Across the ocean, nestled under a tree, people gather on Sundays to meet at one of my favorite churches.
It is hot year-round in that corner of the world, the dress code is casual, and shoes are completely optional. They don’t serve coffee after the service, and there is no hand sanitizer to be found in the building.
In fact, I am not even sure you can call it a building. There are no walls, just the open ocean breeze blowing through. A few wooden benches, hand-planed and slightly crooked, strategically sit beneath a tin roof. The path leading to the church is lined with coconut trees, and the sand is guaranteed to stick between your toes. The wooden gate at the entrance blends in with the fences beside it, and there is nothing iconic that would let a visitor know this is where the people gather for church.
Outwardly, this meeting place is lacking in its appearance. However, we know a church doesn’t become great because of its outward appearances; its greatness is forged by the people who fill the rows. In this tiny fishing village, where my family and I served, some of the most treasured lessons were taught to me by those believers. I was blessed to have worshipped together with them in that church.
There was a time early on in my ministry when my “foreignness” kept me from seeing the more profound beauty of worship that took place in that island church. It had been hard for me to move past my own cultural views. An immaturity in my own faith had clouded my thoughts and I lacked the freedom to worship and serve differently in a church culture outside my own. I let my own experiences and perspectives become like a thermometer of their spiritual maturity. I was short-sighted. Those brothers and sisters, united in faith and rooted in Christ, passionately sought to discover and teach God’s Word.
As women serving on a foreign field, we are steadfast in our convictions. Yet, there can often be a shyness or hesitation in being an outsider as we step inside a church. Where do I go? Where do I sit? How do I fit in?
When we come home to our passport country, an awkwardness creeps in from being away so long. What should I say? Are my shoes alright? Did my kids even wear their shoes to church this morning?
We are often expected to jump into opportunities to serve and lead. We are looked at as the example. It can be unsettling and exhausting when we shift in and out of our different roles, in and out of other cultures. We move across countries and time zones. We change our clothes, switch our shoes, and speak in other languages as we try to blend in to new situations. We strive to be faithful servants both at home and abroad. We know we are called to bring the message of ‘Good News’. Yet, when we are not even sure of our own places, how do we do this?
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” – Romans 10:15
Did you notice that there wasn’t any mention of shoes or clothing? God did not talk about our abilities or the expectations of others. There wasn’t any emphasis placed on the church building or if there were pews or chairs.
Let this exhortation from the Apostle Paul settle in for a moment. It is not about where we serve or how easily we fit in, it is about the message we bring. As we serve in the church, both at home and overseas, it is good to remind ourselves of this truth. He has asked us to share His truth, He will use us to teach His Word, and He calls it beautiful when we go and bring the Gospel. Our journeys may have caused sores and blisters, but Scripture has assured us that it is worth the sacrifice. Our hardships and struggles become like a roadmap of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives. Our soles bear the marks and scars of a life spent in service to the One who has called us to Him. We begin to see the beauty in the process of who He is making us, not in the product or place we are serving.
We are women who have been given the gift of cultural perspective. It is a blessing to be used for the church. We come from the vantage point of having lived in cultures outside our own. We serve the Lord in the opportunities He brings, both internationally and locally. It does not matter if we wear our flip-flops or our high heels to church, nor does it matter if we are the ones who are serving or being served. The beauty is found in the one whose feet deliver the message.
How can we let the Lord use our experiences as we open our eyes to the places we can invest in and deliver the Good News?