I just returned recently from a middle eastern country (sorry to make that sound so frightfully glamorous and mysterious – I can’t tell you which one as it’s not totally safe for the people there) after visiting church planting friends.
My friends and I met on theology training as our (John and I) journey to church planting was unfolding at the same time as theirs. They have two young sons, as do we. We loved and invested in each other as we began plans to move etc. Whilst our move to East Hull was nowhere near the upheaval of moving to the Middle East we shared much of the emotion and concerns that they did.
We kept in touch over the last year and it was during a recent phone call my friend and I confessed it can be lonely church planting. It wasn’t long before I was booked on to a flight for a flying visit for some mutual encouragement.
It was great to see the lives they are carving out there. The lovely apartment, with a view to marvel at, was testament to Gods miraculous provision. Having said that, they are having hike a double buggy up and down 5 flights of stairs everyday – so I’m not too jealous!!
The city they live is beautiful, half the size of London with twice the people. It is full of life! The culture is a world away from our own. Whereas we are used to seeing a traditional church building on every corner, there it is a mosque on every hill top. The call to prayer at sunrise and sunset took a little adjusting to!
My friends are immersing themselves in the language, putting in many hours a day trying to get a grip on a vocabulary I barely recognised a word of.
While I was there we all visited another small church, that had been planted a few ways ago, to support the team there. The team that my friends are part of will not start their own church for another 18 months, or so, until everyone has enough language to launch native speaking services. The church we visited in a conservative Muslim neighbourhood felt familiarly like church back home. Despite not understanding a word of the service I could join in with the tunes of the songs I recognised (‘There’s no-one, there’s no-one like Jesus’ and ‘Christ alone Cornerstone’). I also enjoyed taking my first middle Eastern communion – they dip their bread in the cup of wine for cultural / hygiene reasons. I did not realise this until too late and I had scoffed down my piece of bread!
It was very humbling to see a mix of Western and Eastern faces joined together in worshiping Isa (Jesus) as King and Lord. Boldly declaring Him to be their master, saviour and clearly renouncing the belief He is simply a prophet of Islam. Many had counted real costs to stand in that room, either walking away from their native culture to bring the gospel to that part of the world, or forsaking their own native religious cultural backgrounds. It felt fragile and a little wobbly as many worked hard on crafting simple prayers in their non-native tongue. Yet, the familiar sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the love that each person showed to one another was apparent. It was such a wonderful experience to see the kingdom of God expanding very slowly in that nation.
I returned home with my friends (helping get their two boys and their double buggy up those 5 flights of stairs!), and watched the sunset from their balcony over the city. We prayed together and I loved being able to encourage them and feel ever so slightly ‘apostolic’.
Returning home, I feel a new excitement for the nations of the world. Jesus loves them and needs His people to ‘go to the ends of the earth’ with the message that He has made a way to relationship with the one true God. I look forward to seeing how Jesus will use us, River City Church, to reach out to the nations in the future!