I visited the International Baptist Church of Boston for the first time back in March of this year. It was a dry, fridgid day in the city; what should normally have been a short, pleasant walk from the subway station to the old brick school building in which the church held its Sunday worship service seemed more like a long and painful death in an arctic wind-tunnel. I walked in the wrong direction that Sunday. Twice. So the walk took a little longer than it ought have, anyway. By the time I made it in, I was once again cursing skirts and hoes and heels and long hair, my own of which was now wrapped in some massive, gravity-defying web of snarls around my head, thanks to the wind. But I made it indoors, brushed the tangles out before anyone could see them, cursed static electricity instead, and then tried to look pleasant as I made my way into the “main hall” (a small inner foyer where people meet between Sunday School and the regular service for food and fellowship).
I’m usually a little shy when initiating myself into a pre-established group of people for the first time. I usually prefer to stand at a distance for the first few meetings and observe, to get an idea of what people are like before I’m thrown into conversation with them, to have time to mentally prepare. But I’m finding that the more I get involved in ministries of various sorts, the less possible it is to opt to stand on the sidelines or disappear into the crowd until I’m comfortable enough to step out on my own terms. And I was quick to find out that the group at IBCB was small, but uncompromisingly friendly. I was immediately spotted by Pastor Bill, and then introduced to his wife, Deb, who refused to let me off the hook until I agreed to join them and another member at their home for lunch that day. Deb is the kind of person who is gifted in hospitality, and manages to make invitations without being pushy. She is utterly sincere and real. I immediately liked her, so she didn’t have to press hard.
That first service was a blessing. Despite my rocky beginnings and late arrival (I’d missed Sunday School and would have bene late for the service, had their fellowship time not run over), I felt right at home in the wide classroom in which we met. Pastor’s podium is a rusting, rolling projector stand; in lieu of pews, we have desk chairs. It was like being back in college, without…well, the college, and all that that implies. Better said, there was a pioneer atmosphere about the place that sent tingles up my spine. This was no run-of-the-mill, worn-out collection of bored New England Fundamentalists; nor was it an emotionally-based, worldly bunch of people looking for the superficial, humanistic fulfillment of their ideas of worship, which is maybe more typical of what you might find in a Boston “Baptist” church. No, this place was simply a gathering of believers, centered around the warmth of Christ on a cold Sunday morning in Boston. There were native and international college students; young married couples with babies or expecting one; blue collar workers, singles, older married couples, musicians… People. Worship. And the Word. No frivolous frills. No false austerity. Real people, to whom God is real and central.
Riding home to Pastor’s house in his large, gray van with his family, helping his wife prepare lunch (she had most of it done already in her crockpot), eating and talking, then hanging out until the evening service…it was all second nature to me. The Fueller family in Germany had taken me under their wing in a similar way, driving me to their house after church every Sunday in their big, gray van, deploying me as tomato-slicer or bread-cutter in help with their Sunday dinner preparation (all of which Mrs. Fueller had usually prepared in advance, in her crockpot), and then eating and fellowshipping until it was time to go to their evening service… I had to laugh at the similarities and begin to wonder if big, gray vans and crockpots were prerequisits for missionary work. I don’t know. But I do know that, more importantly, both the Fuellers and the Edmondsons share a great gift of true hospitality. “They sort of wrap their arms around you and won’t let you go…in a good way,” I’ve remarked to visitors as we’ve discussed this gift at IBCB. Really all the members here display hospitality in their own ways.
In Boston, it’s the chief means of impressings souls for Christ. Reaching out in ways that truly matter, that are based on real, lasting love, not just a zeal for programs and numbers. One relatively new believer and member at IBCB remarked that being part of the fellowship here appeals to the Chinese students, like him and his wife, because they feel taken care of. Peng (“Pung”) started coming to the biweekly Sunday evening evangelistic Bible studies in response to campus outreach, and was saved as a direct result of God’s working in his heart through personal ministry. He was in China over the summer break, and when he returned, he brought his new wife, Wendy, with him. Wendy is also a believer, who was saved through secret campus ministries in China. She and Peng met in the English Quarter there, before Peng was saved, and she is one reason Peng even began to think a God was a logical possibility. When he came to Boston, he was ready to meet Pastor Bill and ripe to receive Christ. Shortly thereafter, he and Wendy were able to marry, and now they are both here, excited about what they are learning and for the opportunities of sharing Christ with others in similar situations. Within the last couple of months, another international student, Mandy, who’d regularly attended the beginners’ study for some time, began attending Sunday morning services, as well. After three Sundays, I believe, she spoke with Bill and announced that she had finally understood what Christ had done for her, and accepted Him as Saviour. A week or two later, she shared her testimony with the church, was baptized, and became a church member. I hope to post her testimony soon, as her expression of God’s grace and how it reached her is especially poignant.
The biweekly Bible studies are a great ministry to the unsaved international students and workers who attend, and also a tremendous blessing to believers like myself, who have gotten too used to the simple format of Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. Not that those things are bad, by any means; please don’t misunderstand. It’s just that, human nature being what it is, we tend to forget the real reason we do things, or lose our outward and upward focus for those activites, the more familiar and comfortable we become in performing them. Since IBCB rents its Sunday morning facilities, it is limited in its ability to conform to traditional church meeting schedules. The positive aspect of that is, that those of us who’ve been lulled to complacency (I speak not for all, but a few like myself) are forced to wake up, re-evaluate the possabilities, and appreciate what we are able to have despite our limitations. Pastor’s solution to the absent Sunday Evening worship service were these evangelistic Bible studies. We meet in Pastor’s home at 5:30 for the first beginners’ study, which is currently going through Genesis and and Exodus; at 6:30, people wishing to attend the next study show up, and we all eat dinner together until it’s time to recommence our advanced study through Romans.
Can I emphasize enough how important it is that we get to know one another? At least half of the people that faithfully attend these studies have not accepted Christ, yet come week after week, relishing the fellowship afforded, and listen and actively participate in the discussions of the scriptures with thoughtful, genuinely curious questions that make us all pause, think, search, and answer. Christ is central from the outset; to me, the atmosphere is always charged with the possability that another soul will come to full knowledge of Him. Whether that happens or not, He is preached and glorified. I don’t head up these meetings; but, as a believer, I am forced out of comfort zone, to speak openly and honestly with hospitality and Christ-like love, ready to communicate the Word when a question arises. It’s wonderful ministry training for any believer. It’s reaching out through relationships that will last an eternity.
I hadn’t intended to hang out into the evening with the Edmondson’s that first Sunday in March. But as we talked later into the afternoon, Pastor Bill invited me to join in the upcoming studies and stay for dinner. I agreed, and the life that I found pouring out of and around the IBCB ministry reached my own heart. I knew that something was happening in Boston, after all. And that I wanted to be a part of it. It’s the major reason I’ve decided to stay, and as I share it’s progress, I hope the ministry can be a blessing to all of you, and encourage you to pray for it. Below are some pictures of only a sampling of those who normally attend the Sunday evening studies. Hover for a description and click for an enlargement. Enjoy!