Every year for the past decade the saints at the First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights have sent a team of adults to Texas as a part of our attempt to better relate to the national and global church, to build community in our own body, and to offer some assistance to those who have been struck by disaster. This week I will attempt to tell some part of our story as we seek to make our world smaller and our lives bigger through service and learning.
There’s a couple of hundred yards of Crooked Creek shoreline in Erie County, PA.
There are my two black chairs right next to my fish tank.
There’s a spot on the road between Liwonde and Ntaja, Malawi.
There’s a room in the cardiac care wing of Presbyterian University Hospital.
I don’t know where they are for you, but I’m betting you’ve got one or two or more… spots from which you have glimpsed the Holy – places to which you have returned more than once because you have found that those are spots where you simply know that God abides, and because you have sensed it there, you think, it’s reasonable to assume that the Presence might be anywhere. You have places where you have found belief that remind you that you can continue to carry belief even when it seems nonsensical, or wearisome, or simply too heavy.
Most people think that those spots are functional – fishing holes or furniture or paved road or a health care center – but to me, it’s a place where I’ve fished and heard the voice of God, or the location of some of the most deeply personal and intimate conversations with which a pastor has been entrusted, or the place where I remember the beauty and wonder of the God with humor enough to create Baobab trees, or a spot where I’ve witnessed faith and family and healing that strengthens my soul.
Thursday evening I was privileged to be in one of those spots – a place to which we’ve returned several times over the past few years. It’s a lovely tree next to a little purple home outside of Mission, Texas. It’s a tree that has provided me with shade on some really hot days, conversation and friendship on many days, and incredible glimpses of the kingdom on a few occasions.
In 2015 our team worked on a home that afforded us the opportunity to strike up a wonderful relationship with the family who lived there. In the years since then, every single time we’ve visited the Rio Grande Valley – every single time – we have been invited over for conversation and a meal. Tonight, we visited that family again, and saw more chicken and sausage than anyone knew what to do with. There was a bigger pot of beans than anyone from Pittsburgh had ever seen before.
We sat by the fire, we sat under the tree, and some of us who were there for the first time engaged in conversation with gracious people. Others, who’d been there before, took the opportunity to hear and learn and share things that one does with friends in holy places like this.
I heard from one of the young adults in the home that when we were first there, they didn’t know what to make of us. We sure laughed a lot, and we spilled a lot of paint. But I was told of how it felt to go from having five people sleeping and living in a single room with a single bed to having a real house, where when it rains or storms, you are safe; of how it feels to be able to go to school and know you have an address; of what it means to be able to think about a future in service to others.
And I was reminded of those holy places in my life, and I thanked God for glimpses into the eternal.
All of the above was just AFTER dinner. Before dinner, we did a lot of stuff that you’d expect from us this week: painting, roofing, drywalling, laughing, and spilling paint. Here are a few images of our Thursday, as selected by our team’s primary photographer, Josie. We appreciate your prayers.
Karren continues to conquer her discomfort with being on the roof by teaching that shingle who’s the boss…
Jon and Lindsay are taking care of the other side of the home…
Our hallway transitions from lime green to sunshine yellow…
Kayla, you really shouldn’t be having this much fun painting the house…
Jessica? Where’s Jessica? The last time I saw her, she went into the dining room with a paintbrush…
Every day we are here, the people of Mission Presbyterian Church offer us a hot lunch. Today, we were blessed to have homemade noodles from our friend Carol. She and her late husband Rog have been stalwart supporters of this mission.
Sacred conversation around the Lord’s table…
And here is the tree that reminds me that God is faithful, even when I doubt. I hope you can sit here one day.