It all began when I was a gawky and spastic nine-year old kid seated at a table around a deck of cards in an old camping trailer at Ludington, Michigan. I remember one particular night we ran into some friends at our favorite campsite, and we spent the night there playing cards and sitting around the campfire. Well, I suppose I ought to say everyone else spent the night playing cards and laughing with friends, while I watched enviously from afar. I remember hovering over the card table, waiting to pounce into the game and conversation like any socially-awkward homeschool kid would do. What happened next is a moment that has stuck with me for many years, and proved to be one of the greatest acts of God in my life:
“Hey man, do you want to play?”
That was the voice of the Josh White. Josh White was (and still is, I’m sure) a dead-ringer for Zack Efron, complete with bicep muscle mass larger than my torso, wavy hair too styled and soft to speak of, complimented by a nice smile and matching friendly demeanor. He was the epitome of cool. I wanted to be him, all the guys wanted to be his friend, and the girls wanted to date him.
I stood there quite stunned. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
I jumped into the game. Somehow, everything I said didn’t fall to the ground, and the laughs and conversation drowned out the crickets that I was sure I was going to hear every time I spoke.
“Wow man, you are so funny! I really like hanging out with you!”, Josh said to me.
BE STILL MY BEATING HEART, JOSH WHITE!
To this day, I’m still not sure if I am cool, or if Josh was just that abundantly nice. I’m more inclined to think the later.
Fast-forward through a night of inclusion, fun, and feeling like one of the guys, I return to our trailer on cloud 9. I have seen the face of cool and lived to tell of it.
As I sat in my bed that night, I did something peculiar. I opened my Bible because I wanted to read it. I was filled with happiness and joy like I had never known, and the Bible just seemed like a good outlet. I read it because I wanted to, not because anyone told me, and I was not forced to. Josh never told me to read it. My parents didn’t tell me to read it. This was the first time I had ever opened my Bible from my own accord. The friendship I experienced that day naturally pushed me to a greater relationship with my Creator.
As the years have passed, Josh White has been my inspiration and model of ministry. Showing love, hospitality, and acceptance to someone is one of the best ways they can encounter God. I have felt that God has called me to go and do likewise wherever I go. Sometimes, all people need is a friend and a safe place, and God will appear soon enough.
Fast forward a few years and I am at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia with some classmates. It’s the end of the day, and bless the Lord, I am so tired of hearing people talk. Thoughts of drowning in a bean bag and committing the sin of gluttony upon free snacks in the foyer overwhelm my tired bones. However, I feel a leading in my spirit that I should keep going and attend the next session, as people have sacrificed so I can go to this conference. I quickly grab my ultra-styled and hip conference brochure and my eyes dart up and down the page, scanning for a glimmer of life in a boring onslaught of well-intentioned church professionals. My eyes land on a certain presenter: John Mark Comer, a pastor in Portland, Oregon. John has the look of a pastor straight out of a Babylon Bee article. His perfect smile, styled hair, and warm eyes seem to say: donate to my longboarding ministry and God will bless you with a perfect life too! Despite my misgivings, I feel a calling within my heart, pleading with me to go forward and to hear the man speak. My weary body obeys, and I slink into my seat in the back.
Pastor John brought a fire to my heart that has been stirring since Josh White asked me to play cards with him. In Portland, the church has lost its power and influence in society. People do not respect the church as they used to. Many churches find themselves in a place of exile in society. The church has lost its place as the cornerstone of the community. However, as the church has lost its power, it has traded power for relationships. It has traded church pews and buildings for living rooms and coffee shops. It has traded conferences and seminaries for leadership trainings at the bar. It has traded programs and structures for Facebook group meet-ups and drop-in sports leagues. It has traded denominationalism for partisanship among the splintered groups of Christianity, as something that is united is far more likely to survive. The church has lost a few things along the way, but the church has also gained many things. All of my life, I have always wanted to be the church the way Josh White was to me that night. I don’t want to create structures or systems. I want to meet people, engage them with friendship and compassion, and hopefully, let them see something different in me. I want to be friends with the people who don’t fit anywhere else, so that I can introduce them to my Best Friend.
Portland sounded like just the place for us to be.
Over the next few weeks, I did as much research as I could. I even looked at going outside of Portland, but everything outside of the city felt wrong and disobedient. To be anywhere besides Portland would be disobedient, no matter the housing cost, lack of church jobs, and anti-church culture. The last time I felt the voice of the Lord so tangibly was when he asked me to marry my wife, Jessie. That decision turned out pretty well for me. I’m hoping this one does too.
Eventually, I came into contact with Cory Doiron, a church planter in Portland. In my typically awkward fashion, I thought he was someone I had met previously, and had a conversation with him, still thinking he was someone else. Eventually, it came to pass I had no idea who he was. Still, a start is a start, right? I got to know Cory more, and learned that he had been praying for people to join his house church movement in Portland.
“Put me in, coach!” I was sold on the idea before I even visited.
Fast forward through several months and a memorable visit later, we are now just 30 days from our move to Portland to join the house church in Portland.
I hope that we see God. I hope the church plant is a success. I hope that someone can find friendship, love, and my friend Jesus through me. I hope that my wife is happy in Portland. I love her so much, and she will forever have my respect and honor for agreeing to do this with me. I hope I won’t lose touch with my friends and my family. I hope I can find people to share life’s joys and sadness with. I hope that our life is happy and that we find success, but I hope above all that God is honored and people experience love. I am not too naive to hope we will not encounter sadness and great difficulty, instead, I hope for us to merely have faith that is more than the trials ahead.
As we go now, I know the Lord goes ahead of us. All of my life, I have experienced God profoundly through friendships, just as I did through Josh. I remember on the flight over to our first visit to Portland, I was so nervous and afraid during take off. Would people like me? Would I be offered the job? Can I fit in? Could I somehow not be too awkward and talk to much? The good Lord said that faith can move a mountain, but all I prayed for was to be accepted. Am I good enough for this? Is God good enough for this? As these thoughts ran through my head, I felt the voice of Jesus say to me:
“I am here, waiting for you, Josh.”
I imagined the arms of Jesus opening wide, waiting to receive me at the airport. I was moved by this picture, and I felt a tear roll down my cheek. No matter my self-doubt and vain insecurities, I can always find a friend in the arms of Christ. As I contemplated this, I remembered someone is indeed waiting for me at the airport. Cory was going to pick us up, a man I have never met in person, and who was praying to find someone like me, as I have been praying to find someone like him. It was so comforting to know that I had a friend who was willing to meet me and take care of my wife and I. Bless the Lord, he was late, because #lifewithkids, but he was eventually there and he did show up! Jesus was indeed waiting for me at the airport, he was there through the vast web of connections, arranging all of the relationships, callings, prayers, internet clicks, speakers, and stirrings of the heart to converge on these people, at this time, in this city, for this purpose: that God may be experienced in Portland. As I met my new friend Cory, I could see my old friend Jesus. We are so glad to be on this journey with our new friends.