We wondered who would come back this Sunday.
Last Sunday, a verbal fight broke out in the middle of the church service. There had been trouble brewing between two families when one man called the police on a woman from the other family, who, having some mental issues, had been seen walking around the village not fully clothed.
The fight escalated rapidly, with some joining in the yelling and others trying to calm the situation down. Another unrelated argument broke out in the back of the church resulting in a woman storming out. We tried to calm the two men and to get one men to step outside—but in truth, no measure seemed to be working and none of us had any idea what to do.
Eventually, one family left; a few others, upset at the episode, followed them out, and the rest managed to calm down as two of the leadership spoke briefly to everyone and closed in a time of prayer.
Afterward, the four of us debriefed for a few hours. The debriefing itself was reflective of our team dynamics—passionately arguing an opinion, careful listening to others, expressing anger and worry over the situation and then laughing hysterically as we recalled certain things we did in the middle of it, and our general agreement that, as usual, we weren’t sure exactly what to do nor how to do it.
But this week, although one of the families who had been in the fight was noticeably absent, most everyone else returned. We had a guest preacher who concluded his sermon with a strong exhortation—what most pleases Jesus is not whether you can stop smoking or drinking, a popular point of confession for people, but whether we can love each other.
Just as we were dismissing everyone, one of our regular attenders came up to the front and said he had something to say. Everyone quieted back down, and he calmly shared that his brother had been brutally tortured to death during the war. He had prayed for strength to forgive the man who was primarily responsible and when the man had finally been released from prison, he now occasionally visits him to tell him about God.
“If I can forgive the man who killed my brother, can you not forgive our brother?” he asked the man from the other family, looking down pointedly at him. The man quietly agreed, and that was the end of it.
I’m trying to imagine something like this happening in my own culture, and I realize that it would be unlikely. We value privacy, politeness, discreteness, the autonomy and rights of the individual. We handle conflict in different ways—and of course there are both good and negative aspects to this. But there is something about this raw authenticity—both the fight and the aftermath—that is a sharp critique to the careful masks we teach people to wear in church. This is a burgeoning community in action—even if, in reality, some people are just coming for the coffee and treats and in hope of some aid packages. At this point, motivation doesn’t really matter, because everyone who was there this past Sunday was a witness to the love of God manifesting in the life of a man who has visibly changed over the last year.
“If I can forgive the man who killed my brother…?” he asked. This poignant question was not just for the families involved, but for all of us, the leadership and the laity. We were being called away from being slaves of religion and to our rightful status as sons and daughters of God.