Our church is in the middle of a capital campaign called More Stories. Our goal is to renovate some of our buildings in order to create more space for more people to grow in faith and see God working in their lives. The plans include a larger sanctuary and better Sunday School classrooms as well as spaces for many other ministries.
During this process, in addition to asking us to pray about our monetary gift, our pastors asked us to pray about the kind of ministry we will be involved in as part of the new building. While giving that some thought, the church highlighted personal stories of how members and regular attenders have found God through the church. One recent video message conveyed the emotional and tangible work being done through the Japanese ESL ministry.
Part of the Japanese ministry involves a weekly playgroup and ESL class for Japanese moms and their small children. The moms are then invited to attend a Bible study following the language instruction piece, and many do.
Two years ago, I volunteered as a babysitter during those times. For the first part of the morning, I sang songs and read a story along with the moms and their children (as well as my younger two kids). Then, the moms stepped away to attend language instruction while I and others continued to play with all of the kids.
I felt drawn to spend more time with the moms and almost asked if I could train to be an instructor, but I also felt tied to the much needed babysitter role. Still, the kids’ crying wore me down pretty quickly. I was already surrounded by demanding children at home, and this only exacerbated the stress I felt from that. I participated faithfully for several months but finally decided to take a break when I felt I couldn’t also fulfill the role of a cheerful giver. Still, when I left, I felt like I was abandoning the ministry.
Recently, as I learned how much the ministry has blessed the Japanese community, I regretted not being able to continue to be a part of it. Plus, I learned that one of the children I had helped to take care of is now in the same public school classroom as one of my sons. I felt I had lost time to get to know that particular family better.
In the meantime, though, when I stepped away from this work that was wearing me down emotionally, I freed myself to pursue other interests.
Now that my kids are all in school, I spend a lot of those hours alone, released from the consuming cacophony of demands and cries, where I can sit and attempt to conjure up enough creativity to stitch together more than two sentences in a row. I have been writing, and I have been sharing my stories, including my faith journey, with my new writing group.
This month, one of our pastors gave a sermon on the name of Jesus. He pointed out that Jesus was one of the most common names of the time when he lived on earth. My pastor suggested that God wanted to name him Jesus in order to show that he was just like everyone else...in order to then let them learn how he was completely different. My pastor drew a parallel to our own lives, suggesting that in the same way, we can share our struggles and shortfalls in order to build connections with those around us, connections like the ones I was building in my writing group.
As I have revealed more of my story, my test readers have shared how they have been moved to reexamine their own beliefs:
I never thought a Christian would behave this way…
I never before considered that an Evangelical might feel judged…
You are making me reconsider my own beliefs...
A friend of mine pointed out that this was God validating my work.
A physical church building is essential in order to have a place to convene as God’s people, to worship and to grow together. But God’s work is so much bigger than that. He calls us to witness and serve wherever we are. And sometimes, like finding a Japanese child from the playgroup in my son’s classroom, God reminds us that we have more than one chance to reconnect with each other, and with him.
I’m not sure yet where I will fit in the new building once it’s completed. But I know God has set work in front of me, letting me know if I only I will follow, everything will be in service to him.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.