Monday, February 14, 2011

Church In A Very Small Place

Papua is one of the few areas of Indonesia that is considered ‘Christian.’  The local church I attend built a large new structure for the express purpose of being able to do ministry better.  I don't see how the cavernous structure has changed us much except that now most of us can't understand much of what is said from the pulpit because the sound echoes around the inside so badly.  I certainly don't see any evidence that we're doing ministry any better.

About the time our church building was finished, I had to make a quick trip to the opposite end of the archipelago and while there I stayed in the home of an Indonesian friend. This part of the country is definitely not considered 'Christian,' nor is it particularly friendly to those who call themselves by that name (three churches were burned to the ground just last week).  The evening I arrived, my friend had a ‘church’ meeting to attend and invited me along. I have no idea where we ended up because we drove for over an hour through dark, winding back streets until we stopped in front of a small unfinished house in a long row of small unfinished houses. My friend and I went inside, joining about 15 other men already there.  The windowless room had no furniture whatsoever.  Completely bare.  We sat along the walls on the concrete floor. We started with a time of worship.  It was  unbelievable.  A guy gently strummed a guitar and the rest of us sang softly--we couldn’t let anyone outside hear what was going on. Halfway through the second song a torrential rain started...we sang with chance anyone would hear us with the clamor of the rain on the tin roof.  My friend shared from the Word. Then they had a time of sharing their burdens with each other. It was only at this point that I realized that these men enjoying this sweet fellowship were a pretty eclectic bunch of Jesus' followers.  They covered the denominational and doctrinal spectrum: a pentecostal, a catholic, several evangelicals, a member of a liberal denomination...and I don't remember the labels for the rest of them. Because their own fellowships had no church buildings (and very few members), these guys met here regularly to worship.

Tonight the agenda was to find a way to respond to a letter from militants threatening the group in response to their plan to build a small ‘prayer room’ structure out of bamboo. It was fun to essentially be a 'fly on the wall' and watch the peaceful way in which this diverse group processed a volatile issue.  Jesus was there. Unity was there. Love, across enormous cultural and denominational differences, was there.

A bunch of us crammed into my friend's car to head home.  I sat in the back and listened to these men yearn for the day when they could have a ‘real church building.' I told them that I attended a church with a beautiful, spacious building--and we even have benches to sit on!--but I would give anything for my church body to experience what they had shared together in that cramped, stuffy, unfurnished room tonight.  I think they thought I was a bit nuts when I told them that I suspected that if they ever got their wish, they would miss these clandestine nights of sweet fellowship.

I'm prone to wonder...does having a 'real church building' really enhance our communing with each other as brothers?  Does a well designed facility really help us encounter Jesus?  Or do the places we build ourselves to meet in make us so comfortable that the structure is actually getting in the way of exactly what we hope to have happen?