That Small Town Life

It was really Facebook that led us there.

My mom’s online search for a nostalgic soda shop took her to a Facebook page for one in rural Kansas. A few Saturday afternoons later we drove into town on Main St., but only a handful of Marquette’s 600 residents were around.  “Get me out of here,” my college-age brother said as somebody drove a lawnmower through the intersection.

Inside the soda shop the walls were lined with knick-knacks for sale. Another customer smiled at my seven-year-old brother. “What are you going to get?” she asked as we read the menu. I usually try to decide between cookie dough and Oreo, but here there was a sundae with both of them. Nice. Our group ordered a sundae, four shakes, and one java jolt—a coffee and ice cream concoction. An employee made our orders behind the counter and a bored preteen played some electronic game in a booth in the loft. No one else was there.

Half a block away, a one-room schoolhouse stood as if it had housed students just last week, although the schoolmistress probably wouldn’t tolerate the dust on the desks. The piano was open, books—some in German—were on the shelves, and a dunce hat sat in the corner.

As we stepped out of the schoolhouse back onto Main St., the lawnmower parked at the bank across the street.

Friends told me about a visit they took to Lindsborg—considerably bigger than Marquette at 3400 residents—several years ago. As they walked around town, people kept stopping to inform them their one-year-old daughter was missing a shoe. They realized this, and were carrying their daughter, slightly annoyed to be stopped over and over again. A few hours later, as they visited Great-Grandma in town, the police called. They had their toddler’s shoe. “How did they know we were at her house?” the mother still wonders.

When we were first driving into town, a SUV followed on our bumper. The driver honked and swerved around us in the wrong lane. Then she parked, jumped out, ran across the street and entered the passenger side of a waiting ambulance. The sirens began blaring and it hurried off. “They’re volunteers, but they’re certified,” the soda shop owner told us later.

When I entered the soda shop again for a cup of ice, another customer, relaxed and talking with several regulars, smiled at me. “Where are you from?” He knew I wasn’t from Marquette, just as Lindsborg’s residents knew where the guests were. He was ready to be part of others’ lives, like the volunteer paramedic and Lindsborg’s residents. And maybe a prairie schoolmistress.

Not even Facebook has changed that.

What Corrie Would Have Told Us

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The ten Boom family living room

I’ve never been one to have a bucket list. But if I did, meeting Corrie ten Boom (or getting as close to that as I can) would be on it.

It all started with a book. “I should read that,” I thought, wondering how I graduated high school without reading Corrie’s classic, The Hiding Place. So one afternoon I started into the first chapter, and I would finish the last page that night while the rest of my family slept. The ten Boom story floored me, and I have revisited those chapters many times since. Their example of faithful work and love in a time of horror illustrates so well how Christians are to live in a world that opposes the very idea of God. As we face an increasingly hostile society today, we are encouraged by remembering the faithfulness of people like the ten Booms in harder times than these.

So I was thrilled to visit Corrie ten Boom’s house last spring.

One crisp June morning in Haarlem, The Netherlands, my brother and I entered the kitchen door right by the window with that telltale Alpina sign. I was seeing the family living room. Climbing that impossible staircase. Feeling the tweed fencing around the railing of the roof, built to hide illegal guests while they savored a few minutes of fresh air. There were space limitations in the cramped house, and we could only be in the house while on a guided tour, but I lingered as long as I could in each room, trying to be the last one to leave, taking one final look.

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Our guide was Aty, an older Dutch woman who shared ten Boom stories I hadn’t read in any books. Over 800 people were saved through the work of the people in that unassuming little house. “This is a story about the family ten Boom, not about heroes,” Aty told us. “This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

Poetic. Like she’d read the book.

It was something Corrie would have said, too—and she did, many times. The ten Booms filled their days with feeding guests, cooperating with other workers, and serving strangers. It was God who orchestrated the details and led them along the path they had no map for. And Corrie knew that. That’s the story she told.

The medicine bottle that didn’t empty. The world-renowned architect who quietly and without any recognition built their secret room. Fred the meterman and Rolf the policeman, who used their unique positions and skills to meet specific needs.

“That night Father and Betsie and I prayed long after the others had gone to bed. We knew that in spite of daily mounting risks we had no choice but to move forward. This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.”1

Nazis. Bombings. Hunted people. It was an epic time with epic problems and epic heartaches. But the struggles Corrie and the ten Boom family faced were not isolated to desperate times.

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The only picture I have of our tour guide, Aty (you can just barely see her on the other side of my brother). I so wish I had taken a better picture with her!

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. Day after day after day. Through epic circumstances God was present in her life, working in her heart, writing a story we only know in part.

In my less-than-epic life the same is true. I am slighted by people who see things differently than I do. I meet people who base their life on things I know won’t last forever. I am surrounded by people who have hurts I may never know or realize. I’m faced with others’ needs when I feel I have enough of my own.

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. And we’re called to do it all again the next day.

My brother and I sat in the living room not of a legend or hero of the past, but a child of the King. One who followed Him in the muck and mire of earth and now praises Him in glories unknown to me with others who have gone before us.

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The visitor in front of me disappears into the hiding place through the secret entrance.
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The secret door from the inside of the hiding place.
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Six people hid here for over 47 hours.

As Francis Schaeffer said, “there are no little people and no little places.”2 Not when God is there. And He is. Here. Working in and through us like He did (and does) through Corrie, the ten Booms, and Aty the tour guide. Whether or not our dreams are realized or bucket list completed, He still works. And that’s where the real story is.

“This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

  1. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  2. No Little People, Francis Schaeffer

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“Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus”

I remember hearing about her on the news. A teenager fleeing her Muslim parents because of a fear of retaliation because she was a Christian. In America. In the 21st century.

Rifqa Bary was born into a Muslim family in Sri Lanka, where she remembers simple pleasures and happy parents, but also confusion over how she was sometimes treated.

It was during her time in Sri Lanka that Rifqa first felt the Presence. “It pressed in closer and closer…But I wasn’t scared. I felt strangely protected, cherished, even loved…I knew Someone was there…”

Her traveling father was in America often, and moved the family there when she was around eight years old. The shock of 9/11 came shortly after the family made their home in NYC. Not long after, young Rifqa went to her neighbor’s house and joined their family prayer meeting. Until she realized they were praying to Jesus. She hurried home in the middle of the prayer, fearful of what her parents would say, shaken up at her close encounter with Christians. Her neighbor friend was a Christian?

Her father moved the family to Ohio, where Rifqa sometimes again found herself in the home of Christians. They seemed so peaceful. Their home lives were much happier than Rifqa’s, whose parents had grown more abusive and older brother more tormenting. A girl at school befriended Rifqa and invited her to a church event. Rifqa jumped at the chance, lying to her parents about her absence that night.

But at church she felt it again. That Presence! This was what she had been looking for! Was peace really to be found in Christianity—in Jesus? Rifqa walked down the aisle and prayed with a pastor, crying her heart out.

A Double Life

As the tension in her home grew, so did her double life. Since Rifqa had to lie to her parents every time she went to a Christian event, her church attendance was sporadic. New friends had encoded phone conversations about her newfound faith. Her Christian friend at school patiently answered her questions and gave her a Bible small enough to be easily hidden.

Rifqa participated in her family’s required Islamic prayers with less and less heart. Her parents enrolled her in an Islamic summer class, trying desperately to retain what Islam she had left in her.

But she had something greater than Islam now. While still in high school, Rifqa was secretly baptized in a river not far from their house, with only a few witnesses. There would be no turning back.

Change of Plans

She never knew how they found out.

She had had many close calls, such as when she felt a prompting to move her Bible out of its hiding place in her backpack. A few hours later, her father rummaged all through her backpack unannounced, looking for a pencil.

Then one day her father came storming into her room, shouting, asking if she was a Christian, if she’d been baptized. Rifqa was silent. He held her laptop in the air, as if he would smash it over her head. Rifqa didn’t doubt that he would.

But he didn’t. He put her laptop down, told her to drop these Christian ideas…or…or…Rifqa wasn’t sure. An asylum, her mother threatened. “I’ll kill you,” her father said.

Then he left on another trip. Rifqa went to a prayer meeting, but afterward, she found out her father was coming home early—something he’d never done—because the mosque had told him to deal with her. He would be home on Sunday.

Her father on his way home and the rest of her family sleeping, Rifqa started to panic. She was on her way to a Sri Lankan Islamic asylum—or worse. Praying for a way out or strength to face what was coming, Rifqa tried to call a trusted friend, but he didn’t answer. Then she checked Facebook, and a Facebook friend she had never met in person had messaged her, reaching out.

“Can you call me?” Rifqa messaged back. And soon she was pouring out her heart to a Christian she had never met in Florida.

Within a few days, through a last-minute plan, Rifqa was welcomed into that Florida home.

She had done it. She had left. She was safe.

 

Not Over Yet

But she had left so much behind—the only home and family she had ever known, abusive as it had been. She took only her laptop, cell phone and charger, Bible, and the clothes on her back. She had left everything else behind. And her precious baby brother, still living with her unpredictable family. Still living in Islam.

Rifqa’s story wasn’t over when she came to Blake and Beverly’s house in Florida. The ensuing legal battle, resulting in the news coverage I had seen, continued for months. Rifqa was first in a juvenile detention facility, then went through many foster homes. She endured cancer treatment. With her 18th birthday, she was free from court and from her family, though she still lives in an undisclosed location for her own protection.

So she shares her story—so far—with us. One day we will hear the rest.

“I pray that my story testifies to the power of God’s prevailing against the forces of darkness… And if for no other reason, I deem it a privilege to carry my cross with all men and women across the globe who have paid and are paying a high price for declaring Jesus as Lord… Wherever the church has lost this passion and fervor may stories like mine disturb the cobwebs that limit believers’ faith to a menu selection—when Jesus is truly the feast Himself.” – Rifqa Bary

“Are Ya’ll Ready to See Your Fixer Upper?”

“We take the worst house in the best neighborhood and we turn it into our clients’ dream home,” Chip Gaines says during the opening theme of the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Chip and his wife Joanna pour time and energy into dated real estate, revealing a charming home for their clients within each 45-minute episode.

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Source: HGTV

My family and I watched a re-run last week of their renovation of The Pit, a two-story house purchased for $10,000 and complete with layers of abandoned junk and squirrel infestations. “This is not the right house,” their client said.

Clint and his wife Kelly saw the bullet holes in the siding and the trash in the yard, but Joanna urged them to look deeper. “This is what we do,” she said, also reminding Clint of his own profession as a woodworker. “Everyone’s throwing it away, you see vision for it.” The house wouldn’t stay this way.

Continue reading “Are Ya’ll Ready to See Your Fixer Upper?”

Book Review! “Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World”

I don’t really feel like going to work tomorrow.

And it’s not because of where I work. I love what I do and everyone I work with. But some days I’m tired of the…regular-ness.

It’s crazy just how much of what we do each day we do again the next day. The alarm wakes us up. Then the snooze alarm wakes us up again. We make the bed. We clock in at work. We change diapers or wash dishes or file the report.

Tomorrow there will be more reports. More diapers. Always more dishes. And my bed won’t make itself. What does it mean when we cover the same ground every day? What do we accomplish by doing the same ordinary things day after day after day? Continue reading Book Review! “Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World”