This hit me. It hit me hard. To my core. You see, I have experienced these two churches, just in the past three weeks collectively I have experienced both of the churches that Rich speaks of. And it is life changing. I am so thankful of the experience, of the conviction, of the piercing to my soul.
As always, Rich opens up with something that doesn’t allow me to get past the first two sentences. Where was the church of Jesus Christ? What he kept asking himself as he took in the suffering of orphans in Rakai, Uganda. The Church in terms of the big-C church – all who claim, worldwide to follow Jesus. And little-c churches, our local congregations.
Being in Haiti and observing the school of College de la Grace in Pignon, Haiti the differences were stark. And not because of the buildings (although of course there are differences). In a world in the US filled with kindergartners who have iPads, the fact that Caleb is building a computer lab is huge. This same difference came to mind with respect to our churches as I organized Caleb’s personal library according to the Dewey Decimal system (which he had to school me on after an entire day and a half of doing it wrong – it’s been awhile since elementary school!) But I looked at just the book resources and was so grateful that Caleb had these, and the donations from church libraries all around. I wondered how often I took it for granted that resources like this were at my fingertips whenever I wanted or chose to make a small investment. The answer? A lot.
I underlined almost the entire chapter of Rich’s but two things really stuck out to me here: We are so blessed. And “We have been given much, and much is now expected.” Are we ready for part two? Have we realized it as a reality?
But the Church in America must confront the uncomfortable challenge of being endowed with an abundance of blessings in an extremely poor world.
The tale of the two churches rocked me. I love, love love love, my church here. We too have grown substantially into the thousands. We too have 3 services on Sunday (plus one on Saturday). We too have been able to reach the community. We too have been able to hire an awesome and amazing staff that 1. has a heart for Jesus and 2 is able to focus on their gifts, praise and worship, stewardship, etc… The difference (I hope) is that our pastors feel free to discuss money and the need to give, the commandment to give. I love that it is addressed and frankly love those sermons/series.
I also literally visited the Church of the Suffering Servant. Seven days ago. I was in tears reading through this story, remembering my experiences.
There is great joy in their worship as these people cry out to the Lord and feel His comfort in the midst of their need… There is pain in this church, born of illness and hardship; they are well acquainted with grief… A school is available… But it is Sunday, and this small community comes together to worship and to celebrate the gospel. Such good news, such amazing news- that God loves them and has actually sent His Son to die for their sins, save them in their brokenness, and grant them eternal life with Him!
The joy, oh the joy. It’s not a word. It’s not a concept. It is the reality of their worship. Both in Pignon and in Port-au-Prince, they cried out loud to the Lord. They felt his comfort. This was apparent. Through the language barrier. Through the culture barrier. He was their comforter. Comforter. Not an adjective. It’s a verb. They know suffering. Both just because they live and survive in Haiti, but also because of the earthquake. It touched more than just those in Port-au-Prince of course, but in driving to the church that Caleb preached at on Sunday, we drove past the fallen church on down the road to the one they have built (a temporary structure) post-earthquake. And looked out onto the new school, the first one Caleb built in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. Oh yes. This community knows suffering. And because of this, they sang, they worshiped.
I was humbled. Completely. Totally. 100% humbled. And just so you have a heads up, when visiting a church in Haiti you may be asked to address the congregation. I was a bit taken off guard and had nothing to say. If, however, I would have had my wits about me. I would have thanked them. Thanked this amazing church body for allowing me to worship with them, in their house. To experience the love they have for our God. To experience the realness of God in that place. It reminded me that there is a time coming when people from all tribes, all tongues, all nations will gather together to worship our Lord. It will indeed be an exciting time. And, I’ll know what everyone is saying then 🙂
In Rich’s book he symbolically merges the pastor from the Church of the Suffering Saint to our church. To my church. To his dismay as he tries to move toward the podium at the end of the service people are leaving. He wants to tell the story of his church, of their need. That they/we must be their saving grace. By the end he is following people to the parking log, begging them to stop. Hoping they will turn around.
It wasn’t that they wouldn’t help the African congregation; they were just so preoccupied with their own programs and people that they failed to see the bigger picture; the reality of the church across the world… Sins of omission are sometimes the most difficult ones to address. To do so requires intentional and relentless self-examination, a commitment to serve those in greatest need, and a keen awareness of the broader world in which God has placed us. Only then can we become consistent and effective in using our considerable resources for the benefit of the church worldwide. (emphasis TA).
I agree with Rich and am in no way putting down the Church or my church. I love what God is doing at Christ’s Place. I see that we have people in leadership with hearts for the broken. And I am not on the board, nor am I even on a missions committee. And I have multiple times made my church my own “spiritual cocoon, to retreat from a hostile world.” I am guilty. A church is more than it’s leaders. If the Church is to do it’s part in leading a revolution, it takes all. It takes me. I am not exempt.
Morgan Chilulu, an African pastor of a small and humble church in the midst of the AIDS pandemic, once told me, “A church that lives within its four walls is no church at all.” ~Rich Stearns
This trip to Haiti, this plane ticket, one of the things that it did was force me out of my four walls. Force me to see a reality other than my own. It forced me to ask myself some pretty tough questions. The question now becomes, will I take that visit outside of my own four walls and make it a lifestyle? I sure hope so. That’s the goal. And to teach my children that it is imperative. That is is natural. I hope they one day know “no walls.” That would be an amazing legacy to live and to leave.