Our Villages

Timmy got to preach at Virginia Beach Community Chapel this Father’s Day.

“Raise your hand if you ever taught me in a Sunday school class,” Timmy requests on Sunday morning.

I’m sitting in the front row of a fiercely air-conditioned sanctuary, shivering while outside the temperature climbs to 90˚ F before 9:00 AM. I’m not in Germany anymore.

Where I am is Virginia Beach Community Chapel, Timmy’s home church since he was ten. It holds a special place in his heart and his story, a similar place that Bethany Community holds in mine. Today–Father’s Day–he is giving the sermon, a call to missional living lived out within the context of family and hospitality.

“Keep your hands up,” he continues. “Now, raise your hand if you ever worked with me in youth group, or came alongside me as a mentor. Or really, even just had me over to your house, ever.”

I turn around to see a forest of hands waving back, a multitude of men and women who have invested in my husband’s life.

That is missional living,” he tells them. “I’m here because you poured into me.”

It’s a powerful moment, more than a mere illustration of his point, that living missionally isn’t tied the going overseas, evangelizing or church planting that we associate with the title of “missionary.” Looking at those hands, I’m reminded of the adage that “it takes a village” to raise a child.

Aside from the fact that we’re preparing to raise a child, eventually in a literal village, this phrase has proven as true in my life as it has in Timmy’s. Even in relatively isolated parts of rural Washington–San Juan Island and the Upper Skagit Valley–my childhood was a collage of friends and mentors, people who taught me not just German words and how to play t-ball, but what it meant to love and know Jesus.

My years in Seattle were deep and rich with such relationship, mostly at Bethany Community Church, where I found Christlike models of adulthood at every step, with their hospitality and time investment guiding me towards living out my faith in a way both personal and connected to our community. I’ve had many villages.

Timmy’s sermon reminds me that even titled missionaries like myself need to remember to be missional. My heart, my mind and my front door need to be open to the young people who fill my days, as I walk a few steps ahead of them on the journey of faith that they’re choosing, or trying to choose. As I’ve written about countless times, these last five years have turned out to be about much more than teaching. They’ve been about becoming part of a village, and in turn helping to invest love and life into the young people around me.

For now, though, it’s time to revisit our own villages. It’s truly a gift to spend these weeks in the East, visiting the places and people who have made my husband the incredible man that he is. And I’m excited to arrive in Seattle in mid-July, and Skagit County in September, eager to engage with gratitude in the communities that have spurred me onward in this journey.

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Proximity

“There’s something weird about playing games in the wake of terrible tragedies, but really, games are always played in proximity to tragedy.”

John Green

Friday morning, while I read about the new adaptation of Jane Eyre, my iPad clinks to life with a pop-up news alert.  These are the alerts that usually wake me up in the middle of the night, their Eastern-time urgencies telling me that the Republicans, the Packers and The King’s Speech have all come to victory while I was sleeping.  The alerts only chirp during the day with news important enough to wake a sleeping journalist in New York.

Tsunami Hits Japan After 8.9 Earthquake

I shiver, thinking first of the friend who lives in Japan, trying to remember exactly where he lives.  From specific concern I cross to the general, even more horrifying, considering that the last devastating earthquake registered a 7.0, and the last major tsunami disaster’s death toll reached six digits.

I’ve always heard it said that the faiths of the elderly represent decades of richness and depth, the spiritual discipline and relationships that have carried them through an entire life of walking with Christ.  Today, it also strikes me that the news of disaster must cut more deeply as we grow older, glancing backward at the ever-lengthening parade of tragedy behind us.

I walk to school through the fresh and sweet-smelling promise of an early spring morning, considering the contrast of my calm, quiet Friday to the chaos of the other side of the globe.  I’m remembering September 11, 2001, when during my last year of high school we spent the day wondering what we should do, the extent to which going on “normally” was either disrespectful denial or possibly a celebration of hope and resilience.  At cross-country practice I ran in a square along sunny Seattle streets, wondering why I couldn’t smell the smoke or if I should really be nervous every time a plane crossed the cloudless sky.

Technology, with its news pop-ups and Twitter feeds and live streaming video, makes the world feel so small that it doesn’t seem like it should be possible for the other side to shake to pieces without the rest of us trembling, too.

At a place like BFA, no part of the world escapes notice.  When Egyptian missionaries are exiled, when South Korea and North Korea stand off, when an earthquake and tsunami devastate Japan, it is specific and not general concerns that tie us back to those places.  There are parents and colleagues, alumni and friends, who’ve ventured to all corners, taking with them our love and prayers.

And that’s how the world becomes smaller, really.  Not knowing about the world, with geography painted in our minds like the maps on the playground, and countries exist on the news in bright colors and camera angles.  It’s knowing that we are linked together with stronger ties, like organs in the body, so that no one part suffers without the notice of the others.  It’s knowing that we are a family that spans the globe, a net stretched across oceans.

I’ve felt it before, in other international communities of believers, but the sense of interconnectedness of this body of Christ has never been as strong as it is here at BFA, and now as we pray, wait and mourn for losses on the other side of the world.

History in Skagit Valley

The still grey valleys–Snohomish and Skagit–grow smaller as we keep driving.  It’s Sunday morning, early, and Holly and I are on a quest.  We’re searching for history.  History in general: as we drive east along Highway 20, towards the closed Washington Pass,  towns built a century ago still bear the faces of their youth.  History in particular: ours.

We are going to Concrete, Washington, site of Concrete Community Bible Church, where I am speaking in the 10:00 AM service about my upcoming sojourn as a missionary teacher at Black Forest Academy.  It’s the church I attended sporadically as a child, mostly for Vacation Bible School and Christmas pageants.  The memories I have of this town are linked mostly to this church; my life in Skagit Valley, which I left at the age of eleven, took place 15 miles further down the road.  I recall youth group ventures and choir rehearsals, vague Bible-related endeavors in the basement whose floor plan echoes back from childhood.

It is the liability of the pastor’s kids to always take their pastors along with them.  Since I have always attended my father’s churches, at any given moment only one of the three can exist as I knew it.   Island Community Church is full mostly of strangers.  Alaythia Fellowship remains in memories and friendships only.  Though I have always been happy in the communities that surround me, there is also a sense that I’m erasing history from behind me as I go. No one in Seattle knew me prior to adolescence.  Until Sunday, I forgot that anyone did at all.

We arrive at the church in time for Adult Sunday School, and Pastor Rob immediately rushes to greet us.  He marvels at how grown-up we are, as it’s been a decade since we last attended church here, and declares excitement for what I’m about to share.  I’m excited, too, though I haven’t yet inherited my father’s nonchalant public speaking skills.

The church is warm and small, and just as I remembered it down to the banners that hang on the walls.  (I found myself staring at the same red heart scribbled across a crucifix that held my eight-year-old attention through sermons I didn’t understand.)  Before the service starts, several members of the congregation greet us genially, recalling our days at Alaythia.  We are anomalies, the girls who left the valley and now travel the world, but even so we’re received, after all these years, with an easy hospitality that inspires me.  I don’t feel like an outsider here–just a long-gone insider.

The speaking goes well, and as I stand in front of the church I realize that my strongest passion for teaching at BFA comes from the fact that the students there are the children of ministry families.  It’s a position I know well, the knowledge about faith without necessarily a personal understanding.  And as I speak to this church, seeing people who mentored me in faith as a child, I realize the deep importance of teachers–Sunday School and otherwise–in bringing up the next generation of Christ-followers.  I realize that there is a deep appropriateness in beginning my support-gathering ventures here, at the beginning of my calling.  These are the people who invested me, just as they continue to invest in the young people in their community, and I’m inspired by both the past and the present as I speak to them, as they welcome me.

After a long lunch with old friends, a scenic drive through the greenest valley, Holly and I deemed the quest a success.  We came with words and curiosity; we a reminder that we are part of Christ’s body, linked together by history and, more importantly, the Lord we serve together.