Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability. He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established. He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together. I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.
Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded. Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way. At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15). Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.
There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design. Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you. Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was. I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm. However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me. I’m anxious to see them! They are my family, even if we’ve never met.
As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family! The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11). How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!