when your church eats you for dinner...

>> May 5, 2009

My PH knew his calling to ministry since his childhood in Communist Romania. He experienced religious persecution in grade school, I was raised in a missionary family - and we both grew up fairly aware that there are mean people in church. Fortunately, our parents helped us understand that church doesn't automatically make people perfect - so it never fazed us much.

Until one particular church district. It was a fractured church, with a long history of running off its pastors. A few months after we arrived, the senior pastor and his family became the target of a vicious campaign of gossip. They suffered bravely, and we ached alongside them. It was particularly painful for me, as I'd seen my parents subjected to similar pointless vilification at one point in the mission field. The injustice of it all made me question God for a time.

Finally, the senior pastor's family felt that it would be wise to leave. We supported their decision, but it was hard to be left alone to pick up the pieces. My PH spent hours each day on his knees. We shed many tears together, sought counsel and advice from mentors...

When my PH and the church elders gathered the congregation to carry out a few measures of biblical church discipline, we didn't know what would happen next.

Then the hate blogs began. My PH's name, as well as those of the church elders, were maligned in skewed renditions of the church disciplinary actions. Comments left on blog posts indicated that people around the world were reading the hurtful spew, and some were even taking my husband's name into their seminary classes as a case study of "what not to do."

My husband lost 35 pounds over the next few months (and he didn't have much padding to begin with). He looked emaciated, had no appetite. His hours of prayer were interspersed with our agonized conversations on how to lead this community of people in God's will.

He talked about going back to school, getting a degree in business, going into something - anything - else.

One morning we went jogging together, and passed a dead possum in the middle of the road. It took a moment for us to notice the several live babies scattered in the messy roadkill. A car whizzed past us, and with a sickening THUNK one of the babies was gone. We paused, stunned, as cars kept coming. Finally, unfrozen, we flagged traffic to a halt and wrapped the last living baby possum in a jacket.

We stood by the road together, tears streaming down our faces. It was as though we'd just seen a brutal illustration of what was happening at our church. Innocent bystanders and young children torn apart by the actions of those who didn't care.

Eventually, things settled down. By the time we accepted a call to a new church, God had worked healing in a way we'd never expected. We didn't want to leave. As we said goodbye, we cried with our church family. My PH stuck to his call to ministry. And we now knew first hand that God truly can bring wholeness to shattered places.

(Oh yes, and we took the baby possum to an animal rescue center to be raised and released into the wild.)


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