After settling into our new home in Fort Myers, FL at The Center for Global Outreach, Jeremy and I began to talk about church, and we both had two dreams for what we wanted in a church:
- Walking distance from our home
- Very involved in our community
The Lord moved us to Fort Myers, Florida knowing full well what our “community” was going to be like. I can’t say enough about our NMSI community that we get to do life with on a daily basis. Our weekly cupcake baking, movie nights, community gardening, devotions, airport rides, and on and on is such a blessing.
There is also another “community” just down the street from our home and the mission.
Are there drug houses? I have been told, Yes
Are some houses used for prostitution? I have also been told, Yes.
Just a few weeks after we moved here and Jeremy was on tour, I had my first real experience with what this area we live in can be about. All I wanted to do was walk up the street and get Frozen Yogurt with Evans, but that event turned into something much more. I was able to sit with a man named Boston, yep you guessed it, he is from Boston, MA, and after a while of sharing surface information, he told me his profession. I was shocked and walked/jogged back to our mission’s office where I sat with my friend, and through tears, shared the explicit details I had just heard (of which I’ll leave out of this blog). Life is hard here. Satan is active in a very, very real way. So, after that experience I had my guard up and knew Jeremy and I’s dream for what we wanted in a church would most likely not come true. I mean, why would God want us to be involved in a church that may welcome people like Boston or those he employees? Would they even be accepted into worship services? Wouldn’t his presence in Church invite danger!?
Well, sure enough someone told me about a church up the street called Grace, and when I mentioned it to two other girls at NMSI, they were so excited and had really wanted to give it a try. This is very cool because our home Church in Westminster, MD before we moved was Grace Fellowship Chapel! So here we went, three white girls and a little African boy sitting in the back row of this church just soaking in everything we were experiencing. From the moment I walked into that church to the moment I walked out, I felt peace, love and true authenticity. The denomination, gender of the pastor, the appearance of the people… none of that left an impact on me. What did stick with me was how authentic that 2 hour service was. Of course, having my guard up still, I said, “well, we can’t worship here consistently because I want Evans involved in Sunday school, but I would NEVER put him in Sunday school here.” HA! Shame on me! As a mother I know I need to be smart when it comes to safety for my son and myself, but shame on me for thinking that because of how people look and their past that I couldn’t get involved with “these” people. God hit me hard when He told me, “aren’t these people who I came to die for? After all, I came to die for you.” I felt like such a hypocrite after the service. These people were honest with their lives and they didn’t try to hide it. AA meetings are what bring this church together. Real people with real struggles supporting each other to realize and accept the Grace God offers them each day of their lives.
So, last Sunday I put Evans in Sunday school as I did tonight at Wednesday service, and he loved it!
This is our community. People who have pasts I can’t imagine and are still dealing with them on a daily basis. I can sit back and worship at a church I am used to and comfortable with, OR I can continue going to this church with people in my immediate community who are open about their struggles and accept anyone wherever they are in life. This church is a crazy reflection of God’s grace, forgiveness and love, and let me tell you, these people know it! The verse below in Mark is one that I have been reflecting on.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17
So, for now The Lord has led us to Grace where we are experiencing very authentic worship and we get to be apart of what God is doing in this community. This is a way that I can be involved in ministry to the poor locally as Jeremy travels and speaks for children living in poverty internationally.
Please pray for us as we find new ways to minister at this church and with our new Church family. God is doing great things in the midst of a very dark area.
For the least of these,