August 25, 2014
As Church of the Resurrection seeks to live out the REACH mission of bringing the Lord to the “Lost and the Least,” we have gotten to know a lot of new people, many of whom started out as complete strangers. This can be an intimidating task, since strangers are often equated with danger, but the Scriptures explicitly and repeatedly command us to welcome the stranger, with the suggestion that, by doing so, we too might be welcoming angels without realizing it. While living at the Parkside apartments in Glen Ellyn, we have sought to build relationships with our neighbors, to welcome our primarily immigrant neighbors, and in doing so, we have been richly blessed by the “angels” we have gotten to know time and again.
A few years ago, a woman named Marie arrived at Parkside from East Africa with three children and a fourth just a few months from being born. We met this new family—Marie spoke very little English, though her kids could communicate with us better—and we did our best to be their friends. We found that they had arrived on tourist visas, but actually were escaping from threats against them in their country; they hoped to apply for asylum and start a new life in the United States. For the time being, though, they had very little resources, and no work authorization. We tried to do what we hope someone would do for us if the tables were turned: we helped find some furniture from folks at Church of the Resurrection. We helped the kids adjust to school. They joined Rez, and when two of the kids decided to be baptized, we were standing right beside them, overjoyed by their commitment to following Christ. My wife was there at the hospital when the new baby was born. When—after all sorts of prayer and fasting, because the process is complex and risky—they were granted asylum, we helped them get driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. And, in the process, they became very dear friends. They weren’t strangers any more. After more than two years, Marie’s husband was able to come to the U.S. as well; we wept at O’Hare Airport as we watched their family reunite, and as Janvier met his youngest daughter for the first time.
A short time later, while at Marie and Janvier’s for one of many delectable meals, the topic of children came up. They asked when we planned to have kids, and we shared, somewhat reluctantly, that we had actually been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, and it just wasn’t happening. We were discouraged and unsure if we would be able to have biological children, though we were also very open to the idea of adoption. They wanted to pray for us—they do this a lot, more than we do, frankly—and afterward, Janvier told us that, while he affirmed the beauty of adoption, he also felt that the Lord was telling him that he would provide us a biological child within a year. We didn’t know quite what to do with that. We were a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, and we were tired of being disappointed, but we thanked them for their prayers.
A few months later—once more at Janvier and Marie Josee’s for dinner—we had the privilege of sharing with them that Diana was pregnant! I’ll never forget that moment. They started shouting with their hands in the air as they fell to their knees, thanking God for answering their prayers. They went on to tell us that, for months, they had been rising early every Thursday to pray and fast for us to have a child, demonstrating a level of fervency in prayer for us far beyond our own commitment to prayer for ourselves. And God had heard their prayer.
On June 19th, Diana gave birth to our little girl, Zipporah Emmanuelle. We’re excited for her to grow in her relationship with Marie and Janvier and their family, people who arrived in our country as strangers but became our neighbors, who have become dear friends and spiritual family to us, and whose fervent prayers may have brought our precious little girl into existence.
Our prayer for Church of the Resurrection, as the REACH campaign culminates, is that as we seek to bring the Lord to the lost and the least, we would also see the amazing opportunity this type of outreach brings – a chance to be abundantly blessed by the vibrant faith that many in our community already possess. I hope the next time you are intimidated by a stranger, you’ll think not of a threat, but of someone who might just be a divine blessing.
August 19, 2014
Until a couple years ago, I had a sturdy belief in Jesus as my savior, because I hadn’t been given a reason not to. During freshman year history class, we were studying the big religions of the world, and I learned that the major difference between Judaism and Christianity was that the Jews didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. Processing this information, I thought: “Oh, I guess the Jews don’t think of us very highly, because in their perspective, they think that we’re following a pagan idol that isn’t true.” Then these thoughts brought doubt into my own beliefs: “But wait… what if they’re right? What if Jesus really isn’t the Son of God? What if we’re all following some awful scam that someone thought up two thousand years ago?”
These questions infested my mind like a sickness. I tried to shake off the frightening thoughts and think positively, “But if it was a lie, why would so many millions of people be following it?” And then a counter thought would come back, dragging me down into a depression of doubts. I never told anyone about these doubts because I didn’t know how they would react, so I kept them to myself, unknowingly allowing a hard crust to form over my heart.
All this took place around Easter season. I liked Easter Vigil, but because of the depressing nature of the some of the other services, I didn’t want to attend all of them. However, since my grandma was in town for the occasion, I was forced to go.
At the Good Friday service, Steve Williamson sang the song he wrote—The Passion Song. As he sang I found that tears were brimming my eyes. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t sad enough to be welling up with tears; the emotions didn’t feel like mine at all. Christian, do you love me, do you love me more than these? Will you walk beside me on the road to Calvary? O Lord, I’ll walk with you. As Steve sang this verse I suddenly had a very vivid image of seeing Jesus walking through a crowd with his cross on his back. I was in the crowd with some other women that were crying as he walked past us. He looked exhausted, bedraggled, and in terrible agony as the people booed and shouted at him. Christian, do you love me, do you love me more than these? Will you stand beside me as I die upon this tree? O Lord, I’ll stand with you. At this verse I had another vivid image of looking up at Jesus on the cross. I was looking up at him from the left along with another woman and a man. This was when I realized that the emotions I was feeling were actually the emotions of the women who had watched Jesus die on the cross.
While this was happening, our big, wooden cross was laid down on the stage, and the congregation was invited to put a hand on the cross to pray. My mother tapped my shoulder and asked me if I wanted to participate. I wanted to say, “No thank you,” but to my surprise I found myself nodding and walking up with my parents to the cross.
As soon as I touched that cross, I broke down. I was crying harder than I ever had. One continual phrase streamed through my thoughts, “He Died, He Died, He Died.”
At home, afterwards, my mind still found doubts, and I hated it. I wanted to bang my head against a wall to tell it to shut up! After such fantastic visions, how could my mind continue to doubt Jesus?
The next day, I invited some of my friends to join my family at Easter Vigil. The music, the art, everything was amazing. As the night was coming to an end, Randy York began to sing He’s Alive and Father Stewart shouted at the top of his lungs, “HE IS RISEN!!!!!” and a gigantic 40-foot banner of Jesus wrapped in robes of light, with holes in his hands and feet, flew up to the ceiling, and the congregation exploded, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!!!”
As the banner rose to the ceiling, it was like the hard crust of doubt that had been around my heart was torn off, and my mind was filled with a new phrase, “HE ROSE, HE ROSE, HE REALLY REALLY ROSE!!!!!!!” Then the children, clergy, and adults started to run down the aisles to the beat of the music, rejoicing and singing about the risen Christ. My friends and I ran for what seemed like hours, and even when it ended, it didn’t seem long enough.
As the service ended, I realized something amazing, I wasn’t having an asthma attack! I am known for my easily induced asthma, but after running, singing, and jumping to the beat of worship songs for hours, I was breathing perfectly fine.