Dear Alma Church of God,
When I returned from Turkmenistan, I was coming home from two years of churchlessness. Turkmenistan is a Muslim country. Christianity for me in Tstan was a solitary exercise. I practiced my religion alone, holed up in my bedroom on Sunday mornings. My first Sunday back in the States, I began attending with you. I soon realized fully what I had been missing in Tstan. Discussing theology and fellowshipping with other believers in small groups, worshipping as part of a community, these are things that most of us take for granted until we don’t have them.
Over the course of two years, you became my family in the true Christian sense of the word. Most people in most churches are nice. That’s very different from being like Christ. Nice people ask how you’re doing because it’s polite. They expect that you will say, “Good” and go on your merry way. Many of you ask how I’m doing and expect that I will answer honestly even if it’s negative because you really want to know, you care about me, and you will pray for me. And you let me into your lives as well, sharing your struggles and praises.
I was allowed and encouraged to use my gifts in various ways, and the more I served, the more I fell in love with you. As chair of the missions team, I saw how generous and committed you are to sharing Christ’s love with the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with, and collaborating with other teams like His Place deepened my appreciation for the cohesion of vision you have.
In Sunday school, it was clear that you have many members who think deeply and critically when it comes to Scriptures. They are unafraid to ask difficult questions, state their interpretations, and disagree in a civilized way. That a church your size has four adult Sunday school classes speaks volumes about the level of discipleship there, and the topics of study are unexpected, refreshing, and challenging.
I am always appreciative of churches that continue to sing hymns. Hymnody is an integral part of Church of God history and tradition, and hymns further promote doctrinal teaching and understanding. But it’s not just the hymns that make worship with you enjoyable. The variety of using choir, various instruments, drama, and dance allows many people to use their talents and gifts to glorify God, and it deepens the worship experience for all in attendance. I can’t express how thrilling it was the first time I witnessed the use of dance as an expression of worship at our services.
Mostly, though, you just do Christ’s love well. Your smiles and hugs, the sharing of jokes and laughter, the offers of prayer, the encouraging words after my sermons, the trust and faith you showed in asking me to lead a team, these were all demonstrations of love to me. When I prepared to leave and head off on my new and, quite frankly, scary adventure, I found myself in tears as I said goodbye to many of you. Even as I type this, I’m a little misty-eyed, because I miss you already and know that even though I’m sure to find a good church in my new home, it won’t be quite the same. You’re doing it right, Alma. You’re doing it right.