You know you’ve gone too far when even the most Evangelical, Tongues-Speaking, Halloween-hating, Bible-thumping, Slain in the spirit 5 days a week, JESUS FREAKS think you’re batshit crazy.
Well, we should’ve known…
But, BLIND FAITH.
The sun was high up in the vibrant blue cloudless sky. The flowers had finally opened their petals to full bloom. The grass was the greenest it would be all year. The air smelled exactly like spring and new beginnings. I was perfectly content leaving school that April afternoon, happy to go home to my 3 adorable little siblings and their daily running-hug greetings as if I had been gone for years. I was pleased to report to Mom I got another A+ in my Advanced History class. I had been so nervous to take this Junior US History class because it meant crossing Davidson road and walking the intimidating high school halls. Eighth graders aren’t very popular with high-schoolers and I wasn’t even popular with my own middle school classmates. Nevertheless, I loved my teacher and more so, the challenge.
I gleefully jumped up the three front steps in one herculean leap and smiled at the rabbit hiding in the rose bush Mom & Bill planted earlier that year. When I opened the front door, my entire family was assembled in the living room waiting for me. Krystal sat on the love-seat with her book-bag still in her lap. Hope & Hannah sat on the floor, backs to the television. Two-year-old Josiah sat on mom’s lap clutching a fistful of her hair in one hand and a plastic brontosaurus in the other. No big running-hug greetings today. Bill stood, Bible in hand.
“Come have a seat, honey,” he said. “We have something to share with everyone.”
I let my school bag slide off my shoulder and drop to the floor by the front door. Plopping down next to Mom, I took Josiah from her and let my lips sink into his soft abundant cheek. He giggled in response.
Bill began pacing slowly back & forth, humming quietly to himself like he always does when he’s praying. He paused & slowly looked at each of us individually, softening his eyes but with a knowing & cheeky grin spread on his lips. It’s not a new one. Every time God shares some news with him, he adorns this grin before sharing it with us. This simple smirk manages to say a whole lot. It says, “God is so good. In this quiet moment, can’t you feel his peace and goodness? He is all powerful and mighty. He has planned out every fine detail of our lives and isn’t that so wonderful? I’m pure enough, only through his grace, for him to share just a bit of that with me as it is my calling to lead this family, these chosen ones, to do his work. I’m proud, but humbly so. I’m blessed. We’re so blessed. Don’t you want to hear what God has spoken to me?”
This time actual words came from his mouth, “We’re not going to church anymore.”
Krystal & I looked at one another with wide confused eyes, her with one eyebrow raised in a perfect arch. It was as if there was a huge “Ummm?” hanging over the room. Hannah began to cry silently, snuggling towards Hope. Hope looked to Mom for answers. Josiah jumped off my lap and ran across the room to play with his dinosaurs. Bill let out a big theatrical laugh. “We’re not going to church any more because God has called us to live in one. We’re going to turn our garage into a sanctuary and our home into a 24 hour church.” He went on to explain that we aren’t called to be churchgoers several days a week, we’re called to be His disciples 24 hours a day. God was going to bring more disciples to Bill to learn and we were going to build a House Church.
Mom supported everything he said and encouraged us to get enthusiastic about it. We loved and trusted her. She had a special way of persuading all of us to come around to ideas we weren’t sure of.
Bill spoke again, “You all know we have been chosen to go to Kenya and preach the Gospel. This is our bootcamp.”
Shortly after this announcement, a man Bill had been witnessing to at work started coming to our house for fellowship and guidance. Upon being saved, he immediately declared himself Bill’s disciple. So it began.
The next several weeks things changed but only slowly at first. Not going to church was quite strange after more than 8 years of never going less than 3 days a week. We had never missed a single service. In place of this, there were extra daily devotionals & homework, more hours of quiet prayer time, many mandatory & spontaneous Praise & Worship ceremonies, and loads of research on Kenyan culture.
I was excited about a lot of things: The sun, learning Swahili, taking care of street kids & abandoned babies, fulfilling my destiny.
Some things I learned would be congruent with my life now: No one can eat until the eldest male has had his first bite. (This isn’t new, Bill was served first every night). Women are second-rate citizens responsible for running the home and child-rearing. (This is what I expected my life to be like anyhow).
What frightened me or made me hesitant: Ugali is bland. Black mambas are deadly and too fast to outrun. Young women in Kenya have a statistically high chance of being raped. Homes are built from mud. One out of every eight adults in rural Kenya is infected with HIV. Mosquitoes. Malaria. Typhoid. Kenyans don’t use toilets.
The more I learned about what life would be like once we got there, the more I didn’t want to go. The guilt of this preference to a First World life when God was calling me to spread his word hit me hard in a new way every day. I kept praying for peace.
When Bill told our previous pastor God’s plan for our house church, Pastor Dave did not support it. Instead, he showed concern for us and our well-being. Many friends and members of past churches didn’t understand what we were doing or why we were doing it. They called to offer differing opinions, advice, and reason. At first, Mom & Bill found this frustrating and infuriating. However, they pretty quickly came around to seeing that it’s not unusual for God’s chosen people to be shunned or walk alone.”Consider John the Baptist,” Bill insisted, “or Moses, Elijah, Jonah, all these men had God’s favor but were outcasts.” I remember an extraordinarily long service focusing on this message.
God rewarded their fortitude through donations from generous people. They managed to collect a large area rug, just big enough to cover the garage floor, 12 folding chairs, and a music stand for Bill to use as a pulpit. I came home from school again just a few weeks later to find the garage completely transformed into a sanctuary.
Bill, proud with his day’s accomplishment, escorted me into the garage to see it done for the first time. I’ll never forget anything about this moment. It was dim, lit only by a single bedside table lamp and small candle, with a tiny stream of light pouring in along the cracks of the garage door. The stench of the olive oil on the door frame hit me before I settled into the fragrance of Mom’s cinnamon candle burning in the corner. For being used, the rug was exceptionally soft and cushiony under my feet. The memory of each of these sensations is unmatched by the doom I felt in the air of that room.
The air was thick. Bill attributed it to God’s presence hanging in the space. “Your mom and I have been praying in the Spirit in here all day. He’s anointed it.” I didn’t feel anointing. To me, it felt the way air does when its so polluted it’s too thick to breathe. To me, it felt like the atmosphere thickening before a violent unforgiving storm. It was thick from lack of oxygen. It was thick with warning.
Another beautiful day on my walk home from school, but this time I was walking briskly, almost at a jogging pace, because my dad had come to town for an impromptu visit. He was at our house waiting for us to get home. Krystal got out of school 20 minutes earlier than I so she would already be there with him. I was blissfully headed in that direction when I passed a mom pushing her infant in a stroller. He had a ridiculous smile on his face and not a care in the world. I thought of those unwanted babies that may never know that kind of love or security if I don’t love them. Then I thought of the mosquitoes. A pang of guilt spread over me. I shook the thoughts out of my head and carried onward.
Krystal had to work that evening. She got a job at Bob Evans to help save money for our exodus to Africa. She couldn’t miss work so Dad spent time with her in the afternoon and I waited patiently for him to pick me up when they were done. He took me to Burger King for dinner. Perhaps it was the guilt I felt just hours before or the thickness of the air in our new sanctuary, but I was so full of emotion I was about to burst. I was unusually open with my dad that day. I shared all my doubts and fears with him. On our way back to the house, from the passenger’s seat of his truck I told him everything I felt about our impending trip, the exciting and the scary. He listened. He listened hard. I don’t know if my dad had ever listened that hard to me before. In fact, I don’t know if anyone in the world’s history has ever truly listened to anyone that hard before. For the first time in my life, I truly felt his love. Alone with him in his big blue truck, for the first time in my life, I felt a connection to him.
Dad is known for his advice. He often gives it even when it’s unsolicited. Those closest to him are known to roll their eyes in anticipation of him pouring out his wisdom simply because he does it so often. But that day he didn’t give me any advice. He simply listened and soaked in this rare moment of me being open with him. In fact, his only response was, “Sis, you know my door is open if you want to come with me.”
He dropped me off at home and headed to his hotel for the night. I spent several hours pondering what he said. I had never lived with Dad without Krystal before. My thoughts reflected the internal struggle I was housing. “If I leave, am I turning my back on God? What will happen if this is my fate? I don’t know if I can build a hut out of mud. How could I possibly leave Hope, Hannah, & Josiah? I’m terrified of making the wrong choice.” I finally fell asleep.
The next morning I somberly confessed to Mom and Bill what I was considering. Mom was in shock. Bill was furious. They spent hours yelling at me, coercing me, and laying the shame on thick. The conversation finally ended when Mom said, “This is the devil. You, Kayla, always do the right thing. This isn’t like you at all. This isn’t you, Kayla.”
I stood up and screamed, “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME. YOU HAVEN’T ASKED HOW I FEEL ABOUT ANY OF THIS. I’M YOUR DAUGHTER. YOU DON’T KNOW ME. YOU HAVEN’T EVEN TRIED TO KNOW ME.” I stormed off, headed to my bedroom sobbing uncontrollably. Just moments later, Bill appeared in the doorway. “You and I both know what God wants you to do. You have one hour to make your decision.”
I cried. I screamed. I threw pillows and pictures. The door opened and a head full of golden curls appeared. “Are you okay?” Hannah asked. “No.” I replied. Then she was called away. Seeing her face melt like that was too much. My body went limp from the pain of it all as I watched the clock tick on. This was no ordinary decision. This wasn’t choosing between rocky road or mint chocolate chip. I fully felt the gravity of this situation. I felt the weight and consequences of both possible outcomes pulling on me with all their might. With less than 20 minutes to go, I went to my journal.
“I’m caught here in the middle, stuck here in-between,
Life is so confusing but give me time and you’ll see
I will have made my decision, hopefully the one that is right
My head is spinning with confusion and also full of fright
It’s this time that determines forever, this choice will change my life
The road is now a fork, do I turn Left or Right?”
Walking down the stairs solemnly, intentionally avoiding the eyes of my little sisters & brother, I attempted to build my confidence for the news I was about to break.
Turning left into the kitchen, I felt vomit rising in my throat. I swallowed hard, my heart beating almost out of my chest. My unsteady hands clasped together to somehow give me the balance to stay standing. Not at all what I intended to say, this is what came out of my mouth, “I don’t care if it’s selfish, I don’t want to poop in a hole in the ground. I’m moving in with dad.” Mom sobbed. Bill looked me squarely in the eye, finger pointed down towards my heart, “You are abandoning those babies and your purpose.” Mom cried harder as I picked the phone up off the receiver to tell my dad to come get me.
Spring is a time of rebirth. But before the world can grow again, it has to die. Everything outside had just gone through this beautiful transformation. Now it was time for me to do the same. Here I was, 14 years old, embarking on my own journey of metamorphosis.
Although I did not manage to completely escape all the batshit crazy, somehow during this time, I did KNOW. I left because although my feelings were in opposition to what I was being told, I could not shrug them off. There were DANGER signs flashing before my heart and eyes. In that pivotal moment, I heeded their warning. And for just a little while, I escaped the madness.