Do you remember the place where you grew up? Do you remember how it looked as a child? Do you remember how big it was? How magical it was? Do you remember having a sense of peace and simply being at home?
Now do you remember going back as an adult? Maybe it was after being away at college, or moving out of town for your first real job. Then you came back and everything was strange. Everything seemed so much smaller, less magical, less…home.
I moved a lot when I was growing up. My childhood was a lot of adjusting to new places and people. A lot of my childhood memories are blurred as I try to remember “Where was that?” I was thirteen when my parents finally settled down in Minnesota, the last place they lived before retiring, so I never really felt nostalgic about a place.
This week for our church visiting tour, we decided to go back to a church we helped to plant in Somerset Wisconsin. I knew it would be a bit of a different experience and I fully expected to feel awkward. In the six years since we left the head pastor has moved on, the worship leader has moved on, and a fair number of the original congregation has moved on. They even have a different building. Somehow I still expected it to feel like home.
As we were driving over to this church, I prepared my children, some of whom don’t even remember this church. “Now a lot of people you don’t know are going to look at you and say things like ‘Oh my gosh! You’ve gotten so big!'” I said. “Remember, the proper response to this is ‘Wow! So have you!'”
I like to give my children practical solutions to all situations.
As soon as we arrived the feeling of discomfort set in. There were a bunch of people I didn’t even know greeting me like I was some stranger that they were welcoming into their home. Didn’t they know this was my home? Didn’t they know that I helped build this home? Weird.
Then we walked into the sanctuary. This was not my home. It was very dark, there were heavy black curtains over all the windows, and every last thing in the room was black. Where were the tables? Where was the set built by The Pastor to transport you to wherever we were talking about today? Oh yes, it was a different building with different people in charge.
It was a little too much.
But then, just when I was feeling like I wanted to leave, something interesting happened. A man got up to speak about a non-profit organization he had started. I knew this man and his wife a long time ago, before The Pastor and I helped to plant this church we were standing in. This was a couple with huge hearts and a passion to help some of the most hurting people in the world. The non-profit is called Tutapona and I would highly suggest that you check them out.
He did an amazing job of presenting his ministry. The stories he told and videos he presented were absolutely heart wrenching, and, I have a feeling, nowhere near the punch in the stomach of what this family sees every day. I was quickly moved to tears.
While I know that I could never understand the reality of what is happening in Uganda and the Middle East, there was one very important take home that can impact our lives right here in America. He said that the biggest inhibitor of God’s kingdom here on Earth (I’m paraphrasing that part a little) is fear. Fear of refugees, fear of the Middle East, fear of Muslims, fear of accents… And what he didn’t say, but the thing I know to be true, is that some of the most afraid people in this country are Christians! It really is insane! We go about singing about how strong and mighty our God is, but we are terrified of someone wearing a slightly different hat than we are. I’m talking about literal hats.
If we teach our children that God is all powerful and wants us to love everyone, but then react in fear at the idea of someone who has been the victim of horrible war crimes moving into our neighborhood, what are we really teaching them? When we tell our children to love others as they want to be loved, but don’t let them play with the classmate who barely speaks English, What are we teaching them? We are teaching them that God is small. That He lies. That He isn’t really in control.
That is not a lesson I want to teach my children.
So that night, when Baby Snarky said “I want to go work with Tutapona too! I want to go to the Middle East and help all of those sad people!” fear started to raise up in me.
“Honey.” I said “The Middle East is…” and then I thought about fear. I thought about what I truly believe. “the kind of place that you can’t really go until you get a little older.” I finished.
“But I can love people now!” he argued.
“Yes, but there are a lot of things you need to learn before you can go.”
And I’m sure he will go. Maybe not to the Middle East, maybe the need won’t be as great there when he grows up. But I’m sure he will go somewhere, and when he returns, I will seem smaller, less magical, less like home. I guess it’s just part of growing up.