I sat in the second row from the front at the Leaders Alive conference, my heart crying out to God for answers. “Talk to me, God!” I prayed. “I need to hear from You!” I was struggling with acute loneliness where God had placed our family. Even though I loved our small town, I had been unprepared for the culture shock of moving out of our Anabaptist community.
My friends from my old community seemed to sail on through life as always, getting together and enjoying each other and not worrying too much about the upside-down world outside. I was desperately longing for another family or two to come to our town to recreate some sense of familiarity for me.
But it wasn’t happening. Will and I had never felt called to plant a church; rather, we felt called to simply move into the community and become part of life here, listening to people and spreading God’s loving presence. God’s church in Medicine Lodge was already present. Still, I wanted the comfort of people like me to partner with us in this town.
My soul was at a breaking point; thus my desperate prayers to God for answers at this conference in Indiana. At the end of the final service, Will and I went with a bunch of others to the front of the church and knelt at the altar to pray.
After a bit, I realized that someone was behind me praying for us. This gentleman whom I had never met before prayed, and then sat and talked to us. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face as I spoke of what was on my heart.
This gentleman (who I discovered later was Dwayne Sensenig from Arrows of Truth Ministry) then gave me the words I didn’t want to hear.
Among other things, he said, “You are going to find the support that you need right within your town. God is going to bring you people from your town to bless you and walk beside you.”
My spirit resonated with his words, but my heart sank. I did not want to go back all alone into my town! I wanted people who knew and understood my Anabaptist culture.
Still, in the following months, those words never left me. I felt a subtle but definite shift in my heart. The four years I’ve lived in this town have been a steady whittling away of my pride, and this prophecy contributed to that painful pruning.
Growing up in a tight-knit culture that surrounded me with so many warm memories, I had this underlying belief that it was the best church group possible. That no other denomination was quite as good or as spiritual. I would be lying to say that I don’t still think this sometimes.
But I also am realizing that I’m partial to what I’m accustomed to. I thought the Anabaptists followed the Bible better than everyone else because I noticed the aspects that they’re especially good at. For instance, spirituality is a normal and celebrated part of life for Anabaptists in contrast to what felt to me like a shallow spirituality in so many others. Even though I criticized the denomination freely, I still saw them as superior. Their shortcomings didn’t seem as important as their strengths.
This is such a twisted and prideful way of thinking. I’m discovering, as I interact with Christians with other denominations, that I have so much to learn from others. So much, and I have been too arrogant to know it. What I thought was purity in the church was an exclusivity that God never wanted for His followers.
The Anabaptist’s pride in their own group is stronger than what I have seen in any other denomination so far. Other churches I’ve attended have not pushed their superiority nearly to the same extent. (This pride is subtle and extremely hard to see unless you step out of the community for a while.)
The pride has been very hard for me to acknowledge. Realizing these things has broken my heart to the extent that any good that I see in any group feels worth cherishing. I’ve had to give up the desire for others to know and acknowledge the unique good in my birth culture.
Strangely, the more I see the chinks in my birth culture and shed my pride, the more accepting I also feel of it. I’m less inclined to criticize Anabaptism if it is not the utopia of Christianity. I see Mennonite groups as being part of a much bigger picture–all the different denominations give us bits and pieces of what God is like. Not so much is at stake if one denomination isn’t the sole carrier of truth. I hope to make my heritage an important part of what I pass on to my children, but it is only a part.
e has taught me the importance of truly listening to people, of seeing His body at work in multiple settings, of treasuring the good without comparing to what I think is better.
And what has been the result? I am finding a network of support in the most surprising ways and places. Sometimes I still feel achingly lonely, yes, but I know that I am not actually alone. I talk with an unbeliever on my street and discover that her heart longings are not so different from mine. I’m surprised and deeply blessed by an impromptu communion service at work. I watch a single mom parent her kids, and learn from her tenacity and unselfishness. Over and over, I am humbled.
Rarely a week goes by that I do not think of those prophetic words that I didn’t want to hear; the words that sliced through another layer of my pride and released me to see the good around me. I have found it true: God’s church is here, and it has blessed me more than I can express. I am loved and supported right here in my town by the people in my town in ways that I don’t deserve.
God is at work here and now.
How have words from others changed you, even when you didn’t want to hear them?