Tuesday, January 7, 2014


A while back, I said that "maybe one day" I would write about the church I grew up in.
Well, today's the day.

I grew up in a church where almost everybody had known each other since before I was born.  You see, when my parents were in college, a group of college students (of which my parents were a part), and some of their spiritual mentors, broke off from the church they'd been attending, and decided to form their own non-denominational fellowship, know as Bethlehem Mission.

This group of people were all united under one purpose - to pray for revival.
They've been faithfully and expectantly praying for revival since 1982.
They pray today with as much conviction that revival is coming as they had over 30 years ago.
I have never met another group of people like them.

There are many wonderful churches in my hometown who are evangelistic.
There are many wonderful churches there who reach out to immigrants.  (Is that the appropriate word?  I use it because there is a large population of Burmese refugees, who hardly speak a word of English, as well as other minority populations.  If there's a better word, somebody tell me please. My knowledge of the English language is failing me right now...)
There are many wonderful churches who take care of the elderly and the bed-ridden.
There are many wonderful churches who appeal to the youth, the college students, the "young marrieds," etc.

And there is a wonderful little church who doesn't do those things, but welcomes all those populations into her arms when they find her, and, sends her people out to help in the ministries of those other wonderful churches.
This little church is content to stay in the background and pray for the ministries that happen in her little town, to pray for her young people who serve those ministries, and her people who have been scattered elsewhere.
This little church doesn't have a youth group, a children's ministry, a college ministry, an anything else ministry.  She trains her children, her youth, her college students, her everyone, to pray with their whole, believing heart.

She prays for revival in her town, her state, her nation, her country, her world.
And she believes it's coming.

Growing up, I remember many people who lived out of town, who would come visit our little church very regularly.  These people traveled for hours, sometimes, to come to our little "House of Bread." (Did you know that's what Bethlehem means?)
Most of them were some of the original college students who had been involved at the beginning, and moved away after they graduated college.  I remember these far-away friends referring affectionately to "the Mission" and constantly reminding me how blessed I was to be there.

But I didn't know it.  To me, it was just church.  I thought everyone had a church like mine, where there were only a few families, who were basically all like my aunts and uncles, and grandparents, and cousins.

My actual cousin, who lived in Houston and went to a mega-church (I had no idea what that even was at the time, or that she went to one) once told me a story about riding in an elevator with her pastor.
First of all, elevators in church were a foreign concept to me - my church met in an old two-story house with one narrow stair-case.
Then she started talking about how it was just her and some friends her age and the pastor in the elevator.  She said when he spoke to them, none of them could even say anything in return, because they so revered him. *not her 8-year-old words, but the same basic idea*
Well, this was an entirely new concept to me.  As far back as I could remember, I'd called my pastor by only his first name, and talked to him exuberantly about every little thing under the sun.

As I grew older, I visited other friends' churches, and my cousin's church, and began to understand how unique my church really was.  I began to realize how hard it was going to be to find a new church when I inevitably grew up and moved away.

We are a little family, and we rarely change.

We don't have big special holiday services or anything, because that's not what we're about, but every year, at the end of the year, Steve, our pastor, does what he calls the Ebenezer sermon.  The idea for this sermon comes from 1 Sam. 7:12 where Samuel says "Thus far, the Lord has helped us."
In this sermon, he mentions major events in our church throughout the past year - weddings, births, deaths, graduations, etc.  Figuratively, we raise an "Ebenezer," or a "stone of help" just like Samuel, at the end of every year.  It is an incredible reminder of how the Lord preserves His people wherever they are.

I have now done the inevitable, just like I knew I would - I've grown up and moved away.  I'm now one of those who speak affectionately of "the Mission" and tell the children how blessed they are.

I don't think they know it, but one day they will.

I won't lie - the idea of trying to find a new church was suffocating to me when I first moved.  Fortunately I didn't have to face it alone.  I had a wonderful co-worker who was "church-hunting" too.

She'd grown up in a mega-church, so you can imagine how different our expectations were.  We researched websites for churches nearby, and decided on one in the next town over, about thirty minutes away, called River Valley Christian Fellowship.

It was the first one we decided to visit, and by the end of our second sunday there, we knew we wouldn't need to visit any other churches.  We were thoroughly hooked.

It was by no means a mega-church, but it came complete with all sorts of ministries, and 5 pastoral staff-members!
For me, that's a huge church.
It was by no means a small church, but I call my pastor by his first name, and he calls me by mine, and same with the four others.
For me, that's close-knit enough.

Pretty soon, I was leading the worship portion of the Children's service, and involved in a weekly community group where I made some fantastic friends and felt at home.
Not a sunday went by that I didn't get lots of hugs (my love language!), that I didn't have at least one person ask me how I was and really want to hear my answer.

After church, there are spontaneous lunch or coffee invitations, and lots and lots of laughter as we tear down chairs together (we meet in a middle school).
At River Valley, I am fed, and loved, and taught how to better love others.

And now I'm moving away.  It's hard and sad, but, since God brought me from the Mission to River Valley, I know that He will be faithful, not just once, not just twice, but as many times over as I need His faithfulness.

So, here I raise my Ebenezer.  Thus far He has helped me.  How can I doubt that He will continue?

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