I can tell you with full confidence that whatever you imagine our house church or weekly Bible study to look like, it just doesn’t.
The culture of church here is quite different. Any service–church, funeral, wedding– can easily include answered cell phone calls or spitting or entire normal-volume conversations from adults in the audience. With our house church consisting primarily of children and teenagers, we just want it to be somewhat contained–contained noise, contained toddlers, contained bladders, contained attention spans. And any level of containment is an accomplishment.
I wasn’t the one telling the story this week, so I was containing. I had a child in my lap and I was holding his feet from kicking the little boy in Stephen’s lap. Stephen went out twice with two separate little boys that lost it, and I was spilled on with a green sugary drink at some point.
While containing, I try to just pray for the kids as they listen– for open hearts, for their homes, for different pieces of their stories I know or don’t know. It’s just a great chance to look at them and pray over them.
I looked around the room at the different children and families represented. I try to just be open any given day and any time for God to show us who we should love. We can’t get everyone, but we can ask him to show us who needs love that day. We can take the time to see them and know them and know their good days and bad.
One of the little girls came to mind, because I feel like their family has had a rough go as of late. The father seems to be drinking more, and the older daughter is sick with something. We’ve taken her to the hospital a few times, but it seems inconclusive at this point; we still have some followups. She hasn’t been to school for a few months. The younger daughter has been doing alright, but occasionally stays home from school to take care of her sister. This week, when we returned from camping on Wednesday, she was in tears. I have seen her just a few times over the past couple days; often in tears, often disheveled in an abnormal way. Something is clearly different. Is it just her? The entire family? Is there a missing piece that somehow ties it all together?
I don’t know. I just started to pray for the whole family.
Next to her sat a teenager with her sister. They have always come from a difficult situation, but I have been praying for them specifically as they witnessed the stabbing just a couple weeks ago. This girl was the one who came to our door and it was all at her little home. The two sisters and their six-year-old brother were witnesses to a lot that evening–all the things I described as a horror movie–playing out in their home. That night, I watched the kids, just worried for all they were seeing; feeling helpless at protecting them, or myself for that matter. And I watched her visibly shiver as she watched, and I have just been praying for them since.
A little boy ran in during house church and plopped next to me. He is always on my heart. It’s a messy, messy story, and I had watched him verbally abused all day. I just prayed he’d know God’s love for him when so many around him see him only as a nuisance.
And then I saw a little girl caring for a little baby, thinking of her brave role as an eight-year-old mother figure. She always had her step-aunt living with her and mothering alongside her (they were oddly the same age), but she recently went to Burma for who knows how long. I prayed for her, and then I prayed for her sweet auntie who went off to Burma and who we love so very much. I prayed for her to come back, so our years of loving on her weren’t over.
I could go on, because my eyes kept scanning the room and seeing more stories that I hurt for. Because really, it isn’t just one child that God has put on my heart. It is all the children. It is all the families. At one point or another, God has broken me for each one of these kids, for each mother, and even each father–though I admit that has taken longer due to some of the situations we’ve dealt with.
I get overwhelmed. Even trying to just be open to who God wants us to love and how best to do it, or who to pray for–I get overwhelmed at the suffering.
The “big events” are overwhelming in a more obvious way, but even in the day to day it overwhelms me. The poverty, the education, the mothers and fathers, the bicycle accidents, the glass-cut feet, and little babes whimpering for someone to hold them tight. They are so systemic and it runs so deep. The thousands of little groans become one roar, even as we sit around learning about John the Baptist.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.