Elaine is an elementary school teacher. And a Christ follower.
About three years ago, her church family decided to have a weekend together to consider what it might look like to deepen their loving relationship with God and the world in which they live in a way that might effectively bring Christ's life to it. The weekend took Elaine and her church family through 5 movements of thought, each intended to lead and blend seamlessly into the next, and all together intending to inspire this little band of Christ followers to band more tightly together, and more tightly to God, and to agree to engage (or re-engage) the rapidly changing world around them with the love of Christ...in hopes of taking that world from the darkness and bringing them to something light.
Put in outline form, the 5 movements of thoughts could be titled:
1. Encountering God's Love
2. Seeing people through Christ's eyes
3. Loving through Listening and Learning
4. Connecting people to Christ's church
5. Sharing God's truth
Some of the teachers and ministers who were facilitating the weekend called the gathering the "Line of Departure"...dramatic language to articulate their desire to "depart" from the "fortress" mentality of church that buffers them from the world and go into a "force" mentality that would take them lovingly into the world. (check out more about this seminar now available for churches to host their own weekends at www.lineofdeparture.org.)
After her church spent time meditating, studying, and engaging with each other on what it means to see people through Christ's eyes (session 2), they sent Elaine out of the gathering place for a couple of hours (along with everyone else). She went to eat lunch, yes, but more importantly to notice the world around her, the people in it, and to look at them like Christ might, and then just do what comes naturally.
Her church was gathering in her city's civic center downtown, and as she left the room they were gathering in, she went around the corner and saw another gathering taking place. She recognized some of the children gathered among them as students from her school. These students stood out because they are a part of refugee families, mostly from Africa. With her church's "assignment" fresh on her mind, she saw these students anew with deep love and compassion. And then she had a vision and dream that both intimidated and inspired her. She didn't even have a clear picture of where the dream would take her or what it would look like practically, it was just the a dream to figure out a way to love them...love filled her heart to move (or stumble) into this one step at a time.
She faced her fear and ended up finding herself watching and listening to these students closely. She learned enough to step a little bit more into their world. She ended up going to the apartments that many of these children's families lived in and she started being welcomed (well, mostly) by families from Somalia, Liberia, the Middle East (Turkmenistan, I think), and other places I can't remember. She didn't realize that "the nations" lived so close by! Many were Muslims, and she walked into the awkward feeling of not knowing their culture, customs, or beliefs, in spite of sometimes crazy discomfort...it was only explained by of this love that compelled her.
Then, having become much more than a teacher at school to them, she found it quite easy to pick the kids up (with their parents permission secured) and bring them to the children's and youth gatherings that her group of Christ followers religiously organized for their children on Wednesday nights. Each week, she quickly noticed that she could pack her car with as many children as she wanted. So reached in to her band of Christ followers asking for more people to come with her, to basically "adopt" a family of children, and pick them up weekly, which some families did. Many of them would take them to eat first, then to the age-appropriate gatherings at their church family's nearby building.
The teachers of the classes had to do some major adjusting, loving, tolerating, and learning of their own in order to overcome the inconvenience of these kids from a totally different culture and mindset. These kids were entering into a church culture full of assumptions and rules that they didn't understand. But the church family did it, sometimes with great pain, and a little rhythm was created. A few courageous families (not enough) were faithfully following Elaine and picking up the same kids consistently. And a few courageous teachers and group facilitators where integrating them into the gatherings of students and children.
Eventually, and sadly, Elaine and her family moved from the city. But the families who answered her call courageously carried on in their growing relationships with these children, and in some cases the kid's families and neighbors.
Mike is in one of the families that took in a few kids from Liberia faithfully. One of the precious moments that he will always recall is when one of his young, wild, sometimes hard-to-handle kids noticed that Mike was kind of somber on a Wednesday night and asked Mike why? Mike told him, and this crazy, hard-to-handle, sometimes seemingly ungrateful kid prayed for him. Wow. Movement.
It's been months, maybe a year, since that neat story. And dozens and dozens of more "touches" with these kids and others from the "little Africa" right in his city's midst. Two of those touches were with two grown men, also from Liberia. They started being Mike's guests at the regular Sunday morning gatherings that his little band of Christ followers religiously hold, and these men started enjoying a very kind fellowship, weighty and sincere, in the name of Christ, through Mike's church family.
Over time, these two men, Bob and Hanson (many of these refugees take on American names when they come over here), after being in the midst of this group of Christ followers, hearing the life-giving teaching of Jesus, and wanting Christ's life more, asked Mike about baptism.
This last Sunday, these two sweet Liberian brothers, one in his 20's and one in his 50's, wanted to be baptized into Christ. They wanted their neighbors to be there, if they would come, so that they would all know their decision to live a new way. Hanson, the one in his 20s, has a big dream of going back to his homeland and telling his people about Christ. Hanson, the one in his 50's, had a song that was written on his heart during this incredible time of life-change. Right before he was baptized, the brother who baptized him asked him to please sing the song that was written on his heart over his new brothers and sisters in Christ.
Standing in the water, right before he engaged in this incredible act that symbolized his death from an old life and his birth into a new one, he sang these words, in a booming and deep African voice, with conviction, confidence and appreciation in his eyes...and all of the Christ followers there witnessing it had tears in theirs. He simply sang:
See where he took me from.
See where he took me from.
He took me from the darkness and brought me to the light.
See where he took me from.
It was so moving, that the the whole group decided to sing it together at the end of the service. Our new brother Bob came forward, clothed in his traditional African garb and in Jesus Christ, and led his new church family in the song that describes us all, written on his heart.
You have to hear it...so I've attached it. While you listen...thank God for Elaine, who three years ago, went into the darkness courageously in order to love like Christ and offer the Light.
CLICK TO LISTEN
CLICK TO LISTEN
I can barely stand another minute of this glorious stuff, it's so good. If it can be this good here, what the heck will Heaven be like???
Life to the full. Life without end. Life abundant.
I love you Elaine, for your small/giant steps of faith.