Two weeks ago tonight, East Pennsylvania became our new place, our new home, our new, well, everything. From the moment we visited this place in January, we were in love with the region, with the pulse of the downtown district but especially, with the church here.
We have lived and worked in cities all over the world. But I have never lived anywhere that makes me feel as ecstatic to awake to than here. This is the happiest we have been in our lives. And I will believe it even when the novelties wear off and the euphoria of this honeymoon stage shifts into the harrowing middle that inevitably comes to any ministry.
By most standards, it must have been an unorthodox decision.
People flock to Florida from Pennsylvania. They don’t leave Florida to go live in Pennsylvania year round. It gets cold there. Why would you ever want to give up a place as warm and comfortable as Florida to go somewhere as gelid as the northeast? It snows there, ya know. What, you’d rather shovel snow than sip piña colada‘s at the beach? Did I mention it gets cold there?
Call us nuts. Call us crazy. But there’s just something about waking up in a place far away from where we were raised and immersing ourselves in a culture that’s vastly different than everything we’ve ever known that makes me come alive. Where you have absolutely zero roots and no one knows you at first.
On a daily basis, as we’re walking around, there are things going off within me that I haven’t felt in a decade since we were living in China – and this is a good thing. It makes the mission field feel like the mission field.
But my favorite component of all?
The frigid climate. The bodily discomfort. The inconvenience of putting on multiple layers of clothing and still freezing your tuchis off. That naked feeling of being an alien in a town that doesn’t yet know our names or our stories…
Contrary to what my American comforts tell me, ministry and the Christian life itself are predicated on discomfort and entering into the intimate reliance of the Spirit in the midst of that discomfort. Difficulty is inescapable in any ministry regardless of where it is. But what better way to bring the warmth of the Gospel to the sadness of a broken and cold world than to personally feel a bitter coldness coursing through your bones as you roam it’s avenues?
But what about the people, David? It’s Philly. This isn’t the Bible Belt anymore. People are rude in the Northeast. They say the jerkiest things. You’ll realize this sooner or later.
Call me crazy. But I’ve encountered rudeness from people wherever we’ve lived. A time or two, I very well may have been the rude one. And I’m from Arizona! The people we’ve met so far have been some of the sweetest, most kindest people we have met.
Well, except for one guy last week – a Philadelphia parking lot attendant who walked up to me and dished it out pretty strong. He was extremely rude and insulting to me in ways that were beyond inflammatory to me as a person.
At any other point in my life, and quite possibly, in just about any other place we’ve ever been, I would have been tempted to knock his head off his shoulders. Or sink into a depression episode for weeks.
In this moment last week? I slowed my thinking down. I refused to let my emotions govern me. I silently prayed to show him the love of Jesus Christ, I swallowed the insult, responded kindly, I laughed at myself, I wished him a good day and as I walked away, that man liked me and had a smile on his face that wasn’t there before.
It wasn’t until Paul stopped imploring God to remove his thorn that he saw human weakness, the difficulties of life on planet earth and the insults that were spewed in his face with strange new eyes – those that identify them as things to glory in (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Brusque remarks and uncomfortable situations and venturing deep into the wild unknown are the things that are all too human to want to avoid and ignore and to flee from. But there is a whole other world of spiritual resurgence and ministerial renaissance when we sprint towards it, cannonball into it and embrace it with every fiber of our being.