Far out into the countryside, where the stubble of the faces of fields shaven from their summer beards of cornstalks & soybean plants surrounds tiny houses graced with old pick-up trucks, there can be found a little Church with a big heart. The red brick of the original building is crowned with a non-descript white steeple that is topped with a tiny cross. The building is dwarfed by its younger sister, a huge white metal structure that serves as a multi-purpose facility – part gym, part banquet hall, & part whatever someone needs it to be.
I arrived for brunch on a Saturday morning, not knowing exactly what to expect. Ladies of the Church had decorated the tables, as is the fashion nowadays with different themes, & there was everything from crocheted baby clothes to spray painted tree branches to brown pottery serve ware as centerpieces. The men of the congregation served the pancakes, sausage & coffee, & graciously bussed the tables, so the women could be about their business of networking with their guests.
When the program began, everyone participated in Acapella singing, which was a bit lost I not the cavernous building, but I was most thankful for this fact, as I. Cannot carry a tune. Thankfully, there are filters between the time sounds of songs leave the lips of musically challenged people such as myself & the time that said songs reach Heaven, so that all of them are a “joyful noise”! And I do love to sing!
The program consisted of the leaders of different ministries that the Church either sponsors or contributes to in a regular basis. I do not recall every word spoken by each woman who got up to give a personal testimony and/or explain the ministry that they are in loved in, & I did not take copious notes. But it struck me that, way out there “in the sticks” was a piece of the Heart of God.
The ministries that were highlighted included things such as helping provide Christmas gifts for underprivileged children, helping abused women break the cycle of co-dependency, helping women escape drug & alcohol addiction, & clothing children who have lost all of their belongings due to fire or being placed into foster care. Each lady had a unique story to tell, & each one demonstrated a true heart for helping others.
But a few things struck me more than others, such as the relatively young lady whose voice broke as she told of having survived not one but two very abusive & controlling marriages. She was teary-eyed, & you could see the joy break through from the tears as she pointed to her third husband, one of the Men of Integrity that helped serve our delicious brunch. She offered hope to women who may be in similar situations & told about finding peace. One of the women said that “Shalom” means “peace – nothing broken or missing.” And when you are in an abusive relationship, it is not only broken, but peace is missing from your life.
There w the young lady who is putting on the local Relay for Life. She smiled as she lovingly spoke of the sister whom she had lost to death due to breast cancer, & as she introduced an older lady who is a three time cancer survivor. This you lady got the applause she so richly deserved as she helped ask for volunteers for this upcoming event.
There were the two women who had been long time friends, but who were not in touch on a daily basis but who were each given, separately, the same vision for a ministry to clothe the children of the community. They have clothed 389 children with 8-10 outfits each since they began their ministry a few short years ago. They spoke of how God planted that idea into their hearts, & how, whenever it seems that there will not be enough clothing articles to fit a particular need, God always provides somehow.
An especially touching testimony was that of a woman who was once one of the participants in a program designed to help women fight addiction. She actually entered this program, which is available through scholarship money after a nominal $500 entrance fee, back in 2011, & since she has graduated, she is promoting the program. I saw her hugging & holding on to one of the other women during the song service, so I knew that she was nervous about giving her testimony when I saw her head to the front of the room. I prayed for. God to give her strength to say what needed to be said, & her message was very attention getting. One thing she said that stuck in my mind is this: “An addiction is ANYTHING that separates you from God.” And she was right! People automatically assume that addictions must be alcohol or drugs; however, people can be addicted to any number of other things, such as food, possessions, violence, sex, drama, gossip, & co-dependency. that will really make you stop & think!
And a other lady who almost broke down as she told of her husband’s recent extended hospital stay, & how women if the Church came to see them, sent them cards, & brought them food, even on Christmas Day! “Loving people, & being there for them is what it’s all about!” she declared. And she was right, too!
And then came the lady who had invited me to the brunch. She & her daughter took center stage, & I was surprised when she said that her daughter was going to do the talking, because this lady is very outgoing & vivacious. But she stood there beaming as brightly as any mother has ever done so as she watched her daughter explain what their misty was all about. It is like a huge inline yard sale, EXCEPT that everything that is donated is given away FREE to whomever needs it. What an AWESOME idea! Instead of trying to sell that unused item for a couple of dollars at a yard sale, you give it away to someone that really needs it! The name of the ministry is, appropriately, “Hearts For Freely Giving”. And the name denotes exactly what every Christian is called to do: freely give!
There are so many ways that someone can give: you can give of your time & talents when you volunteer to help clean up after a tornado, to put on an arts festival, to take care of sick children in the first aid room at school to serve on a P.T.A., to keep the children in the Nursery at Church, etc. The list is literally endless. You can give of yourself when you listen to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of their health or the loss of their job. And you can give of your hearts as did this wonderful group of women, as they welcomed in people throughout the community to encourage them to seek out their own ministries, & to give of their own hearts.
The program concluded with a young lady speaking about how she & one of the other speakers had begin that. Loathing ministry for kids. She told about how they wanted to make sure that every child in the community had a pair of gym shorts & shoes so that they could participate in P.E., & not be relegated to the bleachers. Can you imagine that? Not even having proper clothes to participate in Physical Education Class?
Then she quoted Isaiah 61:1-3, which says this:
” The Year of the Lord’s Favor
61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
May 2015 be the Year of the Lord’s Favor for anyone reading this. May you find a heart to freely give of yourself to proclaim good news for the poor, to help heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, & to comfort those who mourn. May you find someone to love, & when they need you, “just be there for them.” And may God turn all of your ashes into beauty, & your mourning into joy!
– Lou Lehman Sams