“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
– Nelson Mandela, South African Statesman
Saturday, December 11, 2010. It was first Saturday night back from Thailand and I went to church, as usual. I was excited to worship again with my home church and to fellowship with friends.
I didn’t expect what came crashing in on me as the first song began to roll.
In my slightly jet-lagged state, I looked around the large auditorium from my normal vantage point. Everything seemed relatively unchanged, despite the transition to a new senior pastor.
Suddenly, I wanted to cry.
Perhaps it was the jet lag. Perhaps it was worshiping for six months in such a different way.
It wasn’t so much that I understood every line coming from the stage (though that is slightly unnerving to me when I return from a place where I don’t speak the language fluently).
It wasn’t simply that I missed my Thai friends and True Friend Church, though that was getting closer.
It was it felt wrong to worship without them there.
“It doesn’t feel right to worship now without a ladyboy on either side, a prostitute across the room crying, a band of homeless beach bums in the back of the room chilling, and a break dancer at the front of the room spinning on his head… all the while with small children running wild.”
– Journal entry December 22, 2010 1:58 am
Abandoning my seat, I began frantically searching. They had to be here. I knew my Thai friends wouldn’t be. But surely there was a transgendered one. Surely there was a girl trying to leave the sex trade. Surely there was someone struggling with homosexuality. Surely there was someone who didn’t have a roof over their head that night. Surely. But if they were there, I didn’t see them from my vantage point as I walked the back of the auditorium. I returned to my seat with an ache in my heart.
Week after week, I walked the back of the auditorium with the same reasoning. “Surely they must be here. I’m just not seeing them. They hide so well here.” The ache was strong… especially since the more I walked the auditorium the more I realized three saddening truths:
1) They probably were not here.
2) If they were here, they probably wouldn’t be as open to an intrusion of love in their lives as the Thai were.
3) I probably knew why they weren’t here.
And that final realization hurt the most of all. They probably were not here because somewhere along the way, someone made them feel that they were not welcome. And that simply wasn’t acceptable any longer. Not when Love desired to make Himself manifest to them. So I kept wandering. Looking. Hoping.
It would have been so easy to have left to try find a church that was like True Friend. I had felt when I came home, though, that I wasn’t to make any major life decisions that weren’t utterly necessary (such as where to work and live) for my first three months back. I had felt that, as I was returning to a place that seemed relatively unchanged, I was to fall back into as normal of a routine as possible. I was to wait for the culture shock to settle out so I could find the ways in which I myself had altered.
In the months that have followed the ache of that first night home has stuck with me. My journey changed me. I am feeling the need to love the Gay Lesbian, Transgendered, and Bi (GLTB) community here. I’ve been realizing how hungry for love they are and how much God wants to love them into wholeness.
It’s completely surprised me.
I always thought my calling was to a place. But I’ve been learning that I’m not called so much to a place, or even a particular group of people, but to love. It’s given me new drive to see and love the one in front of me. Sometimes I do better at that than others. But I’m learning. And I am on a journey to become love.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, I’m still at the church I started out at when I returned home. After all, if my church’s new pastor, Jonathan Wiggins, is cool enough to love and honor a controversial artist, then I trust that he’s also on a journey to become love. I’m assuming that means this would be one of the safest church doorsteps for break dancers, prostitutes, the GLTB community, the homeless, and the broken to show up at.