I was already fifteen minutes late when I pulled into the driveway, and I was surprised to find the entire family -- Mom, Dad, and three kids -- standing on the front porch waiting for me. I was delivering a trunk-load of gifts from the church for a family we were sponsoring at Christmas. I had barely stepped out of the car when the five-year-old daughter ran up to me, flung her arms around my legs to give me a hug, and when I looked down at those bright little eyes and that wide smile, she said, "I know who you are!" "Who am I?" I answered. She said, "You're that man who helps people!"
I've never been paid a higher compliment in my life. "You're that man who helps people." I explained to the little girl and her family that the gifts were from the church, and I was just the deliverer, but I've never forgotten that experience from years ago because her words provide a clear description of the heart of a church which truly cares about the people of our community and region. Though there may be a hundred other ways by which we are known to the people of York County and Southwest Charlotte, the most symbolic of the collective heart of Imagine Church are Thanksgiving dinners and bicycles at Christmas. They have been part of the fabric of Imagine's life and witness since the very first year.
How I wish sometimes that you could travel with me to visit the households we assist through our church's missions program. Each one has its own unique story, and each one tugs at the heartstrings in its own unique way.
We don't get many thank-you cards, nor do we expect them. We may help solve one problem, but for these folks, there are usually other problems immediately to face. Once, however, we received this hand-written message, written on notebook paper: "I am writing to thank you for the wonderful gift you sent my family. I truly cannot thank you enough for all your generosity. There are not too many people in this world who would blindly help someone, but you did and because of your help my family is steadily getting back on our feet. I am left speechless and amazed by your kindness, and the only thing I can say is thank you. I will keep you in my heart and prayers. I pray that God will bless you and your church with good health and all the happiness that you have given my family."
I will keep that letter in a desk drawer along with one that I received a number of years ago. It was a small card with only a two-sentence message, but one that I pull out and look at often to remind me of what we're supposed to do and what we're supposed to be. It says, "Thank you for what your church did. We didn't know anyone cared for the likes of us."
I remember reading about a little girl who was shown a picture and asked to identify it. "It's Jesus," she said. "No, it isn't," said the teacher. "You mean it's not Jesus?" the little girl asked, obviously surprised. "No," the teacher said again. "Well," said the little girl, "it sure does look like him." My thought is that what happens because of Imagine Church week after week may not be Christianity, but it sure does look like it. When a church commits to help and serve, feed and clothe, it looks a lot like Jesus to me.
It's not a bad way to be known out there in the wider world. "That's the church that helps people."
In the name of the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Bruce Jones, Pastor and Co-Creator,
Imagine Church of the Carolinas