Monday, November 5, 2012

A Tale of Two Churches

Inside Bethany Church
A busy Saturday in Surabaya was followed by a Sunday of contrasts.

In the morning, we attended Bethany Church. Unless I am mistaken, it is the largest church in southeast Asia. I'm not sure how many people the auditorium seats, but I think I was told 20,000.

Riding the escalator up to church

Bethany Church - Front view
When we arrived, many of the seats were empty. By the time the service was well underway, the auditorium was pretty much full. It was, most certainly, a lively service.The message was taken from the account of the twelve spies in the land of Canaan. Specifically, of course, the pastor highlighted Joshua and Caleb's trust that God, who had promised the land to them as more than capable to keep His promise.

This is a message that has been very significant to me ever since 1990 when I wrote a children's musical based on this same story for my students in Papua New Guinea.

Catching up with Eldi

After lunch and a bit of rest time, several of us got to catch up with one of the graduates from the children's home who now lives in Surabaya. The three of us enjoyed this time. Well, actually, Rachel didn't enjoy it so much as we was not feeling very well, but at least she got to see "Kak Eldi".


Very narrow church meeting room
That evening, we joined with believers in a very different setting. This time, we had to drive through a cemetery to get to the meeting place. There, we found the believers meeting in a long, narrow room attached to a children's home.


Trio of boys livened things up
This room was wide enough to place four chairs across with a narrow aisle in between. The room was hot. The fans could only do so much to keep the air moving. A dog periodically meandered up and down the aisle into the main part of the children's home. A trio of little boys did the same from time-to-time, but not as quietly. The believers gathered there were enthusiastic in their worship.

As we anticipated, the pastor gave an opportunity to introduce our team members, and for one of us to share something from the Word. Our team leader, Phil, is always prepared to do this is asked, but like a good leader, he gave the other team members a chance to share. I had been impressed by the message heard that morning, and felt that God might want something similar to be shared with the believers at the smaller fellowship. 

So it was that I had the privilege of bringing a word of encouragement to the brothers and sisters there. The message was this. 

God has a "Promised Land" for His people. Many think that in our "Promised Land" we will be wealthy and life will be easy. I believe that the "Promised Land" God wants to give us is so much bigger than a fat bank account. He wants to give us strong families, and relationships that build up and encourage. He wants us to know freedom from all things that control us and keep us from Him. He wants us to know joy in the midst of trouble. Peace in the midst of the storm. He wants to give us all this and more.

Sharing with believers at a tiny fellowship
There is only one problem. THERE ARE GIANTS IN THE LAND. Too often, we see the problems, the giants that get in the way of knowing God's peace, joy and unity. We might despair of ever reaching our "Promised Land". We must remember that God is far bigger than any giant, and He is more than able to give us what He has promised as we step out in faith.

I sat down, and the pastor gave his own message. Either he bounced off of what I had just shared, or God had orchestrated things so that he had already planned to speak about the same thing, applying the message more directly to the exact needs of his congregation.

I sat there during his message fanning Rachel, who was feeling pretty lousy by that time. She slept most of the last part of the service with her head on my lap. The very warm room didn't help things at all. The two ladies across the aisle kept looking over at us with concern.

When the service ended, as is customary in these smaller fellowships, everyone shook hands with everyone. The dear ladies from across the aisle made sure to ask the pastor to pray for Rachel. I was very touched by their concern.

We headed back out through the cemetery to the car and drove back to the hotel. Rachel headed straight for her bed, and fell asleep right away. I decided that if she was that tired, sleep was more important than brushing teeth...and she could just sleep in her clothes that night. (Just so you know, that DOESN'T happen very often.) 

Yes, that Sunday was a day of contrasts. I did find one thing in common, though. Whether it is a mega-church or a tiny congregation, in Indonesia, America, Australia or wherever - we all need to live in the reality that our God is a big God. Whatever giants we may face, He is far bigger. We can trust Him to lead us into our "Promised Land".

These are the lyrics for the theme song of the children's musical, Giants in the Land, that I mentioned earlier. They were sung by the characters of Joshua, Caleb, and two children who couldn't understand why all the grown-ups had forgotten the great things God had done for them already. I hope these words will be an encouragement to you.

As long as our God goes before us
There is nothing that can stand in our way.
As long as we follow Jehovah,
He will lead us ev'ry step of the way.

The same God who freed us from Egypt
And parted the waters of the sea,
Is with us now to lead us
To the Promised Land in victory.

The foe may seem to strong for us
But our God is greater still.
And He will stay beside us
As we're willing to do His will.

As long as our God is with us,
We will always be sure to stand.
 As long as our God goes before us,
We can drive out the giants in the land. 

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