When we arrived at their house, Heidi came out smiling. The first thing I noticed, though, wasn’t her smile. I noticed her skirt. And long hair.
Really, I wanted to be over the externals already but, truth is, I’d judged and been judged by appearance for as long as I could remember. I couldn’t see past them anymore than an ex-smoker can miss cigarette smell in the air. And so, I assessed her spirituality, commitment to God, and surmised her faithfulness before she opened her mouth.
I determined I could trust her. After all, she looked familiar. In my world, familiar was safe, and safe was right, and right was godly.
Courage and desperation had combined in just the right doses to land us on the road that evening, accepting an invitation to this couple’s house. We hadn’t socialized much outside our group. We went over the particulars on the way – How do regular people greet each other and say goodbye, do you think? What if they ask us about church? Do you think we wore the right thing? What if the others find out we came?
The whole visit was a stretch for us. It was scary and awkward and difficult. And yet, James and Heidi met us where we were and took careful steps to make us feel safe and comfortable. We were cared for and fed in a simple, causal evening. I believe they made decisions about the evening, even the little things like appearances, based on what would make their guests feel most at home.
Good bridge-builders are sensitive like that.
The Gospel says that God saw our need and our desperate place, and that Jesus came to dwell with us, to become like us, in order to show us the way back to God. Being a bridge-builder, then, calls us to trace His steps, meeting people where they are. It calls us to be one who isn’t afraid to step into another’s shoes and to see life from another’s point of view. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and usually an inconvenience. But, as one who’s needed a bridge, I can tell you their simple actions meant the world to me. They built trust. They made me feel safe.
Because, truth is, we couldn’t have gone to their church. No fabulous outreach event, exciting kids’ ministry, beautiful music, or polished sermons would’ve reached us.
We weren’t allowed to do Bible studies. No amount of offering to “go deeper” with solid theology would’ve reached us.
We still loved (and continue to) our heritage and valued the many relationships there. No amount of convincing us of the error of our beliefs would’ve reached us.
Relational bridge-builders are willing to lay aside the typical church tools. They know that reaching people rarely happens at 10am on Sunday. Instead, by leaving their own familiar spaces, bridge-builders can move closer to the needs of outsiders and interact in meaningful ways. They’re willing to adjust their methods in order to make the message understandable, acceptable, receivable. Jesus did that. And, that’s what this couple did for us that evening.
At some point during that first visit, I excused myself to the bathroom. I remember looking in the mirror for a long time, trying to understand who I would be, away from that religious group and that identity. It would take years and much processing to determine, but I knew one thing: God had provided these people to clarify our view of Christians and what it would look like to be like Him. I had grown up believing that we changed ourselves and got our act together in order to be acceptable to God. These people were showing me how Jesus meets us as we are, in our need and in our mess.
I was 22 years old. We had 2 toddlers, a baby on the way, and no idea what this simple evening was about to set into motion.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.