Matthew 18:19,20 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
I used to think, like most people I suppose, that a church gathering was an activity that Christians took part in on a Sunday. It meant going to a prescribed building on a prescribed day to take part in a prescribed activity. Once I became a Christian, those prescribed activities became like a prescribed antibiotic for me – if I missed even one dose, I risked missing out on the healing effects of the medicine. What I didn’t realize at the time was that going to church didn’t necessarily mean going to church on days we are accustomed to nor did it hinge on whether or not there was a proper church building to meet in.
In 1987 I moved with my husband and young son to Africa to serve as a missionary. Little did I know that my prescribed routine of church attendance was in for a big change. Oh yes, I had been an associate pastor’s wife for nearly three years prior to our move but somehow I was not really prepared for what was about to take place in my life.
When I landed in Zaire in 1987, I was enamored with the notion of missionary life; the difference of lifestyle between the USA and Africa was what I thought would be my biggest hurdle to overcome. I would gladly face the rigors of grinding coffee beans in a large mortar and pestle until they were fine enough to make coffee, learn how to bake bread and even figure out the magic of making mayonnaise. Oddly enough, I adjusted to these changes rather quickly (and my family survived this process – a miracle in itself) and even began to make strides in speaking foreign languages!
Going to a church service in Africa for the first time made me realize that either my idea of church was going to change, or I was going to change everyone else’s idea of church! No one was very keen to follow what my idea was for church so I was the one challenged to change. First of all, I didn’t understand why in the world did everyone think that we had to go to church for so long? Couldn’t we get everything done in an hour and a half or two hours max? Wasn’t God big enough to get the job done in a shorter period of time? There was no reason to hang around in church for three, four up to six hours! How could a person be expected to sit in one spot for so long on a cement block, rock, broken chair or bench? Let’s not discuss how hot it got in those buildings or the fact that it wasn’t uncommon to hear several languages going on at once – I was just trying to say hello in Swahili, I had no idea that languages such as Lingala, Chiluba and Chibemba existed.
While this was all going on, I was trying to take care of a busy two year old and keep a smile on my face. Keeping a smile was no small task and sometimes, if not often, my husband must have wanted to put me in a box and ship me back to where I came from! Not only did I find out how to get through church and much more (let’s not mention the bat that kept trying to nail me during church one Sunday) but I had to somehow find GOD in the middle of these services.
By the time I finally had made peace with myself and found God’s presence – God called us to plant churches. As we planted our first church, I realized once again that God had to change me before He could use me to help anyone else. Church became a lifestyle for us, it was no longer a prescribed activity – it became our life. When we’d enter into people’s homes and give them the Good News, God’s presence was there. In early Morning Prayer meetings, when only two or three showed up – God’s presence was there. Our very first church service was held in the middle of a slum, you could smell banana beer and open sewage when you opened the windows – but somehow, God’s presence was always there. In the middle of the estates where we had cell meetings on any and all days of the week – God was there too. Our church buildings have never been posh by Western standards, even our best building would be called a “fixer-upper” in the US, but when you get past the aesthetics of it all – you’ll find God is there.
Our trek in Africa has brought me through several nations. Every time we plant a new church, I find God’s presence quicker than the time before. For example, when planting our church in Lusaka, Zambia, we started by meeting as a small group in a hut in the front yard of our home. As the crowd grew too large to sit in the small hut, we moved our little group inside the house. God was faithful and soon, 30+ people were squeezing themselves into our small living room. Another place of meeting had to be found quickly! In the back of the house we had an open garage; we had the idea of moving everyone outside to celebrate the Lord in the garage. 30 soon became 50; 50 grew to 80 and we again had to solve the problem of where to seat everyone. Instead of moving, we hung a large piece of tarpaulin out to extend our capacity. Not long afterwards, we were bursting out of the seams with over 100 people garage-a-brating the Lord. Ultimately, we moved the growing congregation to a school ground we rented where we pitched a 300-seat tent. God has been faithful since those days of garage-a-bration services; the same problem of where to seat all of the people has continued to follow us as we have planted more churches – and we like these problems.
Huts, houses, garages and tents may seem like unconventional places of meeting to you; but God isn’t limited by what we are accustomed to. If we look for God, even in the most unconventional and unlikely places – we will find Him there waiting to meet with us.
Ecclesiastes 11:4 LB “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.”