Taking a break from church how-to articles to think again about the why…
This past Sunday, I found myself in Arizona’s White Mountains, worshipping in an elementary school gymnasium along with nearly two handfuls of others. The community, a collection of single-wide trailers tucked behind the randomly-scattered trees of the high desert, is a place people go to hide. Some hide from the government, preferring to trust themselves rather than hope in freedoms they see diminishing. A few others hide from those who don’t approve of their life choices, number of spouses, or chemical preferences. Collectively these high altitude dwellers seem forgotten by the rest of us, and neither we nor they seem to mind.
But on Sunday morning a blonde school teacher who cares deeply for their children sits in a metal chair on the gymnasium floor, singing to a God who loves all of them. She’s flanked by an older woman and her young adult niece, their hair and skin are the dark tones of the native American population that fills those hillsides. Across the aisle stands a big man, with a shock of gray amidst his coal black hair. He too, loves God and the few months he’s been coming to the church makes him the senior member of this congregation today. Another couple has joined me on the second semi-circle row of chairs. We’re the back row, and only a few feet from the young couple leading our singing. They’re the pastors, and their sincere passion for this community seems only exceeded by their passion for the God who has sent them here.
God is here, too.
I think that’s what struck me most. This isn’t the normal “build it and they will come” church development plan. This is more of a “take the Gospel where they are” plan, where people sacrifice a lot to somehow plant a small, flickering light right in the middle of a whole lot of darkness.
There are moments of good news. The school has been kind to these new pastors, recognizing the little church as an ally in caring for and investing in the children they mutually care about. The presbyter, a 45-minute desolate drive away, offers the genuine interest of a great coach, and even the superintendent has this hidden place on his radar, stopping by last weekend to buy dinner for the young pastor couple. Still, the blowing dust and surrounding mountains seem ripe with loneliness. Not a place for your car to break down…
But God is here, too…
When Jesus said His followers would go to the “ends of the earth,” He wasn’t just speaking of addresses the post office can’t find. He meant a strategy that takes the message to people where they are, rather than waiting for them to come down the mountain to us. A lot of “highways and byways” aren’t paved, you know. The rusted out vehicles that will never start again, much less find the main road, serve as large markers of small populations needing the same Savior proclaimed on concrete corners.
That’s what my new friends, Greg and Kassie, are doing with their lives. They sing and preach and love in a place that only those leaving town can find. They’ve turned away from larger places to stand alongside those crouching behind the trees. And God is using their sacrifice as the only portal of love and hope within reach of those who’ve hidden from the rest of us.
Truth is, that’s why each of us do what we do. No one is hidden from the one who came to seek and save, and we’re at our best when we remember that we are His arms to reach them.