Over the past ten years or so, it has been my good fortune to meet and become friends with many missionaries. These are people who served for years in foreign lands, having children and raising them all over the world from Thailand to Zimbabwe. After a fifteen-twenty year run, they have retired into the administrative end of the business here in Richmond at the International Mission Board. Through this happy accident of geography, many of them have joined our church and provided us with much needed injections of legitimate righteousness over the years. As a bonus, I had the privilege of getting to know their kids when I worked in the Youth department of our church.
These ex-missionaries have formed a unique community. All of them, all of their families seem connected. Although they served in different countries and none of them are related by blood, the bond of their shared mission has turned them all into an extended family. Their children refer to all of the men and women as “aunts” and “uncles”. It’s really quite charming and enviable. Because Pam and I have become close friends with many of them we often get invited to social events and get-togethers, and they are always great fun, although Pam and I often joke that we feel like the token heathens. The reason I say that is that when it comes to the business end of the Gospel, ie, the actual spreading of it, these people have been front line troupes; they are all grizzled veterans in the work of evangelism and have made huge sacrifices to bring the message of Christ to hurting people. Around them I feel like a civilian, one of those annoying guys sitting in his padded pew on Sunday, writing the occasional check, but never actually doing anything dangerous or important. Listening to their war stories, as inspiring as they are, always reminds me of how cushy and uninspired my spiritual life has been.
One of their neat traditions concerns a ritual of sorts that occurs when one of their sons is about to get married. All of the men get together at someone’s house. There’s a big cookout with steaks and chicken, and all manner of delicious food, all prepared by the men. There are no women around. After dinner, everyone gets together in the living room. Each man takes turns saying a few words to the prospective groom. Much of it is typical guy stuff, complete with gag gifts, and terrible advice, lots of laughter and teasing. But then each man is expected to offer a word of scripture and some serious words about the awesome responsibility of being a husband and father. The words of advice must be in writing so they can be given to the groom to keep. I’ve been invited to another such event this week. This time, the groom will be in Atlanta, and our advice will be broadcast to him via Skype.
I always leave these events feeling that surely this is how the body of Christ was designed to work. The bond and commitment between brothers and sisters in Christ should be every bit as strong and serious as the ones in our own families. If this was actually how churches worked, there would be lines forming at the doors every Sunday morning.