Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

THURSDAY, APRIL 23, 2009

International Churches Know How to Welcome

I just got back late, late Monday night (or technically, very early Tuesday morning!) from a week-long trip to Costa Rica for some Sabbath time. While there, I visited one of our pastors who serves an English-speaking international church, Escazu Christian Fellowship, in San Jose. (Check out their website: http://www.ecfcr.net/index/Welcome.html).

International churches are unique animals, often made up of people from many different countries from around the world, who have moved to their new country for business. Many come for 5 years or so and then move on, others end up staying for 20-30 years. What they all have in common, though, is that they know that it is important to be part of a community, and they waste no time in joining in. They won’t wait one or two years before deciding to join in, because they know that they may only be there for a few years anyway. They jump in right away. And they invite others in quickly too.

Four of us visited this church last Sunday. We got there a little early and were immediately recognized as visitors, but that didn’t stop one woman from enlisting our aid in putting up a welcome banner almost as soon as we walked in the door. To welcome us, she said! A little later, someone else came up and introduced herself and welcomed us, and engaged us in conversation. While I was apart from the rest of the group someone else introduced himself and engaged me in conversation. After church, several people stayed and visited with us, and because we were all standing and not sitting around tables, it was easy for people to move in and out of conversation with us. It wasn’t overbearing, but there was none of that awkwardness that sometimes happens when we have visitors (should we say hi? Should we introduce ourselves? What will we talk about!?!). It was genuinely welcoming.

As I reflect on that experience, I think I would say that one of the unique things about international churches is that the members know that wherever they are, they are only there for a short time. It is where they are at the moment, and they take full advantage of that moment to belong, to be involved, and to welcome others. Jesus reminded us in his great prayer in John 17 that we “do not belong to this world.” We are just sojouners here for a time. But we are called to live that time fully, for the glory of God, welcoming others into the fellowship of believers. That is what I experienced at Escazu Christian Fellowship, and I hope that is what all visitors find when they visit our churches as well.

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