Around the World in a Weekend
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, Rev. 7:9 ESV)
(January 22, 2019). This past weekend I headed off to Connecticut to preach for my good friend Charles Tyree who was on a mission out of the country. Chuck and I have been friends for many years, a friendship I value so very deeply. He is currently serving as Pastor of the Norwich Alliance Church in Norwich, Connecticut. My daughter traveled with me as she has dear friends in Norwich and wanted to spend the overnight with them. We left on Saturday, rather than Sunday morning for the 2 hour drive as there was a major winter storm approaching and I didn’t want to get caught in Vermont, unable to travel to Connecticut. As we gassed up and headed south, I had no idea that I was going be touched by so much of the world in just two short days.
I dropped my daughter off to meet her friend and went over to my friend’s house who was kind enough to provide me with a bed for the night. We had supper and mid-evening I retired to my room to pray and study for the morning message. About 9:30 p.m. my phone rang, a number I didn’t recognize. The person on the other end of the call introduced himself as Dingzhou Li, one of the leaders of the Norwich Chinese Christian Church; a church that uses the Alliance Church for their worship meetings on Sunday afternoon. He let me know that their scheduled speaker for the Sunday service had cancelled and he wondered if I would be willing to stay in town and preach for the Chinese church in the afternoon service. Being a globally minded preacher, I readily accepted.
On Sunday morning I had breakfast and drover through the ice covered roads to the Norwich Alliance Church. It was not my first visit so I knew what to expect. Norwich Alliance is a prominent church in the Christian & Missionary Alliance. They are warm and welcoming, a solidly conservative evangelical church. The folks there love the Word of God and I always feel great liberty when I preach there. They are not thin skinned and welcome the truth of the Bible gratefully. I know Chuck Tyree, so I know they are well taught and thoughtful believers. I brought several of my books with me and had set up a book table in the foyer. As folks perused my book table, I had some very stimulating conversations about my message and regarding the topic of some of my writing, especially my latest book, CRY MERCY. (Published by Logos Publications, Lancaster, PA).
After church, my host treated me to a great lunch at a very nice Italian Restaurant. It was a long lunch with great conversation. Later that afternoon, I dropped him off at his house and headed back over the Alliance Church for my meeting with the Chinese folks. I have traveled all over the world and preached to many different cultures, but this was my first time worshipping with a Chinese congregation. I was quite excited.
As I sat in the back of the church preparing some notes for my sermon, I was texting back and forth with my friend Wesely Agengo in Oyugis, Kenya. I work closely with Wes at the Immanuel Christian School for the Deaf in the western part of the country. We were discussing plans to get one of our little girls to Bomet and the Tenwek Mission Hospital for life saving heart surgery on the 28 of January. The surgery will be performed by a team sponsored by an organization called Gift of Life, that does childhood cardiac surgery around the globe. One of my own team members had discovered Winnie’s condition while we were in Kenya in June 2018 and God very graciously led us to a group who will be caring for Winnine in just a few days.
My conversation with Wes was interrupted by the arrival of several of the leadership of the Chinese church, so I signed off and after introductions to several of the church leaders we began. The entire service was in Chinese (I was grateful that they had both Chinese and English on the overheads so I could sing along). I found the group to be warm and friendly, but somewhat reserved. I relished my new international experience and enjoyed preaching from 1 John 1:1-9 my message which I entitled, “The Lost Doctrine of the Church – Confession and Repentance”. My new friend Dingzhou interpreted the sermon for me. The congregation was very attentive and even though I am sure some of the concepts I taught may have lost something in translation, they received the message eagerly. After the service, several of the leaders expressed an interest in my returning at some point to do some additional teaching for them.
We went downstairs to the fellowship hall and enjoyed a Chinese Share All and I was able to have some very meaningful fellowship with several of the members of the church.
After dinner, I packed up my book table and braved the now freezing pavement to my car and drove to my friend Adam Bowles home in the town of Lisbon, CT. I had been invited to join his family that evening for a very important football game which shall remain nameless except for the fact that both the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs were playing. Adam and I are both Pats fans and I was grateful for a house with a big TV on which to enjoy the game.
Arriving at the house, I found it bursting at the seams with teens and young adults. There were Pats jerseys and Chiefs jerseys and plenty of food. I also took note that there were white faces, black faces, brown faces, young faces and old faces. There were Hispanics, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Africans, Americans and Englishmen in the house. I noticed that the dining room had a mattress leaning up against the wall. When I asked what that was all about, I was told that it is there because of a constant flow of lives that often need a place to stay and the Bowles home is always open and welcoming.
Adam is the Pastor at CASTLE CHURCH in downtown Norwich. They are in the process of renovating an old bank building into a facility wherein they can engage in inner city ministry. CASTLE CHURCH is located across the street from the Courthouse on one corner and the Department of Children and Families on another corner. There are bustling apartment houses all around them and Adam and his team have a very exciting vision for this dynamic ministry right in the middle of need. Its going to taker miracles – lots of them for this vision to be realized, but I have no doubt that miracles will come.
As the very exciting ball game progressed there was a lot of shouting and screaming and cheering and as I listened, I was blessed by the cacophony of sound that filled the room, the tossed salad of accents and pitches. The laughter (and groans) and friendship that was in the room was warm and genuine. There were no great men or small men, no second class citizens, no strangers sitting in the corner. There was no one who was lonely or friendless, abandoned, or neglected. There were only lives of such diversity and beauty, all ransomed and redeemed by the Master Himself. He had done the work. Adam was merely the host to the great miracles that God has done, providing a place of warmth and acceptance to those who have been drawn into the embrace of Kingdom and King.
I sat there thinking this is very much what Heaven is going to be like as men and women from every tongue and tribe and kindred and nation will gather around the Throne for the coronation of our King. Because of God’s great grace and the invitation of a couple of friends my life was touched by Americans, Syrians, Central Americans, Islanders, Englishmen, Irishmen, Africans, and Chinese in one short day.
The amazing truth is that I think I was the only person involved who took note of the diversity of that day. We were all different. Different colors, different languages, different diets, different customs, different histories – but only one future. We labor together, worship together, fellowship together, pray together; all of us clinging to a single hope: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3 ESV)
I am very conscious that my Father let me have just a little peek behind the veil this weekend and I’m more excited about the coming of the Kingdom than I was before.