God willing, by the time this post goes live, I will be on my way to Beirut. I’ve been checking articles on Lonely Planet and Wikipedia, which is what I guess people do these days before they travel. I’ve learned a little about the place I’m about to visit, but you never really know a place until you’ve been there.
One thing I know that a travel guide will never tell me: I have family everywhere.
I first experienced this as a child. My parents had separated. My father moved to Margate, England. The first time I went to visit my father with my sister, I was terrified. I knew nobody in England except for my father, and I wasn’t completely sure what to expect from my father.
The first Sunday in Margate, my sister and I made our way to the church just off the main square. Even though we knew nobody, we knew we were home. We sang songs. We heard the Word preached. We took the bread and the cup, and we knew we were not alone. We didn’t know these people, but I sensed I could count on them if needed, even more than I could count on my own father.
It’s happened many times since then: in a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin a couple of years ago, when I saw a table of friends bow and give thanks before eating a meal in a restaurant; in Jerusalem one Sunday some twenty years ago; every time that I come to a new city and attend a church full of people I don’t know.
One of God's Greatest Gifts
I know that church is sometimes uncomfortable, as Brett McCracken puts it. It can be awkward, and it’s not always want we want.
But it’s one of the greatest gifts that God has given us that we easily overlook. Wherever you go in the world, you have family. You would be hard pressed to find a city or even a village in the world where God doesn’t have an outpost, filled with people who’ve been brought into the same family, who will love and encourage you even though they don’t know you.
Side note: this makes me rethink how I treat visitors when they come to the church I pastor when they’re just passing through. I get the privilege of showing them the same hospitality I experienced in Margate all those years ago.
I really don’t know what to expect from Beirut. I read that the food is amazing, the hospitality legendary, and the history breathtaking.
One thing I know for sure: I have family there, and I can’t wait to meet them. We’ll worship together, listen to God’s Word together, and (I hope) enjoy good food together. Even though we’re separated by culture and sometimes by language, we have a love in common that overcomes every other difference. No matter where I go in this world, I’m never truly alone. I have family everywhere.