A Day Well Spent.
“Hi. I'm a visitor in town staying at the Best Western and would like to attend your church today. Is there anyone who could collect us for your English Worship Service?”
That was how it all started. Keri and I had landed at 6am in Chicago on Sunday morning (from Louisville). Our flight back to Abu Dhabi was at 9pm and we had a whole day to wait for our outbound flight. We checked in at the Best Western for the day, and I did a search on ‘9Marks Church Directory’ for a like-minded church we could worship at that Sunday morning. I found a church that was only 12 minutes away from where we were staying and decided to take a chance and write to them on their Facebook messenger link.
I got a reply within a few minutes; “Yes absolutely. Our service starts at 9:45am”. Tim replied and said that he would pick us up at 9:30am.
We arrived at the English Service (Open Door Ministry) of the Vineyard Presbyterian Church just as the first hymn was being sung. The church was an Asian American congregation. As we sat down, we looked around and realised that we were the only non-Asian attendees. It was not a large church. The church was made up of people mostly from Korean descent.
The order of service was very similar to ours, and even the songs we sang we recognised and were able to join in and lift our voices in worship. Their music team consisted of a male lead singer who played the guitar, two female vocalists and a lady who played the keyboard. I could imagine Deana, Marilize, Sanka, Eric, David and Ray and any of our music team ministering up there. I started becoming thankful that the Lord had directed us to this small church and not one of the big or more famous Louisville churches we had heard so much about, because there was so much I could relate to coming from a smaller, not-so-famous church in Abu Dhabi.
They even had a ‘meet and greet’ time, in their service, very similar to what we had before in the Heritage Hall. I soon found myself connecting with these strangers as we shook each other’s hands and shared a smile and our names. After we sat down another man came up and gave the announcements. When he was finished another person came and read the scriptures and prayed the prayer of adoration. After he was done the pastor came up and prayed the prayer of petition.
The text he preached from was from Ephesians 5:18-20, ‘Be Filled With the Spirit’. He was an expositional preacher and had been preaching through Ephesians for the last few months. He did a great job explaining the text and helping us apply God’s word. Both Keri and I felt like we had met with the Lord and had enjoyed this worship service and the presence of Christ in a unique way. But that was not the end of our experience at Open Door Ministry.
After the service had concluded with the benediction, we had a few more people come up and introduce themselves and we were asked to join them for coffee and fellowship in the fellowship hall. Keri and I had nowhere to go, so we decided to join them. We helped ourselves to coffee and some doughnuts and the room started getting busier as the kiddies from Sunday School started coming into the room to join their parents. This church was very friendly and very warm and thankful that we had joined them for their worship service that day.
Pastor James approached us, and we got talking. After learning that I was a pastor of a church in Abu Dhabi, he asked if Keri and I would join them for their Adult Sunday School and share a little bit about our ministry. I hadn’t prepared anything but agreed to share. We sat around a conference room table and answered some of the questions they had about New Life Church and the ministry in a Muslim nation.
I shared the story of a man in our church, who told me that he had to leave his country and come to the desert, to a Muslim nation, in order to find Jesus. I told them about another member, who had been deported because he had invited some friends from work to be part of his bible study. I shared about our desire to send Pedro and Vicki to start a church in Angola. I shared some of the highs and the lows and the unique challenges we face as a ‘transient’ ministry.
I sensed that everyone in that room was really interested about the Great Commission and excited to hear how the gospel has overcome so much and achieved so much in this Arab country. Even though only one person had been to the UAE, they were excited and encouraged to be reminded how the gospel has the power to save people (from any nation) from their sins.
At the end of the Sunday School, these dear saints prayed for us and invited us to have lunch with everyone.
When we had sent out that chat message earlier that morning, we had no idea how the day would unfold. As Keri and I sat down later that afternoon back in our hotel room, reflecting on our visit to ‘Open Door Ministry’ we felt overwhelmed and blessed by the love and encouragement we received from this small church. It was a day well spent worshipping with the saints at this local church. I was reminded once again that the deepest bonds we can have with anyone (despite our external differences) are the bonds we have in Christ.
I love how Paul describes the church body as “members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). When we’re members, we belong to the church, not just to a small group or Sunday School class but to the whole. I hope that when our Christian visitors walk away from our Sunday service at New Life Church, we would be just as encouraging, and they could say it was a day well spent worshipping with the saints! I hope that non-Christians visiting our church would see the reality of heaven represented by the members of NLC.
Finding this church in the suburbs of Chicago took effort. To be honest it would have been more convenient to have stayed in our hotel room the rest of the day. But I am so glad we didn’t. The next time you are on holiday on a Sunday and want to be blessed, go visit a like-minded church. Go meet your brothers and sisters that you will spend eternity with. And if you are ever in Chicago on a Sunday, go visit the ‘Open Door Ministry’ of the Vineyard Presbyterian Church.