I was born and raised in Africa. Life there is very different from life in America. There are many things I love and miss about Africa. My life here in America is certainly full of blessings. Amongst these blessings is the capacity to see things differently.
I found rural churches in Africa to be the most joyous of all. After a long day of work, there was nothing like a good evening worship (the dancing is amazing!), and sharing some really good food together. Christian worship in Africa is powerful. It heals you. I found that the focus of these rural parishes was often not on their capacity to pay the bills, but on the fact that they have survived for so long without the capacity to pay the bills, yet in the end, bills got paid. Consequently, they become acutely aware that God is always the author and source of their provisions. They felt compelled to share their personal stories of how God met their needs. We serve a God of miracles!
I experience the same joy in the churches of the Diocese of West Tennessee I have served. While I serve Saint Andrews in Collierville as Associate Rector, over the last several months, I have gotten to know the communities of Saint Mary’s in Dyersburg and Immanuel Church in Ripley. In all these churches, I have observed a sense of perplexity: “God, what do you have in store for us?” It is the idea that we have seen God at work all these years. Life has changed dramatically in such a way that ministry is no longer as easy as it was decades ago when our towns were still filled with people.
Yet with that knowledge, we take comfort in the fact that God’s footsteps are here with us. We have so much to be thankful for: Many believers joyfully served God within these Church building walls! Lots of baptisms and marriages; many greetings and goodbyes are exchanged here. Lots of celebrations of God’s work touching lives.
I spent moments observing the areas surrounding these churches and recognized a uniqueness of each. God once asked Moses in Exodus 4:2: “What do you have in your hand?” Moses replied: “A shepherd’s staff.”
The same question is valid for us: “What do you have in your hand that God can use?”
The town of Ripley, Tennessee is known for its wonderful tomatoes, and of course, I was a recipient of such an amazing generosity from there. Dyersburg is a town with order and tradition. I learned that Saint Mary’s is celebrating 127 years of service to the beautiful town of Dyersburg. These congregations have lived through many changes but still continue to trust God to lead them into a future that the Lord is choosing for them. They have made a permanent mark of influence in their towns. I thank God for each and what they do with and for the Lord! We are not done shaping and influencing our cities. For example, Immanuel hosted their annual pancake supper and drew quite a crowd. Their spiritual heartbeat is felt in their community! Take heart, look not on what’s working against you, but look decidedly at what’s going for you.
It is true that the population of our rural towns might be dwindling, but our joy in Christ shouldn’t dwindle because of it. We, the Church of Christ, will not shy away from cumbersome realities, and we will face them courageously.
I also sensed love. This is the most important ingredient of all. Holy Scripture in John 13:35 says: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another!”
By faith in Christ, I am looking forward to more stories of triumph and victory in time to come; encouraging stories for many others to learn how you overcame everything by the blood of the lamb.