As Christians, church is one of those irreplaceable things for us. And living overseas doesn't change that. I would even make the case that because we have a life overseas, a life filled with isolation and difficulties to connect with others, that being a part of a community of believers is even more important. Living overseas also makes church much more difficult...
A little insider secret is that many missionaries never really connect to a local body of believers. It is hard. There are cultural differences. It is confusing. With the exception of picking out a tune to a familiar hymn or a word here or there in a sermon, basically the whole service makes no sense. And it is also uncomfortable (especially if you're trying to corral a toddler while packed in a small room and sitting on the floor). There's also some security issues if, like us, they are living in a country where the government closely monitors churches.
However, we came back to South East Asia in January and had committed to being involved in a church here at least two times a month. Not going to just go and sit in the service, but being an active and involved part of that body. Because we have developed relationships in our village, we had attended the small house church there throughout the last year and, even though it is over an hour drive from our house, we started going there.
Over the past several months, the relationships we've formed there have started to feel like extended family. People have welcomed us, helped us, and allowed us to worship alongside of them despite our differences. Even though village Sundays make for very long days, we look forward to seeing our church family there.
One of our church's biggest projects over the past several months has been constructing a building. Everyone in the church gave money, time and energy to work on it. We've had several church workdays in the past few months to try and finish up all the construction. This past Saturday we finally finished the building and on Sunday morning we had our inaugural service in the building.
The service was a great time of rejoicing and a banner day for the church. If you've ever been to a kickoff church service in the US, the feel is the same here. Several of the house churches in surrounding villages came to join and there was over 50 people in attendance (which is huge for our little corner of the world). This weekend was a great reminder of how truly blessed we are to be a part of what God is doing here and an encouragement to continue to be a part of this Body.