She wore a colorful, shiny dress with a matching head wrap. She and the younger man sat along the side wall every Sunday after service while the others mingled over coffee. I’m not sure how, but we became friends. We didn’t speak the same language. We didn’t have anything common, or so it seemed.
But, I tended to side with those on the sidelines. I too struggled to carry on a conversation with the average church-goer. Had my skin been purple or blue, and not the majority color, it would’ve been easier to see that I too felt awkward and out of place.
So, we invited them to our house. We sat inside and drank tea because that’s what they liked. Then we listened to their stories of fleeing their war-torn homeland, losing family, starting over here. The English was simple, but her repeated “so hard, so hard,” was enough for me to know I related on some level.
They were a gift to us, the most comfortable we’d felt in months since having moved to Storm Lake.
We had landed in Storm Lake, IA out of necessity when a local engineering firm offered Jay a position. I had done my undergraduate studies at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, so it was close to feeling like home. But we had to leave our newly found community and that supportive little congregation in order to move away to Storm Lake.
We looked around, wide-eyed and shaky.
We attempted church again, knees buckling under the baggage of past religious experiences. Somehow, we felt out of place no matter where we turned, and we struggled to function in a new life and identity. I remember one evening we went out for coffee with a group of other young couples, but the laughter grated on my nerves, leaving me raw and exhausted. Nothing seemed fun or funny anymore. Life was serious, lonely, and heavy.
Then there was that time I tried taking my kids to a local VBS and walked out gasping for air. The leader was dressed as a cowgirl, laughing, and calling out, “Yee-haw, Jesus loves you!”
In my mind, we had busted out of a cult and survived all manner of trauma for the name of Jesus – only to find ourselves in a hyped-up crowd of yee-haws, decorations, and smiles. I didn’t know how to process it. I watched my two toddlers in the front row and became sick. How would we teach them about the reality of following Christ, if their view of Him was what I saw then as party and play with a verse or two in the background? And the music. I couldn’t relate to the lyrics; the messages seemed void of the only side of Christianity we’d experienced: sacrifice.
Needless to say, we didn’t fit well into typical church life.
We didn’t fit well into American society either, having been steeped in religion for life, without TVs, sports, or keeping up with things like pop culture and fashion.
We didn’t fit in our former religious group.
We didn’t fit with other couples our ages.
But we settled in fine with the other newcomers and the ones on the sidelines and the ones who made up the fringes. There was more elbow room out there. There were some shared experiences. And, everyone fit there.
Then, in a divine sweep of calling and redemption, the fringes became the front-lines.
It happened after we moved into a house on North Seneca St. We began talking about how disconnected our neighborhood was from the churches we saw around town. And, we wondered if some of the needs we saw around us couldn’t be met by the people we’d met at church – and, in turn, how beautiful it would be to learn a bit from these newcomers about perspective and surviving and what’s really important in life. Their stories inspired me.
And then one day in 2009, I was on my phone, standing at the kitchen counter. I was trying to have an adult conversation amidst cereal crunching under my feet and kids running circles around me. It was about this developing ministry, these relationships that had been forming, and this notion that God was doing something around us.
“I just see it like this, Angie,” I said to my friend. “It’s like the neighborhood and all these people are here, and then there are these well-meaning Christians way over there. There needs to be a way to bridge these groups because they need each other, and they’re not connected. You know? A bridge…”
“So, maybe we should call it that, then,” she said. Angie’s smart like that. The more I overthink, the quicker she gets at cutting through my mumbo-jumbo. “I mean, I like the name The Bridge.”
Thanks for reading as we’ve pieced together our story during this first set of posts. You faithful and supportive readers have made the experience beautiful. We appreciate you.
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.