Jay and I tried to leave the group once. We arrived home and found people waiting on our couch to convince us otherwise. The emotional cost was beyond our nightmares. So, we curled up and told ourselves it would be OK and we’d stay and it wasn’t worth losing family, friends, everything. And for nine long and excruciating months, we counted the cost with aching deliberation.
One day, I wrote a general email to a local Christian radio station. I made it vague and asked for recommendations of churches in our area. Christian radio was not approved of within our group, and its usage would eventually be named in our excommunication as a reason we were led astray – but it was a lifeline for us. The man who received my email was named Jay, and he happened to go to a church near us. He connected us with their interim pastor and his wife, James and Heidi. James began calling us, and eventually we worked up the courage to visit this couple.
That’s how it started but that’s not how it stayed, as a relationship between us and one other couple.
Because a relational bridge between two parties is rarely enough. Knowing God’s ideal is for community and family, bridge-builders must work to create supportive and safe networks where there are none. This takes work and focus.
Relational bridges should be multiple lanes wide.
For example, James invited us to share with their elders about our family’s recent adoption of our son. It was a cover to connect us with others, of course. But we went thinking it was just about our adoption story. In the end, we shared our whole story. That’s when one elder said that part about how they’d catch us when we jumped. We wouldn’t have heard that if James hadn’t done the connecting.
And after that, James and Heidi connected us with their Bible study group. We were never allowed to do Bible studies, much less with others outside of our group. This was grounds for church discipline. So, we had to sneak away to the Bible studies in secret. To be honest, we had no clue about Bible studies. No concept of what these people were doing, the lingo they used, the way they knew when to talk or not, and how to pray out loud in groups – and women prayed too! But, we were among friends. We learned with them and from them. We grew stronger, nurtured by their support and care.
And time after time, they prayed for us and over us and kneeled around us as a community to ask for courage and faith to be given to us. We wouldn’t have experienced that if no one had done the connecting.
After one such evening, we made our decision.
We stood and said the words and wrote the letters and made the phone calls. We were leaving. This time was different; we wouldn’t stay. We had support and a community, and we may be broken to bits inside, but we were stronger than before. And the repercussions tumbled in: responses exploded, shunning commenced, Jay’s job was gone, and tears filled oceans.
That Sunday, we didn’t drive down the familiar path. We turned and went a new direction to a new church. We were greeted by a crowd of people who knew our names, knew our story, and had prayed for us. They were waiting at the door for us, and we fell into their arms. We came bleeding and bruised – but we came. Finally.
And that Sunday, our bridge-builders were being commissioned and sent off to Africa as missionaries. We told them goodbye right after hello.
Yes, it was James and Heidi’s last Sunday at that church, but they had done the work already and connected us with multiple people. The bridge was wide and strong and sturdy.
I don’t remember much about that day other than knowing this: we had just lost our family and friends and the people who’d made up our memories, but, somehow, we were not alone after all. And I remember Amy made lasagna so we could eat with their family and the new pastor and his wife after church.
And, I wanted to stay all day around that table with them.
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 a 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.