Jessica felt she could get a virtual Bible lesson just by reading the church message boards on her way to work. Living in the heart of the Bible belt churches line the streets, a cross on every corner. Some of the messages she found amusing. Jessica passed one that read “Sinners Welcome.” She had to laugh wondering how effective it would be at reaching the unchurched. It would take more than that to bring her back to church. While she enjoyed some, one message she did not care for: “Turn or Burn.” It reminded Jessica of the camp she went to when she was fourteen.
“Mom, can I go to church camp with Kim?”
“No, honey. Her family belongs to a different kind of church than we do.”
“But, Mommm,” Jessica complained, “we don’t even go to church anymore.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to find a church that’s a good fit.”
“Please, Mom. Will you at least talk to her mother? Kim says it’s a lot of fun.”
At camp, Jessica did have a lot of fun until the last night when a band of teens made their rounds looking for the lost. They bombarded Jessica with questions, assaulted her with threats of eternal damnation. “If you’re not saved, you’re going to burn in Hell!”
Jessica was so staggered by their line of attack that she could hardly speak. Once the initial shock wore off, anger set in. In that moment, Jessica decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with their kind of church. In fact, she’d had her share of any church for a while. She went back to the cabin, packed her things and counted the minutes until she could board the bus to go home.
Turn or burn. That was ten years ago, but Jessica still shuddered at the memory.
Soon after Jessica had arrived at her office, she heard a knock. Sally’s friendly voice greeted her most every morning. “Hey! What are you doing tonight?”
Jessica glanced at her calendar. “Uh oh, it’s Wednesday. Are you going to invite me to your church again?”
“Not exactly, but I know how you like to volunteer for a worthwhile project.”
“Yes?” Jessica eyed her suspiciously.
“Our church is working on a housing project, and we’re finishing up with the landscaping and a few other odds and ends. Knowing how you love to garden, I wondered if you’d like to help us out?”
“Oh. Well, sure, I’d love to.”
When they arrived, Jessica was amazed at what she saw. Like ants on a mound, men, women, even children busily performed various tasks. Sitting out front in a lawn chair, an elderly man donned in baseball cap and suspenders chatted with workers as they passed by. Sally walked directly over to him and landed the old man with a big hug, his face beaming as he held on. Sally introduced him as the owner of the house.
As they crossed the lawn, Jessica asked Sally, “Did you know him before this project?”
“No, but he’s family now.”
Jessica felt a stirring within. She’d lost most of her own family.
Sally introduced her around; then Jessica slipped on her gloves and began arranging the plants.
Soon it was getting too dark. Sally and Jessica were gathering supplies in the yard when they almost stumbled over a body that crawled out from the space underneath the house.
Sally let out a scream that quickly turned to laughter. “Oh, Rick, I didn’t realize you were still working on the plumbing.”
Coated in dirt from head to toe, he pulled himself up and wiped his hands onto his work clothes.
“Pastor, this is my friend, Jessica.”
He grabbed Jessica’s hand, still gloved. “Thanks so much for coming out and helping us.”
Jessica’s brain was still stuck on the word Pastor? Her mouth hung open, but she managed to say hello.
On their way home, Sally stopped by the church to drop off some equipment. Jessica looked surprised. “This is your church?”
“I drive by here every morning on my way to work.” Inside, Jessica read the church’s mission statement posted on the wall. One line in particular resonated with her: “Sharing the message of the cross through service.”
As they drove away, Jessica noticed the message board that was posted outside the church. There were no quaint sayings or messages for passersby, just a single cross with the service times listed below. Jessica committed them to her memory.
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