Once upon a time, I didn’t go to church.
Not that I had anything against it. I just didn’t “get” it. When I became a believer, I did so through the witness of a friend at my public high school. Our friendship lent itself to great discipleship and tremendous growth throughout my teenage years, but it didn’t lead to any kind of church membership and spotty, at best, attendance.
In college, there were a lot of opportunities for me to serve in missions capacities, something I was very passionate about, during the summers. A requirement for that, though, was active membership in a local church. Figuring any church was as good as any other in this regard, I was finally baptized and joined Houston’s First Baptist Church… where I quickly disappeared into the children’s ministry, serving there and living, very sincerely, on the fringes of the body of Christ in that particular community. It was a great church — don’t get me wrong. But it was a big church where I could easily get lost and never “get” church.
And so I didn’t.
When I moved to Namibia to begin my term there, my position required that I serve under the umbrella of an already established Baptist church in Swakopmund. It went by the name, as you would likely suspect, of Swakopmund Baptist Church (so original!) and met in a rented facility for Sunday services, in members’ homes for Wednesday services, and at the parsonage for Tuesday prayer meetings. My first week in Namibia I stayed in the home of a church member, met many more, and got to know my pastor and his wife fairly well… to the point that when I accidentally locked myself in my garage a few days into my life in Swakopmund, they were the ones I frantically called. (And they rescued me. Hallelujah!) By the time I got up to the pulpit on my first Sunday to simply tell the congregation how excited I was to be there, I already got the sense that here? I would “get” what all the fuss was about church.
There was, first and foremost, my pastor and his wife. He was from Cape Town, and she was from Johannesburg. Because of their own ex-pat status, they saw themselves as missionaries as well. (Missionaries who were in a much better position than I was in, seeing as how Marlene was/is Afrikaans and spent a good deal of her time during my two years there translating and likely just not getting how I could JUST NOT GET the language. Shame, man.) From the very first moment I met them, they both invested so much in me, informally discipling me, sharing their lives with me, having me over for dinner every week, and blessing me during lonely holidays by inviting me over like their long lost little sister.
(And Marlene would totally be okay with me posting this picture because, in her own words, “I was pregnant when you got here, and now, I’m pregnant as you’re leaving.” Blessed!)
Then, there was the congregation, of course. I’ve never known a more varied congregation, full of such a wide range of ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and views. We had members from Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Ghana, Colombia, and of course, with me there, Texas. (People were more excited about Texas than the US. Because Texas is awesome, y’all.) We had so many denominations in that Baptist church and from such broad understandings of those denominations that our real cornerstone of faith was Christ alone… and we spent many an hour sorting out the particulars of it all. (For example, did you know that Methodists from West Africa are reformed? John Wesley would roll over in his grave.) I remember at one point, during an amazing prayer meeting and Bible study in the home of a Pentecostal Dutch Reformed background Afrikaans couple (again, wow), hearing the different languages and praising the Lord that HE IS THE SAME. And that people from all over the world and all backgrounds can know and love the same Savior.
After two years of loving this congregation, being loved on by this congregation, and lovingly serving with this congregation, I could honestly say, for the first time, that I loved church. This body and the fellowship we shared, the common love for Scripture, and the hope in Christ is what church should be about. It’s what the New Testament church is supposed to look like, and I have no doubt, especially in light of the international aspect of this particular church, that eternity will look like this as well.
So thankful for Swakopmund Baptist Church… and the wonderful churches I’ve been in since, that have been just as wonderful. Praising God for the local church and for our unity in Christ!