The room known as the East Auditorium, where chairs are normally lined up in rows, had been transformed to a large conference room with skirted round tables filling the space. Round. Everything round. Even the centerpieces were round containers with ping-pong balls. The message: circles are better than rows. It was time to re:group and get people thinking in circles.
I wasn’t even “supposed” to be at the conference. I wasn’t on the guest or attendee list, but something moved me bigger than a lack of an invitation. People I wanted to see were in town from across the globe, and I was determined to find them. If it only meant a hug during a 15-minute break in their busy conference schedule, that would be fine. My family had met them last summer on a mission trip to Moldova. Honestly, when we waved goodbye last July, I never thought I’d see them again. Now they were in my town, at my church. Nothing was going to stop me from seeing them. Nothing.
Somehow among all the attendees, it only took a few minutes to find them, and I squeezed each one practically in half. Smiles. Laughter. Hugs. They looked great.
“You look different!” they said to me.
“I hope so. When you saw me I was on a mission trip,” I replied.
But it was time for the main session to start, and they needed to get to their seats. Instead of saying goodbye so soon, I walked with them inside and may have used a Russian accent as the greeter welcomed us. Whatever worked. Nice to know I could blend so easily.
They asked me to stay. The table had an available seat, and my calendar was clear for the rest of the afternoon, so I dug in my heels. The session began in typical North Point style (which means amazing beyond description), and I stood there at a ten-top table near the stage singing beside people for whom English is not their first language. Romanian and Russian flow from their lips without pause. The English words on the screen or barreling out of the speakers’ or singers’ lips at lightning speed might have required more concentration from them. Some of the jokes may have gone over their heads, simply due to cultural differences, but the message was clear. We were experiencing something amazing together.
During the songs I was overwhelmed when I thought of what brought us together. In a grand room full of Americans, I felt closest to the visitors from Moldova. After the worship, I reached over to pat one of the gals on the knee, the way a mom would express love to a child. “I hurd your voice.You sing gud,” she told me in her thick accent. Regardless of the lyrics, the message carried.
As providence would have it, their night was free, but their boss, Andre, had a meeting he needed to attend. I offered to take them wherever they wanted to go, and after a discussion in rapid-fire Russian, they took me up on it. So at 4 o’clock we set off to their chosen destination: a dollar store, WalMart, and Kohl’s.
Their lead pastor had the only working phone in America, so we stayed in contact. I never wanted him to wonder where they were.
I couldn’t believe that I had these visitors with me. Part of me felt so guilty, knowing that the other members of our mission team would love to be with us, and I was hogging them all to myself. But it wasn’t planned; the whole afternoon and evening had been impromptu. As I waited for them at the different stores, I thought of how gracious they had been to us making sure our every need was met when we were in their land. It was my chance to do something similar.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. A resounding YES had me texting Andre to tell him to meet us at the Cheesecake Factory. He responded that it would be too expensive. They would find some fast food, perhaps a KFC. Again, I flashed back to our trip to their country, where they gave us the best they could.
I texted back to Andre. “Absolutely not. Go to the Cheesecake Factory at North Point Mall. I will not let you come to America and eat KFC on your last night here. Don’t worry about it.” At that moment I felt like Santa Claus.
When we parked and walked into the restaurant, the group oohed and aahed at the decor. We had a large round table in the semi-private round room (again with the circles), which afforded a couple more people from the church ample room to come in and visit with them there. They ate and ate well. They were so appreciative of everything and absolutely loved the cheesecake.
After dinner, Sergui asked me to come outside with him. He had a gift for me, a handmade vase from Moldova. I was touched. He and Andre left for an appointment, and I drove the other five to two different host homes where they were staying.
When I got to my home, my husband and son were already asleep. The dogfood hadn’t been purchased, the package wasn’t shipped, the homework wasn’t graded. My TO DO list remained unchecked. All of that could be done the next day, when these dear ones would be packing up and heading to the airport. But I had an afternoon full of great memories by taking a chance and acting on an urge. It’s all about relationships. Doing life in circles. Furthermore on UpStreet this month, we’re talking about service: seeing a need and doing something about it. I loved living out God’s Big Idea. I still can’t believe I got to see them all again. Circles make the world go round. Bottom line: I love my church.