It is Jacques with his African rhythm in accents that the God of Berundi speaks and Annalee beside him embracing her uniqueness as if the Creator of the universe personally dabbled in her DNA. And there are their girls boldly bringing friends to church because God is powerful.
And there is this tremendous group of teens who each have a tale, some sordid and some heart breaking, but each one sounds like a miracle story scripted by a God who intimately cares.
And George with his virtuoso fingers flying over ivory keys in some magical improvisation of a worship song that I once new.
And Ruth and Helen beside us and Janet singing and Steve on the guitar and Matt keeping sound in the back, who spend their weekends and their life energy at church, buying bread for bacon rolls and single handedly frying up a zillion rashers of bacon on a Friday night so that people who roll out of bed on a ridiculously early Saturday morning have something to eat before they set to work praying for missionaries that they don’t even know. Who does that? Really. In the scope of the world, with its priorities, who actually does something like that?
And there is Pastor Jim who still wears a cross chain from his days as a rocker and he prays over us and I get God-chills.
And there are Hannah and Ben and James who spend their teen years at the church like it was their home or Scotland’s newest youth trend: chill at the church on the corner by the pub. Because they grew up here, playing hide and seek under the pews, this place really is their home. Every time the doors were open, they were at the church; taking their naps and learning to walk holding onto the altar.
It isn’t about state of the art anything or nice carpet or a multi-purpose room or a kickin’ sound system. This church knew Time long before Eastern Europe was a bloc or cars drove down streets. The stuff doesn’t make a vibrant church. The people do.
Truth be told. It is Jesus IN the people.
Truth be told, it is people who actually believe that being IN Jesus is sanctuary.
We don’t think a lot about sanctuary anymore. What, with our comfortable homes and our insulated lives, do we actually need Jesus? Sure, when the doctors cannot diagnose us, when governments of other countries threaten us, when nature goes nuts, then, we mention his name. But, on a day to day basis … we got this. Maybe that is why sanctuary becomes a big room with space for enough people to grow and matching carpet and high definition projectors. None of that is wrong, actually, but, honestly, that is not sanctuary.
Sanctuary is a dead straight run through solid-wood doors that slam your demons in the face. Sanctuary is the geographical line in the sand where death loses to life. Sanctuary is the one dry spot on a flooded Earth. Sanctuary is the only clean oxygen that does not tempt you to inhale, shoot up, or put out to escape pain. Sanctuary punches a fist in the plans of pimps. It locks the doors to dictators; it’s the one sane place on a planet gone wild. Sanctuary is safety.
When you live in another country, you start to conceptualize ‘sanctuary’. You know where your embassy is and how to get there in case of civil unrest. You keep a bag with the passports and enough cash to buy emergency airplane tickets hidden by the door. You have an emergency evacuation plan. Sanctuary is the geographical difference between life and death.
I felt that concept Friday night at the church around the corner from the pub in Perth. Gillian was there with her paper cup games and her candy for the tuck shop; a core group of teens came early to plan; the chairs rolled back in the room the church folk call the sanctuary and the teens came rolling in.
There was Conrad with his Polish-British accent who called me ‘Mama America’ and hugged me two sizes smaller and a new friend who came to the church when she was still using because Gillian kept returning to her public school annoying her with tales of a guy named Jesus. At 17, she had the sense to know that if she didn’t run for help, the drugs were gonna kill her. So she gathered up her pride and marched through the doors of Gillian’s church around the corner from the pub. She was thinking that she didn’t belong but where else do you run when life’s fuse is about to fizzle?
And there were the siblings who each live with a different divorced parent and the room that the folks call a sanctuary was full of teens on a Friday night; babies, who should be too young to know that they even need sanctuary. But, sometimes life stinks.
I was that teen once. Literally running through the streets from people in a pickup truck trying to catch me and drag me back to my past. I ran to the door of a youth pastor’s home and pounded with all my might. He opened and I fell over the threshold and slammed the door shut. Truth. And, he said to me, “I promise you they won’t get past my door. You are safe here.’
That. Is. Sanctuary.
THAT is why the church around the corner from the pub in Perth is full of teens on a Friday night, and prayers on a Saturday morning, and people on a Sunday.
There is a rescue going on.
An old-school sanctuary full of folk doing what Jesus did – laying down their comforts, their Friday nights, their money, their energy, their free-time, their family-time, their lives. Going into schools and neighborhoods with a message: ‘if hell’s hounds are at your back, and the war is raging in your home, and the demons are in you and all over you, if stuff is pierced and the clothes are tight, if the whisky is running out and hope is gone. Run!’
Run for. Cry for. Sanctuary.
So, are your doors open?
Thank you Perth Trinity Church of the Nazarene for showing us Jesus
For King and Country has an incredible song called ‘The Proof of Your Love’. Click to listen.