[Note: You can read this article on the new blog -- Mission: Allendale.]
No, it's not the start of an offensive joke. This was a breakfast that happened a couple of weeks ago, in a restaurant called Flavor.
The black guy is Joe Mole, whom I've written about several times (including being in community with him and what I'm learning from him). He works for the county, and is the pastor at Vision Ministries.
For those who don't know, I'm the Hispanic Jew.
The three of us have completely different backgrounds (from seminary to chemistry), but a similar story of winding up in Allendale County -- we all say, "How in the world did God lead us HERE?!" And we all know that God is up to something, and that we are privileged to be a part of it.
The Church Culture
Here's the truth: churches are dying in Allendale County. At the least, there are none (ok, maybe 1 or 2) that are growing. And this growth is on the order of a few percentage points each year, as opposed to the 15% per year growth for Grace Church and many other churches in Greenville. But what else would you expect in a county that shrunk between the 2000 and 2010 censuses?
The church culture of the Low Country of South Carolina (which Allendale is a part of) includes a history of "separate but equal," if not outright racism. Of course, this is not true for every church, but a dominating theme. Even good folks who have been a part of churches for decades have explained to me, "Churches say that they want to reach out to the community and include people of the opposite race. But once you have some of those people (including kids) show up, the church members can't wait to get them out."
Of course, with these two great guys, I was not concerned at all with any hints of racism or division. I knew from private conversations that these men have hearts that want to honor God and love others. But I still had concerns about whether the breakfast would be comfortable, or completely awkward. And then, as it took forever for me to pay for my meal, these two guys were already sitting down. I worried how they were doing.
Turns out, they were having great time connecting. (Imagine that -- the world doesn't need my awesome talents to make things right.) By the time I got to the table they had figured out that God had spoken to each of them at almost the same time the previous Sunday morning, about the same topic regarding shepherding and praying for people in their church. Although these two guys had already known each other (after all, it IS a small town), a deeper connection was being formed.
We talked about church life, about our families, about about what God might be doing. We ate. We talked about what church is about in this culture. We ate some more. We shared our hearts. And we finished eating. But can you imagine what the other customers thought when they saw the three of us (black, white, Hispanic Jew) holding hands and praying before we left?
As I said, we believe that God is at work in Allendale. For example, here are three guys who are different but united, who do ministry within a couple of hundred yards from each other on the same road.
God is powerful, and His desire is to redeem the people in this area. We, like many others, have been assigned and deployed by God. It's not about any one church; it's about God's kingdom.