“We who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.”
~ Psalm 55:14
Tonight, I was honored to have a few friends from church and from my church small group over for dinner. The three have become special friends to me over the last year.
Back in early summer of 2011, Sagebrush let its people know that the church was looking to start a new campus on the south side of Albuquerque, near the International District- formerly the War Zone- which would meet at Highland High School. Congregants were invited to attend prayer and preparation meetings all summer that were led by the campus pastor, with the hope that those who felt called to join and work with the new campus would attend the meetings and start getting to know each other, and discover where they could best help in the church plant. Once I heard about the new campus, it was pretty clear to me that there was where I needed to be, and so out of the gates, I went to the prayer meeting every Monday night.
At the very first meeting, I ended up greeting a guy and his son who were sitting, waiting for things to start. Since he was friendly and we talked for a few, I sat down near him and his wife. In time, I would see them every week, and sit with them regularly, and he would often speak up or share insights in our small group Bible study time, and it became clear that he and his wife are the kind of people that churches grow on.
Once the church start became a reality and equipment had to be transported to and from the campus each Sunday, Manuel took on the role of the trailer coordinator. Owner of a roofing company by day, Manuel Alvarado and his wife Olivia were at the church whenever necessary during the early months to take care of problems and people. Manuel drove one of the three trailers over and back to Highland each week, as he still does. If something needed tightened, repaired, or hung during daily setup and tear down, Manuel was one of the guys to find. When we went to a local park and fed a neighborhood, which included a large number of homeless and displaced people, Manuel and his wife and kids were out front, greeting people, smiling, making small talk, and sharing encouragement. When the church needed to fire up its first small group, Manuel and Olivia volunteered to lead it. And Manuel’s friend, John Barela (and his wife) offered to host it. Every Sunday morning before services in the Performing Art Center there at Highland, it is Olivia who cleans the bathrooms to make sure they are presentable and usable for church visitors.
Manuel and Olivia are the kind of people that help others to see that God and his words are true. They give and love and serve daily in their lives because they both decided long ago to let God be the Father and Lord and redeemer and guide in their daily lives. They trust Him and the wisdom of His word unwaveringly. And because they have seen His kindness do amazing things in their lives, they can’t help but keep themselves near Him, which keeps them near so many others in their lives.
John came over right after Manuel and Olivia showed up. His wife has been watching their granddaughter who is teething, and who has also been sick this week- as John’s wife has, as well. John comes in, smiles, tells a joke and laughs an easy laugh with us, but also mentions he does not feel well. Still he sits with us while we eat diner together, and talks.
Once Manuel and Olivia started their small group, I came to it and got to know John. John is like Manuel, except in quieter ways. He talks easily with people and makes others comfortable around him quickly. John listens, and jokes. And listens. And is there every Sunday helping with set up and tear down as well. John made me a friend immediately after I met him. And like Manuel and Olivia, he has been far enough into life that he has heard God through His word, and John loves and trusts Him. Like them, John seeks Him, and points others at Him when he can. He is simple, self-effacing, but earnest in his faith. He knows God loves him, and he loves Him back.
Tonight, I was fortunate to have Manuel and Olivia and John over for dinner, and we talked about life at the church now, and when the campus was just an idea, and about where things are headed there. We talked about what’s on our minds this week. And we talked about God and how we can trust Him.
It is a gift to be able to talk about life and stuff on our hearts and about the goodness of God, in good times and bad, with friends who walk the road with you, and who hunger for Him like you strive to. Such people lift and fill you up without realizing it.
Manuel and Olivia and John always tell me with their words and their lives, “Trust God. He’s taking care of you.” They perpetually point at Christ as Lord, as Savior, as hope.
John left early, but tonight, we all had a few good doses of light and salt with dinner. And the food was good.
It was a meaningful evening.