Alone in a Strange Land
“My neighbor will talk to his dog, but he will not even say ‘hello’ to me.”
As I sat in the living room of my new friend from India (we’ll call him Rohit), the rawness of those words saddened me. Having lived in the United States for one year, working eighty hours a week, Rohit has yet to meet his neighbors or to have them even speak to him.
Just for a second, let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes.
Imagine moving to a country where the social norms and mores were as foreign as the language. Your nice white collar job has been replaced by one with twice the hours and three times the physical demand; so much so that you have lost 40 pounds and need to live with another family to make ends meet. Though the weight loss might be nice, laboring on your feet 80 hours a week has exhausted you such that your few moments of family time are spent trying to rest for the next day. Then imagine getting suspended from one of your jobs because an act of hospitality (perfectly acceptable in your home country) is interpreted as something intolerable in this strange new land. Imagine that the holiday in which your family celebrates the triumph of light over darkness is overshadowed by a macabre night of vampires, blood, ghosts and children(!) dressed as such demanding candy as they incessantly ring your doorbell.
That is a taste of my friend’s first year here.
God’s Take On It
Long ago, God’s people were told to look out for folks who were experiencing the above anxieties. He told his people to be proactive about caring for these folks and said:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”(Leviticus 19:33,34)
Now, before the devil whispers to you, “That was the old covenant. You’re now in the new, no longer bound to such inconveniences,” ask yourself if you’ve heard someone—a carpenter’s son, perhaps—who said something very similar. Something like, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Yahweh told the Israelites to treat the foreigner with kindness, he argued that they should do so because they too were once strangers in a foreign land. “Love your neighbors like you would want to be loved. Treat them like you would want to be treated. You remember how tough it was being in Egypt, right?”
With the holidays upon us, please consider reaching out to people like these in your relational network by inviting them into your home. It is a perfect opportunity to (1) show the love of Christ in action and (2) to tell of the love of Christ in word by explaining what you’re thankful for, and/or why we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
In working with international students and visiting scholars, I found myself constantly receiving gifts—ties, keychains and other assorted mementos—as a means of thanking me for teaching them English and/or the Bible. These giveaways were all clearly from the homelands of these dear people who had taken the time to pack their bags full of gifts for people who would invite them to their homes. More than once I heard stories of students returning home with the same gifts they had purchased in their country because no invitation had been extended.
Let’s seize the opportunity of the holidays to give these folks reason to empty the tchotchkes from their suitcases. May we treat our international neighbors better than we do our pets.
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August 19 2014 at 8:59 am 0 Comments
Jesus had a busy, difficult life.
From the moment he was baptized and stepped into the public eye, the Messiah rarely had any time alone. If he wasn’t teaching huge crowds or performing amazing miracles, he was spending time with his disciples or dealing with constant attacks from Israel’s hateful, faithless religious leaders.
But Jesus always made time for children. Consider the accounts of Matthew 19 and Mark 10. In the latter stages of his earthly ministry, Jesus left his home area of Galilee, traveled south into Judea and crossed the Jordan River. Large crowds followed him, wanting to hear his powerful words and see his remarkable healings.
Then the Pharisees showed up. These hypocritical leaders and Old Testament law experts were always trying to trap Jesus in his words. On this day, they tested him with a random question about the lawfulness of divorce.
After a lengthy, contentious conversation—and then a follow-up discussion with his slow-to-understand disciples—it would’ve been perfectly understandable for Jesus to want some time alone. But then people began bringing little children and infants to Jesus so he could bless them. Jesus’ disciples tried to shoo the children away. They considered the kids a nuisance.
But Jesus rebuked his disciples and then spoke some of the most beautiful words in Scripture: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). Then he gently laid his hands on them and blessed them.
Jesus clearly loves children and places a high value on them. His heart toward children reflects the intimate care God the Father shows for each individual life (Ps. 139:13-16). He used children as an example of the simple faith and humility that Christians are to emulate. And he issued a stern warning to anyone who would harm a child (Matt. 18:6).
Jesus’ joy around little ones is instructive. If the eternal, all-powerful Son of God has a tender heart for children, we should, too. As a member of Covenant Life, one of the greatest ways you can mirror the Savior’s love for children is by serving in Discovery Land. Jesus didn’t let busyness and other responsibilities keep him from loving the next generation, and neither should we!
No matter what your spiritual gifts are, there’s likely a place for you in Discovery Land. Visit the website for a list of available positions. We still have a great need for volunteers in most of our departments.
There is great joy in caring for little ones and teaching them about the Savior! But don’t just take our word for it. Here are a few testimonials from some current volunteers:
“I appreciate serving on the Safety-Security team for the joy it brings, to know you are serving the children, the church and the Lord in a practical way. It seems to be comforting to the parents to know we are there to help protect the children, to give directions or be helpful in other ways as needed.” —Scott Bates, Safety-Security
“Serving in Discovery Land worship is awesome! When the kids first come in at age 2, it’s just blank stares (and some crying), but by the end of the year, many of the kids sing along and with enthusiasm. It’s been a blessing to watch these kids grow and develop a joy for praising God!” —Paul Kim, Traveling Worshipper in Discover (ages 2-3)
“Serving in Discovery Land has strengthened my faith to overcome my weaknesses. I have learned how to humble myself (e.g. listen more than speak), be patient and show compassion towards the little ones in different situations. Serving with kids is a wonderful experience!” —Kartika Dougherty, Adventure (1st-5th grade)
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August 11 2014 at 1:23 pm 1 Comments
At 7:30 every Sunday morning — as plenty of folks are hitting the snooze button and the low-lying sun is still casting long shadows across dewy fields — the ceiling lights flicker on in the Events Center at Covenant Life Church. The first Discovery Land volunteer has arrived.
With the service still 2½ hours away, one of four monthly band leaders starts preparing for the day. Soon, the other band members join him, and the group begins preparing their equipment to lead 150 bouncy 1st-5th graders in live, loud worship music in the Adventure class later that morning. After they get in tune, lyrics, drumbeats and guitar rhythms begin to fill the air.
Discovery Land is the largest ministry, by far, at Covenant Life. Each week, 300-350 children ages 0 through 5th grade enter its classrooms. It takes 600-plus volunteers — roughly 150 per week — to staff the 16 childcare rooms on two floors and the many other departments within children’s ministry. In military terms, a battalion of Christian soldiers is needed to effectively care for the precious little ones of Covenant Life!
And it all starts early each week — much earlier than Sunday, in fact. Midweek, there are volunteers who launder nursery smocks, purchase supplies at Sam’s Club, plan lessons, select worship songs that fit the weekly teaching theme, create small group activities, write Tree House Gang scripts, direct Saturday evening Tree House Gang rehearsals, send out informative e-mails, and much more.
Back to Sundays … As the band sets up onstage in the Events Center, a small group of singers warms up their vocal cords in the Discovery Land office. Before long, they’ll join the Adventure band to rehearse that day’s four-song set.
By 8 a.m., as rehearsal music echoes throughout the building, the supply team buzzes through the hallways. This amazing team of truly behind-the-scenes servants makes sure each Discovery Land classroom is stocked with all the necessary supplies — everything from diapers to saltine crackers to coloring sheets to double-A batteries for bubble-blowing machines.
By 9 a.m., the building is really humming. The church’s IT team is powering up all the automated child nametag printing stations and check-in machines. Welcome center volunteers have arrived in advance of the day’s first families. And the Events Center is in full swing, with the worship team making way for a final Tree House Gang rehearsal and tech volunteers diligently keeping track of microphones, sound levels, and other audio/visual needs, etc.
Shortly after 9:30, most volunteers have arrived. Adventure’s doors are already open to accommodate the large influx of children it receives. Elsewhere, toys are being set out, baby gates are being locked in place, coordinators are meeting with their staff, last-minute preparations are being made and prayers are being lifted up all over the building for God to protect the children and let his Word be proclaimed in clear, powerful ways.
Before the very first child steps foot in class, scores of faithful servants have already been a shining example of 1 Peter 4:10-11: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Our new serving year starts Sept. 7, and we’d love for you to experience the joy that comes with serving the kids in Discovery Land.
Photo credit: Pam Wilbur
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July 21 2014 at 2:13 pm 0 Comments
Worthy14 is our high school ministry’s annual summer retreat where we get away from our normal surroundings and the busyness of life.
A Worthy13 camper: “At the retreats, talking about God is a natural thing, and I loved being able to bring up the Lord in conversation with my friends, whether we were playing pool or walking on the beach… the atmosphere is so spiritually rich.”
“The incredible opportunity to grow closer to God by focusing on Him and spending time with His people at the retreats is not to be passed up.”
This year, we will be taking time to look at the question, “How will my life change if I actually believe the Bible is absolutely true?”
Each year God meets us in incredible ways through times of worship and teaching, lots of games and times of fellowship throughout the day as we seek His face together.
Hip Hop Artist and Speaker, Brian Davis, is coming this year, and will be teaching us along with Jon Smith, Joshua Harris, and of course, Dave Brewer.
As you’ve probably heard in their baptism testimonies, every year teens come back with a renewed love for God and excitement for learning about him and loving him more.
We are all about having a good time at Worthy, and you can be sure that you will come away from with awesome memories! We want you to join us, both to have a ton of fun and to be changed for God’s glory.
Families that are just visiting Covenant Life or have been attending church but not participating in the youth ministry are welcome to attend.
Registration is open and scholarships are available for those in need of financial assistance. We don’t want anyone to be turned away because of the cost.
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June 30 2014 at 12:24 pm 1 Comments
“Today was the first time I’ve been in a church for over 50 years,” shared an elderly Forest Oak Towers resident during a Senior Saints luncheon at Covenant Life Church.
When she and her husband emigrated from Europe to the U.S. during World War II, they arrived penniless, having entrusted all their financial assets to “Christians” who had promised to send their money ahead for them. The funds never arrived, and so the couple grew embittered and distanced themselves from the Christian church.
Now years later, as a result of the weekly lunches spent with Covenant Life members in the Forest Oaks cafeteria, she felt comfortable attending the luncheon held at the church. Afterwards, she shared how very blessed she was to be there, hear Robin Boisvert’s message, experience the kindness of those attending, and be treated so lovingly. She wants to return.
This is only one of many life stories at Forest Oak Towers, a 175-apartment complex on Odendhal Avenue in Gaithersburg for 220 residents with an average age of 73.
For the past two years, Covenant Life members Drew Garfield, Dennis Cook, Bob Merryman and others have been spending their Wednesday lunch hour with the residents. Recently, they started a monthly Bible Study, requested by residents.
“Our goal is to share the love of Christ through fellowship and friendship,” Bob shared. Their hope is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ, encourage faith in Christ, and see the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.
“I get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach at the prospect of approaching strangers,” Dennis said, “At first, I felt very uncomfortable, wondering if I had anything to offer.”
They have come alongside residents as friends, heard about their lives, shared about their own, prayed with them through sickness and hardship, and even helped with practical needs like hanging a picture or moving light furniture.
“We have learned that the regular visits residents can depend on foster relationships,” Dennis shared. “We have been told that even if we don’t hear it, we are appreciated, even expected, so please don’t stop coming.”
Bob and Dennis describe the residents as “quite a bunch of characters.” Nelson loves to sing Karaoke, Luce-Marie honestly shares about life, and Matilde helps where she sees needs.
Nancy is a chatterbox and writes poems. Alice offers care-giving counsel and asks after their wives. and Irma chases them down to give them hugs. Margarit loves classical music, opera, and ballet and takes care of Vartouhi.
Sisters Bessie and Flo challenge them to crossword puzzles, and Don sparks deep conversation through his honest questions about God.
Nettlie loves Jesus and wears her “I love Jesus” lanyard all the time. Sisters Mrs. Tsui and Mrs. Chang can’t speak English, but they wave and Mr. Tong gives thumbs-up.
“If you see me fightin’ with a bear, don’t worry about me, help the bear,” says Olivia who crochets baby outfits. Penny and Al are pals and greet everyone in the mailroom when they come to check for letters.
“This experience is probably serving me more than anyone is being served by me,” Dennis shared. “We are grateful to have the privilege to serve an awesome God,” Bob said.
Photo Credit: Betsy Reich
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June 9 2014 at 4:02 pm 4 Comments
Jenn Harvey leads the church’s English for Speaker’s of Other Languages (ESOL) Ministry, re-launched just over a year ago. Here is an exciting report she shared, just one of the ways God is at work in our community:
Last April we held an Easter celebration at one of the sites where we offer adult English classes, South Lake Elementary School. Despite pouring rain that evening, close to 30 students and their families came out and were able to hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, as well as have a chance to deepen friendships with the volunteer teachers from Covenant Life.
After reading 1 Peter 3:18 together in seven different languages, a short skit portraying how Christ cleansed us by taking our sins upon himself was presented. The evening ended with everyone sharing food from their countries that the students and teachers had brought.
During that time, many new connections were made and existing friendships strengthened. I had the opportunity to talk with a Muslim student from Bangladesh and her high-school-aged daughter, and share at length with her daughter about the effect that having a relationship with God has had on my life.
Here is another testimony from that night shared by Geney Harvey, another ESOL teacher:
On Monday night, as everyone was lining up to get food, I looked around for someone to chat with and saw an African woman by herself.
I went over and introduced myself and as we began to talk, it became clear that she had very minimal English skills. I asked if she spoke French and when she said yes, I began to try to talk with her with my limited French.
The Lord helped us to communicate and in the course of the conversation she told me that this was her first night attending and that she has been in the U.S. for 10 months and still has not found a job. She was very discouraged and was very concerned about how she was going to keep on providing for herself and her four children.
I told her how some of us prayed for one of the other students in my class (who is also from Africa) to find a job and that last week the Lord provided one for him. I asked if I could pray for her, and she very willingly agreed and acknowledged that only God could really help her.
I prayed for her, and it seemed that it encouraged her just to have someone show that they cared. Could you all join me in praying that the Lord would provide a job for her and that he would use this difficulty in her life to draw her to himself?
Thank you for partnering with us in praying for the gospel to reach every tribe, language, people, and nation through the ESOL ministry!
Find out more about us and how you can get involved at the ESOL LINK page.
photo credit: Pam Wilbur
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