Monday, May 9, 2011

Anywhere, God, Anywhere But Harlem

Last night I shared this story of my mom’s call to serve in Harlem, New York, in the mid-1960’s.  I feel so blessed to have had parents who were obedient to being sent to go in His name. 

My mom was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan Back then (in the late 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s) it was a kind of slow, small-ish city in the Midwest Conservative, Bible belt.  My mom worked in the denominational offices of the Christian Reformed Church.  It was a good job, serving the Lord, a nice, simple life.  Nothing fancy, nothing wild, perfectly acceptable. 

Then she felt God calling her to apply to be what was called a Long Term Volunteer.  This was a program where someone would go for one or two years to serve in a church or mission someplace.  Mom prayed and told God that she would be willing to go anywhere He sent her – except Harlem, New York

Remember, she was a kind of sheltered Midwesterner, and this was this was the 1960’s.  It was a time of a lot of turbulence with racial tensions, civic unrest.  In the 60’s New York City was about as far from the Bible belt as she could imagine. 

And, going to Harlem was not going to mean driving in each day at 9am, and leaving again at 5.  It would mean living there 24/7.  My mom was single, in her mid-20’s, and moving across the country to live in Harlem seemed impossible.  Anyplace, God.  Anyplace but Harlem
So… who wants to guess where she was assigned?  Yep.  I asked her what she had done.  She told me that she had cried… and then she went.  

But, she told God she was only going to stay until she found a cockroach in her bed.  Then, she was out of there.  Anyone want to guess what happened?  I asked her what she did.  I cried… and I stayed. 

And, in the staying, Jesus met her in new ways.  She was able to share Jesus with the women and men who worshiped at the church, with the kids who came to their VBS.  She lived and worked among people who looked and thought and lived nothing like her. 

And, God began to change her heart toward the poor and outcast.  By going she learned far more about Jesus than she could have if she had stayed in Grand Rapids.

Not only that, while she was there, she met a young seminary student working for a time as part of his studies.  They started hanging out.  He couldn’t cook, so he bought groceries and my mom and her roommate cooked dinner every night.  Guess who that guy was? 

So, if my mom hadn’t gone, hadn’t stuck it out when it was tough and icky, she wouldn’t have learned about God’s heart for the people of Harlem She wouldn’t have been equipped for more ministry with my dad, in store front ministry and church planting.  And… she wouldn’t have met my dad, which means, I wouldn’t be here! 

I don’t know what your story is going to look like.  I don’t know what the rest of mine is going to look like.  When my mom left Grand Rapids, she couldn’t have imagined that her time in Harlem would bring her a deeper understanding of Jesus, or love and more home missions work together with my dad.  I don't know what our stories will be, but I do know, we serve a God who is able to do far more than we could ask or even imagine. 

I’m about to head out to answer God’s call to serve Him in the Dominican Republic I’m going with joy, but I’m also kind of scared.  There are a whole lot of unknowns.  Will I be able to learn enough Spanish, will I connect with the women of El Callejon, with the students coming down on outreaches?  Am I going to be able to adjust to living in a new country and culture? 

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions.  But, I am confident that the One who called me is faithful and He will be with me.  I still go on because I am a disciple, and disciples go.

It’s the same for you.  As disciples, we step out – or maybe sometimes just crawl! – not in our strength, but in His.  The same Jesus who was raised from the dead, the same Jesus who was given all authority, that Jesus calls us to be His disciples.

Jesus has promised that He will be with us until the end of the age.  And then, oh, then, we will be a part of the new Heaven and new earth, when we’ll get to sing Revelation Song with peoples from all tribes, tongues, nations and languages.  Until that day, we go. 

P.S.  The service was taped, so I’m going to try and get a link posted on my blog in case you want to check it out.  It was a beautiful service with incredible music and a spirit of celebration and joy.  Worshiping God together with those who have been a part of the Harrisonburg portion of my journey was something I will cherish always.  God is so good!!

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