by Lisa Neef
October: A connection from a Christian friend in Canada leads me to a wonderful Canadian couple, scientists like myself, who point me to the Vineyard. Like the Hip Church, the Vineyard comes from outside the Netherlands and about half their service is in English.
Everything about the Vineyard is user-friendly: the songs are musically simple, people dress however they want, and if you have questions about Salvation, you can buy a book about it from the table near the front. If you want to wave a banner or let your kids dance in the aisle, you can do that too.
But don’t get too meditative, because there’s another coffee break coming up. They love them some coffee breaks at the V —in fact, even the welcome package and worship CD they send to new members includes a postcard which shows a big steaming cup of coffee.
I come back a few weeks, but quickly come to dread the coffee breaks. To get coffee at the V means standing in line for fifteen minutes, and not only will nobody talk to me, people actually cut in front of me to get to the precious juice faster.
An attempt to make small talk with people in line next to me falls flat. Somehow I get myself introduced to the guy in charge of translating sermons to English, but when the sermon starts, and he starts translating, we draw angry glares from the people around us.
So I’ve got mixed feelings about The Coffee Shop Church. They try so hard, and they are sincere about worship. But I feel like I’m at Starbucks: the barristas are perky enough, as long as you don’t piss them off.
I’m tired of coffee. I crave real meals and friendship. I miss my Toronto small group, a circle of trust that became my solace when life in the cold city got rough, where we helped each other out when broke or lonely or overwhelmed by school, where we inspired each other.
My Toronto friends were fun and cool, artists and musicians and academics, my family away from home — and sometimes I’m angry that God pulled me out that group. It is hard to make a home in a strange place, and it is even harder to squeeze my own Story into a church that didn’t know I was coming and doesn’t need my help.
In line at a bureaucratic office to register my address, I find myself surrounded by immigrants to the Netherlands, little families from Morocco and Turkey and Russia who are trying to make a life in the beautiful mess of the New Europe.
I have an unexpected encounter with Jesus, who reminds me that he, too, was an outsider, a guest, and a traveler. That YHWH has a thing for sending people to foreign places. That God, in fact, seems to like Places the way he likes People.
In the mess, God smiles, then laughs, shakes my face and tells me that I am home. “Live here,” he tells me. “Make a home here and pray for this place, for it is Mine, as you are Mine.”
I used to be a leader and a beloved member in a Toronto community, and despite my European passport, I am now another immigrant standing in a line, a shy stranger awkwardly holding my coffee. To be an immigrant is to be weak, to get lost in winding streets, and to be alone. But it is in weakness that we are strong, Jesus says.
“And now,” echoes the Apostle (1 Cor 12:31, and onwards), “I show you a better way.”