A young woman from Spain visited a congregation I am in touch with. She was in Canada for five weeks on a visitor exchange. Providentially, her visit to the church came about because she was posted to live with one of the church families for her five-week stay.
On her first visit the pastor met her and extended a warm personal welcome. In return the young woman gave matter-of-fact notice that she was an atheist. This offer of information was given without challenge or defense on either side. She attended Sunday morning worship every Sunday of her stay in Canada, perhaps out of cultural interest.
But, she warmed to the environment, became acquainted with some of the young people, and expressed amazement at the seriousness of the congregation in worship and their joy and upbeat friendliness when services were dismissed. The people seemed to experience a happiness she had not seen before.
She left her last service bearing the pastor’s gift of a beautiful Bible, with the simple suggestion that she begin reading in the Gospel of John. She readily accepted. However, prior to her visit to Canada she had not known that such a book existed. Throughout her childhood and youth she had never had contact with a church. Yet her final words to the pastor were that she hoped she could find a friendly, happy church like this one back in her own country.
We Christians become so used to the language of faith, the words of Scripture, and even the gentle presence of God when we worship that we can scarcely grasp the response of a real outsider to Christian worship in action.
This young woman’s experience reminds us that when we gather to worship God as a community of his people the Lord God is at work among us. He is a living Presence. Consider his impact on those who, like this young woman, are first-time attenders or hearers of the Gospel.
Did the young woman make a profession of faith? Not yet. Was she confronted personally with an invitation to believe? None beyond what she heard in the ritual, sermon, or songs, and in the Spirit’s quiet work. Wisely, the pastor did not press her beyond her readiness.
But she is back in her home country and contacts continue via the Internet. The initial friendship remains warm. Faith results are always in God’s sovereign hands, yet there must be many prayers being offered on her behalf by those who met her.
Everyone reading this can add their prayers too that the story will end as Jesus’ story about the lost sheep and the loving, searching shepherd ends. That shepherd’s search was relentless. The searching shepherd in this young Spanish woman’s case is our Lord Jesus Christ himself.