Rhode Island, geographically, is the smallest state in the United States. However, it is the second most-densely populated state. This unique state was our home for 11 years, as North American Mission Board, church planters. The state motto, HOPE, was harmonious with our assignment; to bring the HOPE of Jesus through the expression of a local, Christ centered church.
From the beginning we experienced God; sometimes in joys and results, and other times in silence and endurance.
Building relationships by the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary to planting a church. Even though some may never enter the church doors, relationships build the reputation of the church.
One of the first relationships began in the first place we lived. Our adjoining neighbor was Dolores. What a fireball she was! Born in Boston (with the accent to prove it), Catholic all her life, a widow, knowledgeable, with the composure to survive. She was in her early 90’s now, alone, physically limited, and although she didn’t practice her faith, she clung to it with all she had.
Then we came. The Mississippian’s planting a church in her town! After we met, we’d occasionally make visits to check on her. She watched TV and read, and seemed to accept her life as it was. We snatched as many opportunities to engage with her spiritual need.
One day, she announced she’d be moving to a single level,efficiency apartment. We exchanged addresses, phone numbers, assisted in her move, and soon, our neighbor was gone.
Part of building the friendship with Dolores was to establish who we were, why we came and who we served. Her move would not hinder our relationship with her.
We talked by phone. I would plan visits and bring requested donuts and coffee. One on one chats, sorting through her mail, and sometimes, assisting her with some grooming tasks were common activities.
Dolores often wanted to hear about our work. Talking about Jesus was a natural topic in our conversations. She was curious.
One divine visit, she answered the door agitated and panicked. This was most unusual. Glad to see me, she was anxious to sit at the table. As I divided the snacks, she started to tell me about a recent occurrence since our last visit.
While lying in bed one night, she began thinking about her husband and remembered a verse she’d heard in Catholic school – Jesus would come like a thief in the night. She then wondered if her husband was in heaven, but then fear gripped her heart as she wondered about herself. If Jesus returned in that moment, would she go to heaven?
Hearing this thrilled my heart. God was at work and was revealing Himself to her! The weight of her experience melted away as she shared. She began to realize her day of salvation had come. Now she could receive Jesus into her heart. She could know if Jesus came “like a thief in the night”, she would be ready. Right then she prayed to Jesus.
As we pondered the life changing moments, she wondered aloud why no one had ever told her about Jesus before now.
Gazing out the window, she reflected on the years she’d walked back and forth on the sidewalk there in town – going and coming from Catholic school. “I never heard about Jesus and that He could be mine.” I said, “Well, you know now, Dolores.”
Only a few more visits on God’s eternal calendar were allowed with her. I noticed a blanket of peace wrapped her. She started reading her Bible.
I can only imagine the relief she felt in those last days of her life. Going to bed was no longer a torment and one night that’s where she slipped into Jesus’ arms. The place where the Holy spirit had captured her attention ended up as a place of peaceful passage to her heavenly home.
HOPE had come to Dolores.
Praise be to the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…I Peter 1:3-4