You just never know who might show up in your neighborhood. As I was walking through ours on Halloween night, I passed another family who lives down the street. Their daughter was dressed in full costume. They looked as American as the next person, but they didn’t speak English to each other.
At the end of the neighborhood parade, with most of us eating hot dogs in an open lot, I had a chance to speak with the dad. They recently moved to Tallahassee from the Ukraine. He’s self-employed and works from home. His wife does not speak English, and he translates for her. Their daughter is in the same grade as Drake at Gilchrist. After a few pleasantries, I told him I was a pastor and mentioned our International ministry and the English classes we offer. He very politely declined but he did reveal that he knew several Baptists. Most of the Ukrainian Baptists he knew usually landed in San Francisco.
I’ve reflected on this experience over the last 24 hours at First Baptist. Who would have thought a gathering of strangers could lead to a conversation about the Lord…and First Baptist? When we’re out and about serving in the region around our church or walking our streets, we are the missionaries sent to love Tallahassee.
Yesterday, I drove over to the Montgomery House on California Street. Less than two miles from here, a team of 10 men are rebuilding a house. As Eris Wilson says, “We’re making something out of nothing.” This “something” is a home that doubles as a ministry center for fatherless children and families whose fathers are in Wakulla State Prison.
Last night, Marty and Janice Smith and our International Ministry hosted guests from 25 different countries around the world for a Thanksgiving Dinner. We ate traditional American turkey and dressing with a global village full of side dishes. We heard Psalm 100 spoken in four languages and “How Great Thou Art” sung in three. Dr. Dale Olsen played flutes from five different countries.
At 10:00PM, the Cold Night Shelter opened to 55 guests who spent the night in our gymnasium. These men are part of the overflow from The Shelter. When it is above capacity on the coldest nights of the year, The Shelter partners with First Baptist and many others to provide a warm place to stay. Our volunteers, along with Steve Wofford, provided “room at the inn,” for weary men.
This morning, I traveled a few miles away to Sabal Palm Elementary to participate in a Veteran’s Day Ceremony. First Joy Choir sang, along with the Sabal Palm Cheerleaders and Choir. I think even a few First Joy members tried to become cheerleaders. We marked a new beginning for Sabal Palm, commemorating the location of the school at Dale Mabry Field, a training base for the armed services during World War 1 and World War 2.
Here’s what I’m noticing over the past 24 hours. Everywhere I turn, First Baptist is in the area. They were reaching out, loving, and sharing Christ through word and deed. Whether with a hammer at Montgomery house, the hospitality of the Internationals, a cot in the CLC, the music of First Joy, or the mentoring at Sabal Palm, FBC people were living for Christ and Loving Tallahassee.
But I see something else too. Sometimes a seed planted on your own street sprouts later at 108 West College Avenue. As I sat down last night to eat my Thanksgiving Dinner with Marty and Janice Smith, I looked across the fellowship hall. I bet you’ll never guess who came to dinner. My Ukrainian neighbors were seated at a table with another family who invited them from our International Ministry. They had been blessed by the English classes and wanted to include them in the Thanksgiving feast.
Just a few blocks from First Baptist, and across our community, you’ll find a few people known as the church. They’re in handfuls and clusters, serving, sharing, and loving. They’re right in your neighborhood.