When we first started in the trailer park the goal was simple. We wanted to help lead people into a real relationship with Christ. We met in the clubhouse for a few years. We would meet and pray God would lead us to the right people, then go out to try and find those people. We prayed he would work in the hearts of people there. In that time we met a few residents of the park.
Our fellowships are different than most “church” settings. We believe the same Jesus lives in all of us and can lead through any of us. This means we rarely have a meeting where only one person talks. In fact, this means most weeks everyone has something to share. It may be a scripture, a way they saw God work during the week, or a prayer request. This has led to a very full understanding of scripture and an intimacy in the members that is sometimes missing in traditional church.
It also opens the door for people with strange ideas. This has been a complaint from some of my pastor friends. By allowing “untrained” Christians to speak I “open the door for false teaching.” This is true, however the door is open even wider for correction. My argument is that in a group of believers with mixed maturity, where everyone is free, invited, and expected to speak, any wrong theology will be immediately corrected. This has consistently proven true.
At one of our early meetings, before we moved into the trailer park, there was a lady who was coming to our meetings. She had some mental problems mixed with strange ideas. One time she claimed she had a special revelation from the Lord about how to get closer to Jesus. It went something like this: When Adam sinned God threw him and Eve out of the garden. Then God put an angel at the door who had a flaming sword to keep man away from the presence of God. We jump forward to Isaiah and the angels in Isaiah’s vision are also seraphs. So, in order for man to get to God after the fall they had to go through the angel guarding the gate to the garden or the seraphs in the Holy of Holies, like in Isaiah’s vision. An angel was always guarding man from the presence of God. The seraph allowed Isiah to enter the presence of God, however. The Hebrew word for seraph is also the word for serpent. Therefore in order to properly worship Jesus and be in his presence, we must first worship Satan, the serpent.
I’ll let that sink in a second.
As I said, in the beginning we often met folks who weren’t quite all there. Her theory was of course immediately corrected in love.
Our goal was to share real relationship in Christ with people from the trailer park and yet for a very long time it was only the outsiders who met together and shared. In part, the way we meet and our openness to people often leads people who have been rejected by most people of faith to feel at home. I love these rejected people, but it is challenging at times. For a long time these were the only people who would be a part of our fellowship.
That changed with my neighbor Lena. Lena is one of my favorite people. She lives down the street from us. She also works at Nixa Hardware. With the work I do at the farm I am in the hardware store almost daily. Everyone in there knows me by name and I know them. So I get to see Lena on almost every supply run I make.
I met Lena through a string of friends. Her story is a rather incredible one. Lena and her brother were orphans in Russia for years. When they were teens they were sent to the US to an adoption agency in New Orleans. She and her brother were then adopted by a Mormon family in this area. This family had adopted them as a mission. (This is my interpretation.) After years, Lena refused to convert. This, at least in part, led to her adopted family kicking her out and basically choosing to have nothing to do with her. After a few years of bouncing around she moved in with some people from Nixa. Her brother has shifted back and forth between mental institutes and prisons. He has several issues we are constantly praying for. A few years ago she moved into the trailer park. We met her shortly after we moved in.
We weren’t close to her at first, but had the chance to pray with her about different things going on in her life, and she was always interested in trying to learn something more about Jesus. Eventually she started going to a large church in Springfield. She seemed to really enjoy it and after a few months she accepted Christ as her savior.
But the church refused to baptize her. They said that because she still had a certain sin in her life they wouldn’t perform the baptism. She asked if I would be able to do it. She was convinced that as long as she wasn’t baptized she was being disobedient. We had a long conversation about what it meant to be a follower of Christ, what baptism was all about, and about sin in the life of a believer. After our conversation I was convinced she was a true follower of Christ and we set up a time for the baptism in the trailer park’s pool.
You can watch the video here.
Lena is the first neighbor from our neighborhood to be actively involved in our fellowship. She shows me a part of Christ too. In the year since Lena’s baptism, life has not been easy. She is someone who always expects Christ to be working and she is quick to give him credit for what he is doing. She is full of prayer requests because she believes Jesus will hear and answer. No matter the thing going on in her life, and trust me, there is plenty, she always worships God because she believes he is up to something. I have seen incredible faith in Lena. She sees God working everywhere in everything.
Every time I see her in our neighborhood, at the hardware store, or at our fellowship I know she is going to tell me about something God is doing. It humbles me and it blows my mind how real her faith in God is. Some people in her life have tried to talk her out of the things she gives credit to God for, but she is unwavering.
For a lot of us faith is a title. We are people of faith. We have faith in God. Our actions often betray the facts of where our faith really is. This is a struggle for me. I want God to move mountains, or to shift molehills. I ask him to, then I immediately make my own plan and try out of my own strength. I don’t wait on him to move. I don’t look for what he is doing in every part of my life. I don’t have faith he will do things the way I think he should.
Lena is a huge encouragement to me. It’s not just that she is the first person in the park to join us in this ministry. It’s not the she brings other people to fellowship. It’s not that her life has magically gotten easier. It’s not that trials aren’t around every corner. It’s her faith. She has real faith in a real God. When I see her faith it builds up my faith too.
Ms. Lena’s neighborhood is a place where God is working if you have the faith to see it. It’s a place where when times are tough and everything seems to be against you, you believe God is up to something. It’s a place where sometimes you are hungry and there isn’t enough food, but you believe God has not forgotten you. It’s a neighborhood where faith is the nourishment of daily living. It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.