Thursday, June 24, 2010

Myth #2: The church is dead.

New River Baptist Church struck me as being a dead church. I would soon find out that I was wrong.

One must first know what a church truly is. Some think it is a building which houses a body of believers, but in reality it is the body of believers themselves. On Sunday morning of our trip to West Virginia, we worshipped with our team and only about 7 people of the New River congregation. The actual membership of the church is only around 15 I think.

There wasn't a lot of evident life in the people we met. They were very friendly and welcoming, but we weren't sure that they understood our spiky haired youth minister or the praise music we sang. (I so wanted to type "minister" instead. Just a little inside joke.) That Sunday morning, New River came to life however, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was definitely felt.

As the week progressed, New River Baptist teemed with life. Sillyness abounded, but so did major spiritual growth and ministry, and the church was living and breathing. While the congregation didn't get us necessarily, I believe Pastor George did, and we left better people because of what God did in our lives there.

Although the small congregation was sluggish, I probably misjudged them as a group as I many times do. If my original thought was correct, the great news is that they opened their building to us and welcomed us to stay there and assist with their ministry. They allowed us free access to whatever we needed. They prayed with us and for us, and they graciously sat through our upbeat praise music and humored our spiky haired youth minister. (Who happens to be one of the most dynamic preachers I've ever heard.) They tolerated our youth, and they provided a place of peace and rest for us that allowed us to minister to others as well as grow as individuals and as a group.

So, New River Baptist Church may only have 8 people this Sunday. (I'm hoping Marlana will be well enough to join Clarence.) They may sing hymns from their hymnals, and Pastor George (who I respect so much as I've mentioned already) will present a message that they will find acceptable. (And he doesn't really have enough hair to spike up.) Members will not refer to him as "Pastor" while making air quotes. I pray they will instead respect his leadership. I also expect that there will be another load of teens with leaders piling in for a stay this week, and the next week, and the next, and they will also be graciously hosted and inspired.

New River Church is teeming with life as we speak, because God is at work there. My prayer is that each mission team that walks through the doors will leave an impression of God's love on that small congregation. I pray that they will leave changed as we did, and that the people that they meet will see Jesus in them. I pray that Clarence and Marlana, who will be the subject of my next blog I'm sure, will be blessed beyond measure and that God will continue to use them. I pray that New River Baptist Church will grow and thrive and reach others for Christ. God, please bless New River Baptist Church and the people of Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where do I start?

Quoting Kelsey Dukes, "You can't judge a book by it's cover." She used that line 3 nights in a row, but it didn't sink in to us so quickly.

I guess I'll start with Pastor George. Picture Popeye without the pipe and tattoos. (Minus the spinach too of course.) Captain George would have seemed more fitting, but we called him Pastor George nonetheless. He is in his 70s, and the more I was around him, the more impressed I was that he is a man with a vision and a mission.

The first thing that I noticed is that 24 people bunking down in his church didn't phase him. He stepped over hair dryers, straighteners, sleeping bags, air mattresses, pillows, and goodness knows what else without flinching. He joked around with the teenagers as well as us adults, and he didn't miss one beat with any of us. He went with the flow with the rest of us, and my previous misconceptions began to fade.

As we worked our backyard Bible clubs at the apartment complex, it was soon evident that most everyone knew Pastor George and respected him highly. This was a man that had been very present among the people there, and he had made an impact on many lives in that area.

When we went downtown to do our prayer walk the first day, the mention of our host church immediately brought a glow to the faces of people as they said, "Oh yes, we know Pastor George." One place, a recently renovated mission project intended to be an after school teen hangout, had been entirely painted by, you guessed it, Pastor George. I was beginning to realize that this man that I had thought of as an elderly gentleman settling in as pastor of a dying church was actually a visionary ministering to a hurting and lost community.

Pastor George taught me a lot through the week, and at one point I asked him to share with the group what he had told me. He was humbled I believe, and he acted as if he was surprised that we would want to hear from little ol' him. He blew us away with his encouragement and stories.

The first one that hit me so hard, and continues to affect me each day, is a story he shared relating to the New River Gorge. Apparently, Pastor George lives on a knoll overlooking the gorge, which is one of the (if not THE) most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. He said that he and his wife were sitting on their deck that morning, and he told her, "If I was to pinch a sliver of leaf off of one of those trees, there is no way in the world someone who had never seen this gorge could even get a small picture of what it is like." He continued to tell me that in the same way, we look at this one tiny week of ministry and expect to see the entire plan of God's Big Picture. He said that there is no way we could even imagine what God's big plan is just by seeing this snapshot of time, but that what we were doing was an integral part of the puzzle that God was creating. Wow.

Pastor George also told us that he learned a lot from his dad. One of the things he shared was work ethic. He relayed the story that his dad once told him of a manager needing 100 men to move a load of dirt. He said that the men would work hard, a few would drop out, and at the end of the day everyone would get paid their part of a set wage. He said that if you take that same hundred men and tell them to move a load of manure, you would immediately lose a few men. He said an hour later, hot and smelly, you would lose more men. He then said that hours later, you would be left with only a small portion of the workforce with which you began. At the end of the day, only the best few would be standing. He continued by saying that no matter what job you are given to do, you are to do it to the best of your ability, with all the joy in your heart, and that you will be rewarded in the end for your work.

Wow, Pastor George. You just can't imagine the impact you had on my life and the lives of our team members. Simple words that renewed our spirits, and it left us refreshed to continue the work that God had laid before us.

This was misconception number one, destroyed. Pastor George is a man of God. He's a visionary who was way ahead of his time. He's a pastor, teacher, leader, and servant. His heart is filled with joy and love, and he is a fine example of what Jesus expects us to be. In fact, I saw Jesus all over Pastor George, and I count it a privilege to have worked alongside him.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wow, it's been a while!

This will be the first of many blogs about our recent trip to West Virginia. This first one will be an introduction to what we experienced.

We arrived in Fayetteville, West Virginia Saturday with great hopes of just winning person after person to Christ. We were on fire and ready to ignite a town that we knew was only 20% churched. We had a well-prepared team of many first time mission trippers just sitting on go to share the Gospel. After settling in to New River Baptist Church, figuring out how to arrange 24 people on air mattress while keeping boys separated from girls and not destroying everything, we woke up to a church service with the congregation Sunday morning.

The congregation consisted of a group of 7 people, including the pastor, pastor's wife, and pastor's mother. Pastor George at first sight is an unusual character who prompted me to want to call him Captain for some reason. (He looks like a sea captain without the tattoos.) He was very friendly, but we really didn't get a true sense of who he is until the week went on.

We judged this congregation immediately as being dead, wondering what in the world the pastor was doing to have a church not growing. What we would eventually learn was an eye-opener. The next thing that we found was that the apartment complex we were working with had been largely reached with the Good News already.

Long story short, our hopes were temporarily dashed. Although the kids were still fired up to get going, the adult leaders were beginning to wonder what we were doing there. We didn't know, but God sure did.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sooooo relaxed....

So after a couple of weeks of nearly drowning, almost choking, and burning myself with boiling liquid, I decided it was time to relax...

You would think that simply being out of work for 10 weeks of the Summer would be an instant relaxation. It isn't. Work is still in your head, and it takes a bit to wind down from what you've been through for the rigorous months of the school year. I think I finally started relaxing today. I'm not sure why, but I think it may just be the fact that I realized that I need to.

I got up this morning and got ready to head to the church. I'm getting ready for a mission trip to West Virginia. The week after that we have Vacation Bible School. The weekend that ends, we are heading to North Carolina to join my brother's church in doing backyard Bible clubs in their community. When I shared this with Ken, he said, "Don't overdo it this Summer." My first thought was, "Am I overdoing it already?" My next thought was actually a laugh.

These things are not work for me. They are things that I long to do every day of my life. If I could get paid to do something other than what I do right now, that's what I would want to do. The fact that I can get out and meet people and share the Gospel with them for three weeks straight is overwhelmingly wonderful!

I can sleep late each day, hang out at the pool during the day, and chill in my off times. In West Virginia, I will run on pure adrenaline all week and sleep fitfully on the church floor each night. When I get home and set into VBS, I will sleep late once again, hang out at the pool, and leisurely head to church to teach the little children. And as far as heading to North Carolina is concerned, I can't imagine a greater opportunity than working with my brother and his family in ministering to others!

So, my June may sound crazy to some people in my life, but there is nothing I want more than to serve the Lord and follow His call. Sometimes when we are working full time and taking care of a family of 6, we tend to not have extra time for anything at all. This Summer will give me time to spend quality time with my family, and in addition, share the love of Christ with people from South Carolina to North Carolina to West Virginia. I just can't imagine a better way to relax.