She was sitting on the sofa under a tapestry of a desert scene, laughing and making jokes with those nearby, scooping sweet sticky rice into a cup to take home. A snapshot of a Filipino fiesta celebration. Her friends were churchmates. We had all walked over from our monthly joint house church communion together and gathered at a church leader’s house to eat the dinner provided for whoever would stop by. The joy in the room was palpable, because we were all believers gathered in a community that is growing closer and deeper with each day. This woman was once hard. She didn’t like to leave her house, and when she did would stay quiet and reserved. The woman I saw before me today was a woman transformed.
And so was the woman hosting us. One of the first believers in our ministry here, when we first met her she had an expression that I can only describe as gray. I’ll never forget the look on her face the day after she surrendered to Jesus. Her eyes sparkled and she was literally shining. The sparkle and the shine have only grown on her, and she wears them well. Nicknamed “Pastora,” she led us today in worship on the karaoke machine at the bar-turned-house-church where one of the churches gathers every Sunday. “Joy, I’m so full of joy,” she often says.
Last night one of the young men in our ministry rejoined us after a couple of months interning in Manila. He reported having found a church there, and how peaceful he felt when he entered it. He enjoyed getting to know other believers, and came home rejoicing about how God had guided him during his time away. His hands were some of the first to go up as our community worshiped today.
His best friend prayed over our food as we gathered to eat lunch. His prayer was deep and meaningful as he glorified God with his words. We tease him by putting the title “pastor” before his name, because to be a pastor is to be wholeheartedly evangelical. For this boy raised in the catholic church as a sacristan, a pastor is the last thing he ever thought he’d be. But now he leaves through the pages of his Bible searching for the last truth that struck him, so he can share it. In our last mentoring meeting with him he claimed boldly about his Bible, “We have to follow this before we follow tradition.”
At that same meeting was a man whose transformation is near unbelievable. He is the husband of one of our key leaders. He worked in Manila, but came home last year and stayed. Jealousy and drunken rage characterized his interactions with our community, and we prayed for him from a distance. His wife, who we were encouraging to get baptized, wanted to wait until she could be baptized with her husband. “If that is what she’s waiting on, she’ll never be baptized,” I would turn away thinking. But God uses all things for his good for those who love Him, a promise we can hold close to our hearts. A youth in the ministry had been telling this man he needed to surrender to Jesus. He was resistant, until this youth was tragically killed. In the aftermath, this man drew nearer to our community, began to really accept the words of Christ, and surrendered his heart. His faith began like a child’s faith: simple. And God did what his wife had been waiting for. Their whole family was baptized together on a Sunday last August. Since then we’ve seen his growth come in fits and spurts. Lately he has been exhibiting the deepening of faith that only comes through the Holy Spirit. Excited about what he read about Jesus in Revelation 1, he led our mentoring group in a discussion in which we had a chance to teach about the Kingdom of God and how in it, we are kings and priests.
Royalty and Priests. I have had a front-row seat these past five years to watch these five people go from slaves to kings and queens. From blind followers to the priesthood of believers. Spirits transformed from hardness to joviality. Lives given purpose and vision. Black hearts made clean.
Who am I that I get to be a part of such joy and transformation? Who am I that I get to give my life for Jesus and the people He died for? Who am I that I get to spend my life planting churches and being a part of this kind of life change? Jesus has been so utterly undeservedly good to me.
And that is why, on days like today, I sense a renewed commitment to the work of church planting. There are so many people who need their lives to tell stories just like these. They are hurting and they are lost, and there is no one to tell them that Jesus loves them.
The work of the Kingdom is not easy, but the rewards are delicious to the spirit. Let’s get to it. There’s a hard, gray, eager, misled, angry world waiting.