On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the city of Capernaum, archeologists have excavated a private home built in the first century that was converted into a public meeting place, and later expanded into an octagonal church. Although not substantiated, it may “very well have been the home of Peter or his mother-in-law in which Jesus taught and in which he was sought out by crowds.” (Craig Evans, Jesus and His World, 2012).
There is something that’s particularly compelling about this home turned church in that it seems to have arisen out of a felt need more than strategy. Not enough room? Take out a wall. Can’t get a sick guy to Jesus? Lower him through the roof. It only makes sense that what began as a private residence, given the activity of a very active Holy Spirit, would eventually become a church—an octagonal church no less, as though it was necessary to keep kicking out walls.
Route 3, also called West Chester Pike, runs from the center of Philadelphia out to the western suburbs. Heading west on Route 3 takes you through a handful of towns, each one the tiniest bit more sophisticated. Starbucks’ begin to pop up, then Paneras, a grassy median with a quaint wooden sign, Newtown Square, Edgemont, until finally the road splits, the median widens, and you find yourself on a one-way street in the town of West Chester, with shade trees, brick sidewalks, and a Hybrid Cycles shop. This is where Route 3 ends. Essentially, it’s one big U-turn; left on High Street, left on Market Street, and you’re headed back to Philly on Route 3, back through Newtown Square, Marple, Broomall; cement curbs turn to rubble again, abandoned lots, abandoned buildings, ABC Check Cashing…and drugs.
We live in West Chester, 3 blocks from that U turn, in a brick cape cod that my husband—somewhat on a whim—painted white one summer. We love it here. There’s a university and good public schools, there are parks and a farmer’s market. What I didn’t know when we purchased our home, however, was that there are drugs. I don’t mean that I am so naïve as to think that our wholesome little village is somehow immune to weed, underage drinking, and those who peruse medicine cabinets for a bit of artificial utopia. What I mean is that West Chester, with its terrific schools and pretty, nuclear families, is a great place for a drug dealer to wander out to, being how kids around here tend to have cash and usually a bit of pain in their lives they’d like to shrug off, at least for an hour or two.
We opened our home to young people, many who were at a crossroads in their lives, in a roundabout way because of some of the struggles our own kids were having with drugs. The blunt truth is that my husband and I were sideswiped. Neither of us ever went down that path, and even though every parenting book on the planet will tell you that no kid is immune to drugs, yes, we most certainly thought our kids were immune to drugs. After setting limits, encouraging an open dialogue, and praying like our kid’s lives depended on it (oh, right, they did), it became clear that we were in over our heads and pretty desperate.
My only explanation for why we, in our desperation, decided to open our home to other kids who had been or were struggling with drugs is that it appeared that God was pressing us in that direction. I think the first clue of what our home would become was when our daughter brought home a stray from her Rehab After School program, sat her down in front of my husband and said something to the effect of “you should talk to my dad, he’ll help you.”
After a dull stare and a fairly long pause, I believe my husband started talking about Jesus. Of course, you can’t talk about Jesus without praying, and then when you’re praying a lot you tend to be open to what’s next, and when you’re open to what’s next, there’s a good chance there are more opportunities like the one you just took. As it turned out there were a lot more, standing in line behind this first girl—and long story short—this led to a Bible study, a prayer night, quite a few houseguests, many late night discussions, and yet more people to love and pray for.
Now, here I am fearful of making my husband and myself out to be some lovely, altruistic, selfless couple. We are not. When all of this began we were scared crap-less, confused, and the only thing we could think to do was get more Jesus around here. In fact, we did many, many things wrong, but the one thing we did do right was follow that simple, albeit frequently abused advice: Trust God.
Without our permission, God had thrown us into quite a trial with our own children. And since we had yet to fully grasp predestination and free will, all we could do was trust God, which at the most fundamental level means that we prayed a lot and thanked him a lot.
And this is where the body of Christ has proven to be most lovely: there are some who would assume that a ministry to drug addicts should be left to a certain type of inner-city church, churches with a grungy-hipness and high threshold for the shocking reality of dirt-black sin. On the contrary, our conventional, intergenerational church, situated on Route 3, has been a great support and resource to us. At one point it looked like we would lose our home in light of unforeseen expenses, and many in the congregation, when hearing this, basically said no you’re not and proceeded to pay off some bills for us so that we could stay. It was all a little It’s a Wonderful Life-ish, and we won’t soon forget it.
Here is where I would like to name names, but probably shouldn’t, so I will use first initials only: W introduced us to B (her friend), who introduced us to S (his drug buddy who had miraculously come to Christ and was clean), who introduced us to J (the mother of C, S’s heroin buddy), who had a crazy God-is-merciful prison conversion and who lives on Route 3, closer to Philadelphia (and has Bible studies and prayer and love at her home), and we all prayed for her daughter, also J, who was missing in Florida, and C, who was addicted to heroin for 7 years, until J came home and C kicked heroin for prayer, and W lived through an overdose and septic shock, and at that point it made sense for us to keep praying.
And there is far more I could tell you about the love of God.
Psalm 72:16 ends with “…and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!” God has and is turning hard hearts to himself. It is a beautiful thing to watch. Our home is a safe-house but the battles are intense, and this most definitely is not the ministry I would have signed up for. But what I did sign up for was the battle, and in the end I’m glad that I did.
In Capernaum, when that ancient home was excavated, graffiti was found scratched into the walls. Inscriptions such as “Lord Jesus Christ help thy servant” and “Christ have mercy.” Sometimes the pain is excruciating around here (why hasn’t so and so surrendered Lord? Did you hear that N had another overdose?), and if our own walls could talk and state what we’re feeling in our hearts, apart from that one word “thy” which I would replace with “your,” the entreaty would be identical. Lord Jesus Christ help your servants.