Last year about this time, Jill and I went to a village just north of Jinja, Uganda. We helped build a playground for an orphanage cradled in a bend of the Nile river. I still think of the children there every day, and about the place. I will never forget it. I wish I was there now. In fact, I wanted to stay then. There has been in me a lifelong longing to go and see, a longing I have not often been able to satisfy in my life. But that place was not where God intended for me. He had in mind for me and my family another mission. And it didn’t involve going and seeing, but of being here and doing.
I have been a member of Houston’s First Baptist Church since 1974. I haven’t always attended, or even lived in Houston for all that time. Still, it has always been my church. But my church is not very close to where I live in Houston. Where I live is so far away it isn’t even called Houston any more, it’s called Cypress. The distance didn’t stop us from going, though. We made the drive every Sunday (or most Sundays at least), and all the while our children were getting older. And then they were old enough to start wanting to be with there friends in Sunday school, they even started doing things with their friends from school at their local churches.
That’s when we started looking for a church closer to home, somewhere we could get more involved. We tried a church in Jersey Village and one in Fairfield and another one right here in Cypress. It was the at church in Cypress that we learned about the orphanage in Uganda. I’m sure God had something to do with that, too, but the church still wasn’t right for us, for whatever reason. None of the churches we tried were right for us. So, we went back to First. It was our home.
It didn’t take long to understand why we were back at First. It was just another Sunday. The only difference was we didn’t sit where we usually do. And from that new vantage point Pastor Gregg told us they were planting a new church, like the one they had planted downtown the year before. A new church in Cypress. They had even chosen a pastor for the new campus, Jason Swiggert. No significance for us there, unless, of course, it’s okay to count the fact that Jason married my wife and I in the chapel at First Baptist or that he baptized our daughter, Grace.
For my wife it was a thunderbolt, the answer. I must admit, though, I wasn’t quite as sure. No, my name is not Thomas, but Jesus was going to show me the holes in my thinking. I just didn’t like the idea of “satellite” campuses for big churches. There is another church in town that does that in a big way, and it always seemed to be about the church’s leader, some sort of cult of personality. I wanted a church that stood on its own. I love Pastor Gregg. His spirit and insight in the pulpit (a stage really, now, no pulpit required) is probably the main reason we never really felt comfortable anywhere else. But if we were choosing another church, that meant choosing another pastor. I didn’t want to lose the light of Jesus in the shadow of a man. So, I needed a little convincing.
The convincing didn’t take long either. This wasn’t about Pastor Greg extending his reach. It was about Jesus extending a hand into Cypress. We would set up a church in Smith Middle School on Fry Road every Sunday morning, and we will be new witnesses for Him in Cypress. We would still get Pastor Gregg on the big screens we set up and that makes it, for me at least, the best of both worlds. Heck, I watch him on the video screens now, even though he is right there in front of me on the stage.
Bottom line, this isn’t going to be a “satellite”. It is a new church with it’s own staff and it’s own volunteers and it’s own mission to teach Jesus to all who will hear. And just to prove the point, I got an email from Jason. He wanted me to help. I met him at a coffee shop (okay, it was a Starbuck’s) near the main church, we call it The Loop now since it is located at I-10 and the 610 Loop, not downtown or in Cypress or in Sienna. I told him I’d do anything he needed, but Jill and I really loved being with the children when we were in Uganda and helping with the kids might be a good things for us.
Jill and I are now the 1st and 2nd Grade Bible Study teachers.
I asked him if they were keeping a record of how the Cypress church first came together.
Now I take my camera whenever I go to some planning meeting or event for the new church and help to keep a record of it’s birth.
I didn’t tell him I wanted to help with the physical set-up or tear down of the church every Sunday, the classrooms and the cubicles and the stage and the lights and projectors and the sound.
But Jason needed me to help on the Production Team (fancy name for A/V guy, you know, the geeks at school that pushed around the projectors on carts), and so I’ll be there every Sunday morning at 6 a.m. to help set things up.
And suddenly, this became my mission. Not so far from home as an orphanage in a bend of the Nile river. And my longing? It is still there. That’s how lifelong longings are. But I am on another journey now.