The People of God

May 21, 2013

Spence with African brothers. “I’ll see them again in heaven.”

“Jesus, it’s so crazy following you ,” I thought as I gazed out of the airplane window onto the brown and green patchwork of upstate New York farmland. To my far right I could see a huge expanse of water; one of the great lakes, I guessed. I smiled in mixed wonder and amusement. People are people, whether it’s Africa or Cape Cod. Still, I had to admit I was a bit apprehensive. Strange place, strange people. What do people in Buffalo look like? Maybe I shouldn’t have worn jeans and dangling earrings. Maybe I should’ve had my hair cut, or my nails done…

A woman found me on the internet and asked me to speak at their women’s conference. I had given God my word; I would not say no unless He said no. I had had a few phone conversations with Donna and we talked easily. It seemed a “go”. The plane banked to the right and began its descent. I flashed back to 1969 and another plane ride I took alone…

I’m not sure if it was a rescue mission, or a let’s just put her somewhere safe and far away  mission. Anyone who has had to deal with a rebellious teenager can relate. I was just 13, but an old 13 and already I was getting into big trouble. Boys were circling, a hash pipe was found in my purse and I had run away, a pattern I would repeat often until my parents finally said, “Just Go!” when I was 15.

My father had a friend in Kansas; a business friend which meant they had drinks together, probably at lunch because it was the 60’s and the Three Martini Lunch had reached its unsteady pinnacle. Bill owned an Arabian horse breeding ranch.

“ Hey, my daughter loves horses!”

“OK, Bob, ship her out to us for the summer!”

“ Great idea, Bill! Can I buy you another drink?”

So I went. It was long ago but I clearly remember a few things. For some reason, I decided to use fake tanner on my legs before I left. I was not typically vain as a teenager so I’m not sure what I was thinking. There was Coppertone QT, for Quick Tan, and that was it, and Sun-In spray for your hair, which complimented the brassy orange color on your skin. I wore a short summer skirt and white bobby-socks.

When I arrived at the Kansas City airport my dad said they would be there to meet me. No one. Minutes ticked by. I started to sweat. The Coppertone started to run down my legs in little orange streams. I was wondering if I could get back on the plane and head east when I heard my name called out. I turned around to meet alcoholic Bill, his angry wife, and suicidal little girl, Julie, my new friend for the summer. Of course I didn’t know these things right away, but even a 13 year old, especially one running from a sad and angry home, could perceive she had only arrived at another.

The horses were stunning, Kansas was endless and flat and my favorite part of it all was the sky, how the sun and clouds and moon and stars moved across it every day like a spectacular slide show. But I was lost, like Bill and his wife and daughter. We were there, under the big sky, together and it could’ve been beautiful. But like all humans that are cut adrift from each other, it was only painful. They never mentioned my streaked legs, but it was an unsettling omen. I don’t remember the trip home; being sad or glad. In my young mind, I had already determined that life was harsh and lonely and I was looking for an escape.

The woman picking me up in the Buffalo airport knew what I looked like from the website, so just like 45 years ago in Kansas City, I had to just wait for someone to call my name. But she didn’t have to say anything. I saw a woman with a big smile coming towards me, with her hands reaching out to take mine. In the van there were two other ladies around my age to greet me.

They took me out to one of my very favorite places, Cracker Barrel, and over dinner we laughed with the familiarity of old friends. As we began to share our hearts and hopes, our setbacks and victories, I could feel my soul unwind. I was with family. Soon I felt as if I had already known all three women; we had just never met. This is one of the greatest treasures within the Christian life; that we can reach across any boundary of culture, class, color or place and join hearts.

Years ago, we sang a song in my church and the chorus went:

We’re the people of God

Called by His name

Called from the dark, delivered from shame

One Holy race, saints everyone

Because of the blood of Christ Jesus His Son

I’ve sensed this remarkable bond over the last 25 years everywhere; worshipping in Africa with Zulus, in my sons’ churches in North Carolina, in New York City at the Times Square Church, in Korea where everything was in a foreign language, even the alphabet, but the love of Christ somehow transcended it all. Where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be with them. It never fails. Even in airports. I wish I could go back in time and tell Bill and his family.

When I look around my own church, I see people who I have loved for many years now, and have somehow put up with me. There have been offences, hurts, misunderstandings. After all, we are family. But there is a river of mercy that runs from God’s throne and we are told to Come when you are heavy-laden, Come when your soul needs rest, Come when your heart needs mending. Come to Jesus, there is plenty of room for all. And somehow in this place, everything is made right.

When these sweet sisters dropped me at the Buffalo airport Saturday night (after feeding me again!) the goodbye was actually hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again…here. But now there are more familiar faces for me when I go Home, to heaven where there will be no more goodbyes and we will never grow weary. We will not be in Kansas anymore.

I still love to look at the sky. As the plane headed towards Boston, the sun was setting behind us, over the disappearing farmland, and the clouds were as magnificent as a prairie sky. The last few rays of sunlight set the sky ablaze in gold, and it seemed as if the clouds were a pillar of fire, reminding me that Jesus is Lord over all, everywhere, no matter how seemingly small. And His people will be there, the people of God, called by His name.