Wednesday, May 23, 2018

We go to church with a truck

Clovis Missionary Baptist Church, Clovis, CA
“What does that say?” Donny asked.

Mindy and I read the sign. We were certain it clearly read, “Doc’s Garage.”

“That’s not it,” Donny told us. As I pondered my literary competence, Donny explained, “It’s Disciples of Christ’s Garage. There’s a madness to my mayhem,” he added. The stage under the sign is used every Friday night from May to September for the church’s hot rod gatherings.

Donny mentioned that there are many car shows in the Valley, but, he said, “we don’t do anything the way we’re supposed to.” The church doesn’t take sign-ups, charge admission fees, or limit the kinds of cars displayed. They don’t bring in food trucks that gouge the crowds; instead, the church sets up a barbeque and gives out food on a donation basis. It just so happens, they usually get more money that way than if they’d set a price for the food. Donny said, “It may seem we know what we’re doing… We just trust God.”

Clovis Missionary Baptist Church has been holding Hot Rod Gatherings for nine years now. They usually have at least three or four new people every week -- and a lot of regulars. Donny told me he overheard one of the regulars telling a visitor, “We don’t talk like that here at our church.” Donny said the regular had never been to a Sunday morning worship service, just Friday nights, but he considered CMBC his church. Some those Friday night folks have reached out to the church for help with counseling, for weddings and funerals, and some have even come for worship on Sunday morning.

Pointing to the sanctuary, Donny said, “People ask questions they wouldn’t be comfortable asking inside that building.” He said the gatherings are a good two-way street, allowing outsiders to get to know people in the church and people in the church to get to know outsiders.

We weren’t visiting on a Friday night -- we came for a Sunday night worship service on the church lawn. Nonetheless, there were cars (and a motorcycle) on display on the front lawn where the Hot Rod Gatherings are held.

The song leader (the only person wearing a tie that evening) said instead of using songbooks, we were going to sing familiar songs, beginning with “Victory in Jesus,” continuing with “Amazing Grace” and “God is So Good.”

Russell Bailey, the pastor of the church for the last thirteen years, came forward to speak. His text was Luke 14: 28 - 30, the passage about counting the cost before building a tower, so he talked about taking on a project without considering all that was in involved. He brought along quite a visual aid: a 1955 GMC pickup truck he’d traded for on Craigslist -- a truck that ended up needing much more work than anticipated.

“There are areas in our lives we need help, and there are people who can help,” he said, describing how others had helped him with the truck (which isn’t quite running yet). He pointed out that we’re often afraid to admit we need help. We lie to ourselves and say, “This won’t be a big deal.” His sermon closed with an invitation to receive Christ (as all good Baptist messages do).

After the service, we chatted with Pastor Bailey. He mentioned that for a long time the church emphasized foreign missions (after all, the church has “missionary” in their name.) But they realized that while they’d been obeying Christ’s call from Acts 1:8 to go to the ends of the earth, they hadn’t been going to their “Jerusalem.” With that realization, they began to put more of an emphasis on local ministry.

One of those ministries is Rafa Ranch, which uses “equine assisted learning” to help kids (I take it that means horses are involved). At Christmas, church members provide free hot chocolate to people seeing the lights on Candy Cane Lane. They participate in the Big Hat Days Clovis Rodeo Parade, and as far as they know, they’re the only church that does so. And they have a program called Clovis Connect to reach the community.
After the brief worship service, we headed into the fellowship hall with our chairs for sandwiches. The selection of fillings and breads were abundant; an old-school drinks cooler was filled with bottled water and sodas, and the dessert table was full of cookies, pies, cakes, and homemade ice cream.

I sat down with Donny and Cole (who runs the Clovis Connect program). During the week of Clovis Connect, they do a variety of projects. They go to markets and hand out free quality shopping bags. They do free car washes. They hold a daytime VBS program. They do a Pay It Forward program. And they figure on carrying on many of these programs throughout the year.

Donny told us that DOC’s garage, along with much of the promotional artwork for Hot Rod Gatherings, was done by a man who attends the Hot Rod Gatherings, but doesn’t attend the church. The church loves his work, but they’ve decided, for a variety of reasons, to do away with the brand names in the backdrop. They’ve painted over the “Firestone” on the tire, but are trying to decide what to put in its place. I suggested “Godsrich” -- you know, like “Goodrich” but not? 

I doubt they’ll take my suggestion because Hot Rod Gatherings at Clovis Missionary Baptist Church tend to do things better than that.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mindy goes to a movie

Movie Night, Greenwood Village South, Greenwood, Indiana
Dean was at home in Fresno this past week, and his work schedule restricted the time he had for visiting a new church. I, on the other hand, was visiting my dad in Indiana to celebrate his 90th birthday. While there were plenty of "church" activities available, we'd already written about a wedding and about worshiping at Southport Presbyterian Church. Due to other obligations, I wouldn't be able to visit the morning devotional times, Bible studies, or hymn sing held at various times through the week at Greenwood Village South, the retirement community where my dad lives.

What to do?

Thankfully, two showings of The Hiding Place were scheduled for the weekend. It's the only film made by the Billy Graham Association in which Billy Graham doesn’t appear, and while Dean had hoped to include it in April's Christian Movie Month over at Movie Churches, there just weren't enough weeks.

The film (based on the book of the same title) is the true story of one family’s response to the Nazi persecution of Jews in the Netherlands during World War 2. Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie lived with their elderly father, a watchmaker, and their lives had revolved around family and service to the community, with Christian faith motivating their everyday activities. As persecution of Jews became more and more brutal, the sisters realized that they had to find a way to care for those their father called “the apple of God’s eye.”

When a man they'd offered to help betrayed them, Betsie, Corrie, and their 85-year-old father were arrested. Casper ten Boom died ten days after their arrest; the sisters were held and eventually transferred to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Corrie struggled to forgive the brutal guards and to trust God's love, even as she recognized His care for them in such things as providing medicine and allowing them to have a Bible.

I wondered what it would be like to watch the movie with people who had some memories or even first-hand experiences from that time. I also wondered how the audience -- generally church-goers, but not exclusively -- would respond to the very evangelical message of the film.

It turns out, the audience was pretty much like any other movie audience: they joked about hurrying from dinner to the movie (one man had brought his dessert along). They teased the employee who brought popcorn and got the movie started. One woman in the row ahead of me wondered aloud where else she’d seen one of the actresses. One couple left after the scene in which the ten Booms were arrested, and I wondered if it was because of the scene’s violence.

I was surprised that the 40-year-old film had as much impact as it did when I first saw it, years before Schindler’s List. A few quotes will give you an idea:

When their nephew says, “Whatever helps Holland is right” while asking Betsie and Corrie to pass information vital to sabotage a German project (by bombing it), Corrie refuses, wondering, “What will we be like when this is over?”

Later, a Jewish professor hiding in their home asks her, “You have your father and your religion. Has it been enough?”

Corrie smiles, “More than enough. God has been very good to me.”

A pastor refuses to help the ten Boom family hide a Jewish baby. “Where would the church be without their pastor?” he asks, noting that he could be arrested and that the Bible instructs people to obey the law.

Corrie’s father, who has embarrassed the pastor by wearing a yellow star as a symbol of his support of the Jews (who are required to identify themselves), tells him, “We are meant to obey the law of the land unless it goes against the higher law. I will take off the star, but we will keep the child.” That baby is the first of many, many Jews whom the family hides, providing ration cards, false identities, and room in their home -- including the secret room behind Corrie’s closet.

In other words, the film held up. Issues of concern for the suffering, persistence in difficulty, forgiveness when wronged, and trust in God's care resonated with me. In spite of the movie's two-and-a-half-hour running time, few people got up for more popcorn, whispered, or even went to the bathroom.

As the credits rolled, the two dozen people in the meeting room left much more quietly than they had entered. I wondered if the lateness of the hour (it was after 9:00 pm) or the emotion of the story was the reason; I wondered if anybody in the group talked about the movie the next day.

I wondered how far I’m willing to go in God’s service and how much I'm willing to trust Him.