These are the members of the faith family known as the Mayapusi Christian Fellowship who met this morning for worship at the humble home of a fellow, known to me only as Brother Pepe. This group of believers have recently experienced the loss of their house of worship. I will not go into the details here, but suffice it to say that the circumstances came about over petty jealousy and control issues by the vindictive person who claimed to hold ownership of the building. The result was, as we call it in America, a church split.
The interesting thing about this situation is that the group who left the church was not a small, disgruntled group of malcontents. In fact, once this group left the intolerable conditions placed upon them by those who claimed ownership of the building, only one family remained on the premises. Rather than put up a fight or seek legal remedy through the corrupt court system, this group of believers, led by Pastor Joseph Zerna simply chose to continue on in their service to the Lord, without a permanent place to call home. Their devotion to Christ is overwhelming. Let me give you an example.
On Tuesday of this week, our mission team drove three hours to the remote village of Lamdas for an afternoon evangelistic crusade. (see a previous post) When we arrived in Lamdas, we were greeted by six or seven of the members of the Mayapusi church, who had WALKED for two hours to be there to take part in the work. We have folks who won't walk down the block or drive for 10 minutes to be in the comfortable environs of the Lord's house, while these poor people walked miles wearing flip flops, over mountain trails in rugged terrain, simply for the joy of being in the service that day. Why? For the simple reason that they knew there were many people in Lamdas who needed Jesus, and these folks wanted to be there to help. Our entire team was blown away by their love, their dedication, and their humble spirits. That's just the kind of Christ Followers they are.
Following the ugly, unscriptural, and vindictive actions of the supposed property owner late last year, twenty five souls gathered together for worship in a member's home in mid December, and since that time they have hung together, and actively continued worship, fellowship and evangelism in their community and in outreach to nearby villages. This morning, fifty men women and children gathered in the rain, under a makeshift shelter of bamboo poles and tarps to celebrate the Lord's Day. I was honored to be in their presence.
I preached to them today from Acts 28 regarding an incident that happened in the wake of the Apostle Paul and 275 others suffering shipwreck in a terrible two week storm. Once the castaways had made it safely to shore, Paul, himself a prisoner on his way to Rome for trial, actively sought to help minister to those who had survived the harrowing experience. A fire had been started to help warm the wet cold survivors of the shipwreck. While gathering up sticks to add to a fire, Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper that had been in the bundle of brush.
The natives of the island, identified as the present day island of Malta, were horrified when they saw what had happened to Paul. Here was an innocent man, who was headed to Rome to defend himself before Caesar, against the trumped up charges of which he had been convicted. Yet, having advised the ship's captain of God's message, and having survived the shipwreck, now he went about the chore of ministering to others when tragedy struck. Here is how Paul's traveling companion, Dr. Luke, described the incident in one of the "we passages" in the Book of Acts (chapter 28, verses 1-6):
"Safely ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in, since rain was falling and it was cold. As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god." (HCSB)
There is much to be learned from Paul's actions here, and I shared some thoughts along these lines with the believers in Mayapusi.
In the midst of Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism, Paul chose not to flee, fight, or defend his reputation. Instead, he simply shook off the serpent into the fire and went on about his business.
Much like the apostle of old, the Mayapusians are also facing Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism. I reminded them that, like Paul, they had the Power, Presence, and Plan of Almighty God to protect them and provide for them during this time of difficulty. My advice to them, and to all who find themselves in tough circumstances beyond their personal control - shake off the snakes of Crisis, Criticism, and Cynicism, and stay busy about the Kingdom agenda!