BEYOND “Church: Beyond the Walls”
BEYOND “Church: Beyond the Walls”
by Linda Woodin
There’s “Church: Beyond the Walls.” Then there’s BEYOND “Church: Beyond the Walls.”
I love that Hershey Free Church has been doing Church: Beyond the Walls for the past two years, where we bring the Church and the love of Jesus TO our communities instead of expecting communities to come TO US to experience the Church and the love of Jesus.
Every project that has been done during Church: Beyond the Walls has been valuable. Our hearts are touched as we gather in the sanctuary at the end of the day and hear reports of the activities and results of the various projects. But far beyond these accomplishments, we hear the REAL stories—children who received candy and gifts understood that someone they didn’t even know cared about them. A lonely widow or widower not only had a home repair done but received cookies, a smile, and a much-needed hug. Neighbors said, “I’ve lived in this development for 15 years and never really met any of my neighbors … until now.”
And so we go home and rest and smile and feel good about our accomplishments. But what about the other 364 days of the year? What about delivering the Church and the love of God to the community throughout the year?
Well, let me share my story. About three years ago, several Nepali refugee families began moving into my comfortable, middle-class neighborhood in suburban Harrisburg. Their clothes were different, they didn’t all speak English, they decorated their houses in different ways, and the smells of food cooking in their homes were definitely different than that good old “meat and potatoes” smell that came from my kitchen. Yes, as many of my long-term neighbors were, I was a bit taken aback.
Then God softened my heart and made it clear that he was bringing the mission field right to my front door! Whether I liked it or not, these were now my neighbors, and they were here to stay.
Then came Church: Beyond the Walls. After speaking with Pastor Dave Hyatt, I (reluctantly at first) became convinced that I should host a block party in my backyard and invite several Nepali families and begin to get to know them. For the past two years, I and my team of volunteers from Hershey Free Church have hosted many neighborhood Nepali families for a picnic and get-together. We had face-painting and games for the children, and spent time with the adults over food, learning their stories of persecution and loss, learning about their Hindu beliefs and customs, and sharing our Christian beliefs and customs. We learned that despite their different clothes and language, these people were no different from us—seeking peace, prosperity, love, and success. One of the elder Nepali statesmen got our attention to make an announcement: “We are peaceful people. We want community.” He then stretched his arms out as if to embrace all of the Americans and stated, “THIS is COMMUNITY.”
As I walked by their homes with my dog in the days afterwards or drove by in my car, there were smiles, there were waves, there were “Hi, Linda”s! They FELT community! They FELT validation—they FELT LOVE. Whether they knew it was from Jesus or not, they felt it, they liked it, they responded, and they indicated they wanted more!
That’s when it struck me—Church: Beyond the Walls wasn’t just every October; it was every day of the year! I hosted a Nepali Ladies’ Christmas Tea in December, and while the attendance was not what I had hoped for, another Hershey Free volunteer and I took trays of cookies to the different houses and were warmly invited in, served tea, and had warm discussions with the families. “Oh, please come back and visit again,” was the plea we heard at each house.
This summer, as part of Hershey Free’s Cook-Out Impact Challenge, I hosted an ice cream social. I invited some American neighbors as well as Nepali neighbors, and new friendships and community were formed as the American and Nepali neighbors met and chatted. I have since attended my neighbor’s six-year-old’s birthday party and have eaten Nepali food. They promised me that I will be invited to their Hindu Diwali “Festival of Light” celebration featuring food, family, and celebration in November.
So as I prepare to host the third C:BTW Nepali Block Party, I will be asking a few Nepali families to help in the planning of food and the invitation of specific Nepali families new to the neighborhood. I also have other plans throughout the year to continue to build these relationships.
Right now my intent is to live the gospel with them and heighten their curiosity about “what is different about THIS American”? It takes time and relationship to build the trust and respect that will lead to an invitation to share something as unique and as intimate as the gospel. As the old adage goes, “By all means, share the gospel. And if necessary, use words.”
So as we prepare for Church: Beyond the Walls this year, remember that Church: Beyond the Walls is EVERY day of the year. Let’s have it in our hearts to not only do outreach on October 14, but to go back from time to time to make sure the gutter is still attached, to pick up more litter at the park, to give a refill on those cookies, or just a “Hi, how’s it going? Just thought I’d check and see how you’re doing.”
Yes, it’s a stretch of faith and personal comfort each time. Yes, no one has the time in their schedule for repeated contacts, tasks, and conversation. But through my Nepali neighbors, I have realized that taking Church beyond the walls, when we all come together and do good deeds and share the love and message of God, is ALL day, EVERY day of the year.