We set out on the road again to continue our tour of home. This week we logged about 400 miles and had the opportunity to worship with our church families at Crossroads Church of the Nazarene and Athens Church of the Nazarene. What an incredible blessing it was getting to be with these two churches!
Our weekend actually started with a blessedly uneventful drive from Murfreesboro to Lenoir city on Friday. We drove down early to have the opportunity to spend extra time with family and because, with losing an hour due to traveling from the Central Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone and it being well over a two hour drive, it was much easier for us than trying to make the trip on Sunday morning. As we drove, I read through We Are Romani by Ian Hancock and marveled at the history, diversity, and beauty of this distinct people within Bulgaria. As we drove across the Caney River, over the Cumberland Plateau and made our way into the hills of East Tennessee I began to realize all that I know and have learned about this place by sheer osmosis. These are the paths I have tread since my childhood. They are so familiar to me. Growing up in a place means soaking up so much of its history, culture, norms, assumptions, and understandings. How much I have to learn about the wonderful people and place of Bulgaria! How much to catch up on having missed a childhood’s worth of learning…. We arrived at my mom and stepdad’s house at about 5:30PM.
You might be on Deputation Tour if you feed your baby in the back of the car!
My stepdad is the pastor at Crossroads (Don), my brother is the worship leader (Jace), and my other brother came up to be there for this occasion. All of this conspired, of course, to make it such a wonderful and special time to be at this wonderful church. My brothers and I once had a band that led worship for services, revivals, and camp meetings, but we have not played together in some years. Saturday evening, I sat down at Crossroad Church of the Nazarene’s beautiful piano, James sat down to the drums, and Jace strapped on his guitar, so we could practice for the next morning. I am thankful for Crossroads giving us the opportunity to lead worship together (along with an incredibly gifted group of singers!).
Sunday morning was such a special time. Many important chapters of my life story have taken place as a part of the Crossroads church family. I sang on the IMPACT team at Crossroads as a teenager (along with Katie), I served as a summer intern there during my time at TNU, I was baptized by this church, and Katie and I also led the music for a revival at Crossroads in our first year of ministry together. The first time we went to Bulgaria, almost ten years ago, this wonderful and generous church family supported us. We love this church dearly and we knew that Sunday morning would be special.
It was. From beginning to end, the entire service was an anointed time, place, people, and event you could sense God had set aside for the glory of Christ. There is a feel and a reality to a place of worship, when the people of God gather expectantly, that is not felt in other spaces. What a blessing to share the extraordinary with the people of God at Crossroads.
As both and Katie and I both got up to speak we were, at first, painfully aware of the fact that we were being live streamed during the service. We both knew this would be the case and, of course, it has become a normal and natural part of many churches’ worship gathering, but it is still felt. It changes the way you think through your communication of the message, knowing such a scope of people will hear it. Nevertheless, as Bro. John Ed Wampler pointed out, we have the opportunity to reach so many people and to share our testimony, vision, and calling with so many wonderful people.
Following the worship service, we were able to attend Grace’s Sunday school class where people of our age gather to unpack and discuss the passage preached on in the morning service. It was so wonderful to sit and listen to folks discuss what they had heard in the message, and how it had shaped their understanding of God, themselves, and the church. It was great to be able to share this more intimate community and clarify some of our ideas in the small group setting.
Aunt Grace planned matching outfits for the girls today!
After a great lunch and some much-needed rest back at the house, we packed up the car and made the 45-minute drive to Athens Church of the Nazarene. What a beautiful drive through fields, hills, dilapidated barns, red brick silos with silver coned tops, and pastures full of horses, sheep, goats, and cows. We arrived at the beautiful church facility at about 5:30PM. We were greeted by the great NMI president, Leeann Nipper, and Pastor David Reynolds and his wife Debbie. Smiles, unloading, and setup followed with a cheerful expectation of the coming service. We got setup and had a wonderful service. Athens has a wonderful streaming setup and a beautiful sanctuary. Pastor David and Debbie have always been close good friends of my own parents and I remember visiting them as a child, watching movies, playing their church piano, and listening to my parents laugh and chat with them till late into the night. Who would have imagined that one day I would be at Pastor David and Debbie’s church for a deputation tour? Again, it was good to worship with family.
Afterward, we had a wonderful reception, which was specially planned, prepared, and served with great thoughtfulness as to the need to be responsible during the pandemic. It was during this reception that we got to meet and talk with new and wonderful friends. It was also during this time that Leeann approached Jude and Kate with gifts. Kaitlyn was happy with her new toy, but her reaction could not compare to Jude’s delight at receiving a new toy train. I want my children to love the church as I love the church. I want them to delight in her life. I want them to be passionate for the work and life of the church as they are for Christ. In fact, I am not sure the two can be separated. From the kind warm smiles directed at my kids’ mid-service squeals, to seeing the ecstatic joy on Jude’s face when he received Leeann’s thoughtful gift, I thought with delight how this church was helping me to raise my children to love the church. I am thankful for the way Athens Church of the Nazarene welcomed and loved on my family.
**We hated we didn't get a picture of Jude with his train but it didn't last long before the train was disassembled and thrown all around Nana and Papa's playroom. We decided to leave it at their house so he a special toy to play with when we are staying at their house! We've heard all week how excited he is to get back to Nana's house to play with his "new train".
As we drove home to a giggling boy in the back seat, (the product of having a new train to play with) and a sleeping little girl, we discussed all the wonderful ways in which we are seeing the Holy Spirit at work as we invite this wonderful district family to come along with us on our journey to Serving in Sofia.