Friday, January 28, 2011

Meet the Group

The church here is unlike any I've been a part of before!

For one thing, the demographics are different and extremely varied. There are people from Korea, China, Japan, the Philippines, India, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guiana, the Dominican Republic, the west coast, the east coast, Texas, Kentucky... quite the melting pot. Let's just say I'm learning a thing or two about geography! Some people speak with strong accents (some that I'm still trying to understand!) or very elementary English. Never before have I been in a study of 1 Corinthians dealing with idols where a few people in the class have immediate family members who worship idols. At least half (maybe the majority?) are first generation Christians.

We don't have many families, and only two couples with kids where both parents are Christians (and they live far away and can only come on Sundays). And we have very few elderly people or shut-ins. The majority are single people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Our group is not exactly oozing with stability; it's different nearly every week.

There are also a lot of barriers to our meeting together. For those who drive... a bridge might be closed, your car might be covered in a foot of snow, or it might take 20 minutes just to find a parking place. For those who take public transportation... trains could be delayed or under construction, busses might be running behind, and by the time you walk to our meeting place, you're exhausted, especially if you're carrying much. It's not unusual for people to work until 7 or 8 pm. One of our guys works for the sanitation department (they plow the snowy streets) and has worked 12 hour shifts nonstop for the last month, and not because he's a workaholic. He wants to keep his job to support his family.

And because property is so expensive, we don't have our own building. We rent a room in the NY International Hostel, which means we set up the powerpoint, put out song books, and hang up signs each Sunday and Tuesday. Some of the ladies carry the children's Bible class materials every week--including sheets to hang up in a corner to divide the room. By the time we get to the opening prayer, it feels like we've accomplished something!

Our ratio of members to visitors is also unusual: 80 members (on average, 50 or 60 will come) and 40 visitors. So when 1/3 of the group is visitors, it's hard to chat with regular members (who you may only see on Sunday mornings) while greeting the visitors! Some of the visitors might be solid Christians from other parts of the country who are on vacation in the city... some of them might be Christians that visit for a long time but never become a member of our group... and others might have seen our ad in the paper and be there for the first time. It's hard to keep up with everybody!  

Don described it like this: we're on a boat in the sea, and we're trying to pull the drowning people into the boat, and keep those onboard from jumping off. What an exciting work to be a part of, huh?!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Our Rock

This place is crazy and great and dirty and gross and poor and rich and delicious and loud! There's just so much variety wrapped up in one city. Sometimes it feels like a foreign country; other times, it really is starting to feel like home.

Things happen and move and change so much here! New neighbors, new members at church, new weather, new ads on the subway... sometimes it seems like the only constant in my life is the fact that people will continue to buy Louis Vuitton purses even though they cost a thousand dollars. (And I'm not even exaggerating. ONE THOUSAND. Enough to buy a lifetime supply of my favorite bagels.) Just when I think city life is beginning to be predictable, a guy in an alien costume gets on the train. Or the laundry room closes for a birthday party. Or the line at Trader Joe's stretches across the entire store. Or the wait for a dressing room is 60 minutes. It feels like we're riding a carousel where the scenery and music changes with every spin. 

Yet as the hymn says... in every change, He faithful will remain

And does He ever! Our God is our anchor in the midst of storm. He's our "Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). He's our changeless center, our solid foundation, and the only real thing on which we can depend.

(Quick tangent.) My favorite place in the whole city is being next to my husband, wherever that is. He is such a blessing to me in small ways (i.e. making my coffee) and in big ways (i.e. helping me toward Heaven). His work is encouraging--teaching the Bible, preparing for group classes, working on sermons, praying with Christians, and seeking souls that long for a Savior--but it's even more encouraging being married to someone who strives to practice what he preaches! I don't deserve the patience and love and kindness he shows me each day.       

And yet even my husband is part of a passing world. I can depend on him for so much, but I can't expect him to redeem me from death. I can't even count on him (or me!) to live until we're 80. But together, we can serve a God who not only can redeem us from death but has promised that He will--if we walk in His ways and trust in the blood of His son.  

In this city where thousand dollar purses go in and out of fashion and where the best designer boots still get messed up in the snow... what a comfort to know there is a God on whom I can depend! Whether in life or death, God is in control and is taking care of His people. He changeth not!