“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
My cousin April and I have been best friends since the day I was born (she’s 6 months older). Growing up we spent every summer together and pretended we were sisters. I grew up in church and when April visited, she did too. But only until our teens and early twenties when we both seemed to put church as a low priority in our lives.
Sixteen years ago, my husband and I were invited to church. We learned how to really know and pursue a personal relationship with God, the importance of community and a church family, how to find Gods purpose for our lives, and how to make a difference in the lives of others. You could say that invite to church changed our lives forever.
I wanted that change for April but she lived far away. I often encouraged her to find a church, to find the community, relationships, and purpose that we had found. She wasn’t so sure. April was shy when it came to church and the idea overwhelmed her.
In 2006 April became a widow and a single Mom of a 3 year old daughter when her husband lost a horrible battle with brain cancer. I wanted April to get plugged into a church home more than ever by this point and so I bought her a ticket to Devoted Conference for Christmas that year. She came, she liked it, and left thinking about joining a church. But still didn’t feel comfortable. I bought April a ticket to Devoted Conference every Christmas for the next 4 years. Every year she attended, she enjoyed herself, and she left feeling encouraged but never encouraged enough to start going to church once she got back home. But something happened that forth year. April told me she had bought her own ticket to Devoted Conference for the next year – after all, the best deal for next year is during Devoted weekend! And so that next conference, April came AND she brought a friend! Every year that followed, she has bought her own ticket and every year she brings more and more friends!
I loved that she was spending Devoted weekend with me, and that she was inviting others – but I knew that attending a conference once a year wasn’t enough. She and her daughter should be in a church where they could find what we had – regular teaching of God’s word, with accountability, community, purpose together that made a difference in themselves and in their community! April and I talked about this for years. I started feeling like maybe I was being annoying.
One year, when her daughter was in middle school, April decided she would try church. We texted back and forth, looking at different options near her, and she settled on one. I was so excited! She went. She didn’t love it. She reported back that she felt uncomfortable, no one talked to her, and she hated that she sat by herself. I encouraged her to go back! To find a community group and find somewhere to serve. It takes a few weeks! Introduce yourself to someone! She was too shy and felt uncomfortable. She attended for a while but never plugged in. She didn’t find community in that church and eventually stopped going.
Then it happened. April attended a community Christmas parade where she found out about another church that was meeting on Sundays in her daughter’s high school. Her daughter insisted they try it out. April shared with me that their first visit was warm and welcoming but she wasn’t sure this was the one for her because she was still uncomfortable. Turns out, it was! It wasn’t long before she pushed past the uncomfortable and decided to plug in! She attended their journey classes. She and her daughter joined community groups. And they both started serving regularly. Her daughter found community in the youth group and even auditioned for the worship team – and made it! She had found godly role models and friends with the same goals. Pretty soon, April was inviting ME to HER church events! 🙂 I had some time to do just that, a few months ago. I couldn’t believe all the friends and support April had. She knew everyone – and they all knew her! She now leads an environment that connects people interested in serving opportunities at her campus. She is leading and making people feel welcome. Her church felt like her family!
Last week, April was in town for Christmas.
I always enjoy our time together but this time, she couldn’t stay long – she had invited 12 of her family members and friends to her church for an evening service, and they were all coming! I teared up as I hugged her goodbye. She is such a blessing to so many and she and her daughter are truly making a difference! None of that could have happened if God hadn’t placed on my heart – and if I didn’t follow through with a persistent but simple invitation with a few small encouraging words, trickled over time. You never know when that next invite will be the one!
Devoted Devotional By Sarah Hummel