The Church that Built Me
As I drove, I smiled. The road was long from Oklahoma City to McAlester, but it was always worth it. I pulled into the old, cracked parking lot of my former home church. My joy turned to fear as I wondered, will they remember me?
The fear was quickly scattered as I walked under that tall steeple and through the propped-open, glass doors. The greeters were more than kind faces; they were old friends. This church was chock-full of memories from 4th grade all the way up to my young adult years. It was the church that built me.
As I walked the halls, I could almost see shadows of myself. I saw 4th grade Hannah working on homework in a side room as mom attended her Tuesday Morning Ladies’ Bible Study. I saw 6th grade Hannah sharing her new iPod Shuffle music with her Girls in Action friends. I saw 8th grade Hannah crying in the hall after her “crush” brushed her off again. I saw high school senior Hannah laughing as she painted the nursery with the younger girl she mentored. I saw young adult Hannah being prayed over by the elderly ladies Sunday School before she left for Oklahoma City and her first “grown-up job.”
So much of who I am today was built up and developed by my home church in McAlester. I think of Sunday School teachers like the Grizzles, Pools, Leningtons, Stephanie, Linda, Julene and so many more! I think of my old bosses and dear friends like the Briggs and the Hutsons. I think of the ministers that shaped my walk like Randy Adams, Brad Millsap, Steve Lunsford, Linda Lowber and many more. I richly recall my mentors Pam, Janice, Carrie, Jennifer, and others. Lastly, I remember the older couples that invested in me like the Sossamons, Parringtons, Sherrills, Braswells, and Durants… and simply too many more to name.
First Baptist Church in McAlester was made of more than mere brick and mortar; it was built by the legacies and devout service of hundreds if not thousands of saints, to the glory of God. That church they built is the church that built me.
That church built my joy for missions. I saw this exhibited in them by the teams of encouragers that sent my family and me as we served as missionaries overseas for five and a half years. I saw it in the Barbie dolls they sent me as a Missionary Kid for Christmas. I saw it in my Girls in Action leaders’ eyes as they retold a missionary’s story to our group. I saw it in the full offering plate at times of church-wide missional giving. I saw it in the collection of numerous, international flags that lined our sanctuary. This is true joy for missions.
That church built my perception of sacrifice. I saw this in the rows of pews filled with precious widows, putting their gifts in the offering plate. I saw it in prominent, wealthy individuals and couples that chose humility and a life of behind-the-scenes service. I saw it in the children’s director who overcame familial hardships and put her ministry’s children first. I saw it in pastors who said goodbye in order to obey the Lord. I saw it in more than generous monetary gifts in order to fund a mission trip. This is true sacrifice.
That church built my perception of mentorship. I saw this in the youth pastors and their wives as they hosted dozens of awkward, goofy teenagers. I saw it in the prayerful watch of precious senior adult women, one Sunday school class in particular. I saw it in pairing with that Sunday School class to learn the art of fruit basket arrangements… what a fun day that was! I saw it in the careful instruction of Sunday School teachers, including my Nana who led my 10th grade year. I saw it in the loving rebuke of my boss and friend, Carrie. This is true mentorship.
Because of this church that built me, I am pressed forward for joy in this journey with Christ as my Savior. As I sit under new instruction and with new fellowship at my current church, I reflect on my time at First Baptist in McAlester similar to how Paul viewed the church in Philippi. I cannot close these thoughts and fond memories in any better way than how Paul himself did, by doing so with Paul’s blessing on the church. This I pray for First Baptist Church in McAlester…
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer,because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel.For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment,so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:3-11).