years on, he is still moved by the memory.
As we go round the circle, I am struck by how few of these people had the benefit of what I would call a normal upbringing. In fact, out of the twelve or so people I think I may be the only one who came from a stable home where both parents were Christians. One young woman sweetly told of her single mum hearing the gospel through a friend and going to church and after becoming a Christian, meeting a man who married her and adopted her daughter, who herself became a Christian at college. Her husband, who now tells his story, was the product of a marriage which ended in Germany when he was a child. The depleted family returned to America, his mother remarried and she and her new husband became Christians and took their family to church, where the boy responded to the Gospel.
Several were raised in Catholic homes and one spoke of his terror of dying and going to hell. He began to hate church and eventually refused to have anything to do with it. His life became a round of drugs and drinking. He went into the navy, and it was a fellow seaman who persistently (and insensitively at times!) shared the Gospel with him, leading him to Christ in Japan. His wife now tells how she responded to the Gospel at a camp, literally around the campfire. She seems apologetic that this is a bit of a cliché, but it was nonetheless real! She and her husband met in Okinawa.
Another lady shares how she had no interest in the Lord or church. She appeared to be a party girl, successful and bright but in reality was lonely and depressed. A girl at work who it appeared was not a very good representative of the Lord in most respects, insisted on sharing the Four Spiritual Laws with her, which though it had no immediate effect, stuck in her mind. Then one day when she was at a very low ebb, even contemplating ending it all, she turned on the TV and found she was watching Pat Robertson on TBN. As he simply expounded the Gospel she was utterly transfixed and sobbed her way into the kingdom.
What stuck out to me was how Jesus met all these people in various stages of brokenness, rebellion, and need. He came down unorthodox channels, through imperfect people who did not witness very efficiently. Nearly all said they did not understand much of the Gospel at first, but sort of stumbled into the Kingdom, knowing something momentous was happening to them, but only later adding understanding and theology to their experience. They are now in the church leadership team, passionate for the church to grow and for many to come to Christ; to build God honouring families, even adopting babies into already large families.
No wonder they have named their church “Redeemer”, for they have been redeemed, cleansed and sanctified through the blood of the Lamb. It is the vulnerable and broken who humble themselves, acknowledging their need of a Saviour and receiving God’s restoring grace who know what redemption is all about. Everywhere we go we hear similar stories, and it is a precious thing to hear how other believers have come to faith. It makes all the travelling more than worthwhile!
Photograph by Art4thrglryofgod