Yesterday morning I became an associate member at Christ the King, the church in Duncanville that I’ve been a part of while attending GIAL. In 3 weeks, my studies at GIAL will be over for now, and I’ll soon move on from the Dallas area. But I took my membership vows because I don’t plan on letting my ties to Christ the King disappear when I’m not physically around anymore. Just as with my home church of Chapel back in Pennsylvania, family is family and commitment is commitment — regardless of time and distance.
While I truly believe that (so much so that I stand in front of a congregation and publicly say so), my situation leaves me wondering what that looks like practically. The mission statement of Christ the King is “Seeking to be faithfully present to God, to one another, and to our world.” I love this vision and the way this young community of believers is hashing out what that means for us, here, now. I can personally attest to the numerous ways they have been faithfully present to me during my 10 months here.
But my dilemma is this: what does faithful presence look like for an itinerating missionary? Yes, I hope to be in a different part of the world someday (hopefully soon!) where I’ll represent my American church family, but what about in the meantime? What does presence in a place look like when you will soon be absent? What does faithfulness look like when, from the beginning, you know your stay will most likely be short-term? I’ve sometimes felt this guilty urge to tell people up front not to get used to seeing me around. Not just here in Dallas, but going forward into full-time support-raising — how do I live here and now when I’m called to go be present in a land far away at some undetermined point in the future? Though I haven’t gotten there in body, my mind (and soon my heart, I suspect) is already there.
Thankfully, the church isn’t about me, and going on mission isn’t about me either. That’s why I can make the commitment to both, trusting that the God who is faithful will lead me in somehow being faithful. I doubt that I’ll soon find answers for all these questions. But I do find analogies in nature. Some of us are like trees. We stay in a place, and our roots reach deep into its soil. We are not easily moved. Others of us are like vines. We spread out, creeping and reaching outward more than downward. We cover ground. I am most definitely of the vine persuasion, at least at this stage of life. But boy, do I respect the trees. They are often the ones that give me a place to latch onto. Maybe the church’s faithful presence is created by both trees and vines, and together, we reach both outward and downward into the world.
The questions of presence, absence, and faithfulness will linger throughout my itineration and beyond, I’m sure. But a man who was much better than I with analogies once said,
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
And long before, when that man’s coming was still just a prophecy, someone wrote,
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
Vines and trees, no matter what season of life — we’re all called to bear fruit. And whether our root systems go out or go deep or a little of both, we will grow only when we find our being in the One whose presence is better than life.