One thing that I was craving as we headed back to the US this year was worship. Everyone knows that Congolese people have a gift for music, and worship in the CPC is energetic, passionate, and can last for hours. And we appreciate, enjoy, and join into their worship. But just like eating ‘comfort food’, there is a special feeling when you get to be in corporate worship with familiar songs in a familiar language. I have been brought to tears several times this year, enjoying the presence of God during worship in a church service. It is one of the things I am most grateful for during this year that we have in the U.S.
Through a series of connections and divine coincidences, we ended up worshipping at the Jesus House last week, a ministry and church community in Bloomington. In this mid-size, middle-class, Midwestern city, the West Side of Bloomington is an enclave where drug addiction, poverty, crime, and sexual exploitation wreak havoc on people’s lives and destroy families and generations. The Jesus House sits in the middle of that section of town, a light and source of hope for people caught in the vicious cycles that poverty, drugs, and abuse generate.
When we walked into the Jesus House on Sunday morning, a small group about 30 men and women of all ages, sizes, and colors were in the midst of a Bible Study. As they transitioned into the worship service, more people filled in the room. One older woman coaxed a few other women up to the front to dance to the worship. The hunger for Jesus and the joy of being in worship was evident on many faces. Seeing people dance, or kneel, or cover their faces as they sought out the presence of God reminded me of worship times in college, when I and my friends could worship God without all of the inibitions I have picked up in the years since.
During the message, Tom spoke about seeing and treating other people as “holy ground”, because they are made in the image of God. He highlighted a few individuals present and celebrated them, and reminded everyone that God looks on the inside, not the outside. In the midst of that message, I recognized my tendency to label people or make assumptions about their lives or their past. As I fought my stereotypes, I was reminded of the beauty that I was seeing in the lives of people who were not physically beautiful by the standards of this world…but they knew that Jesus was full of love just for them and that they could delight in His presence.
One of the things that connected us to the Jesus House was a memoir I read recently, Tattooed by Jesus (you can read my review at that link too). The book describes the chidhood of Bonnie Lentz, living in the same neighborhood where the Jesus House now sits. She experienced the lure and the bondage of drugs, the pain of abuse, and the battle with poverty as her family struggled through the daily challenges of life. After a long and arduous search for freedom, peace, and meaning, Bonnie found Jesus. Her life is a powerful testimony of the power of God’s grace and salvation, made more palpable becuase she and her husband continue to serve and reach out to people ‘on the margins’, in desperate need of the same transformation.