From that city many of the Samaritans believed in him because of the word of the woman, who testified, “He told me everything that I did.” (John 4:39 WEB)
If you attend a church named Bayview you expect a grand view. That was true on Guam. Situated at the top of a cliff, overlooking Agana Bay we loved the view from the church grounds. Below the cliff, Marine Drive connected the north and south sections of the island and separated the cliff from the sandy beach. On a clear day, which was almost any day without a typhoon, you could see for miles out over the Philippine Sea. Fishing boats would rise and fall on the swells of the sea. Jet Skiers churning the water, and snorkelers studying the reef, would pepper the azure water near the shore. Children played in the sand while parents, stretched out on folding lounge chairs, took respite in the shadow of statuesque coconut trees.
Occasionally, the sun and sea worshipers found their way up the stairs to our Sunday services. One Sunday morning a bikini clad young lady plopped herself in a pew behind our family. A fishnet shawl was all she had against the cool of the air-conditioning in the church. We said hello, the service started and the service ended. We turned to talk but she was out the door like a shot before we had the chance for a more formal greeting. This was normal at Bayview. Now and again you could look across the congregation to find a visitor, decked out in swimming attire, trying not to look conspicuous.
Another time, during the evening service, a nicely dressed young lady, no bikini, sat behind us with her baby. Let’s call her Rachael. My wife, Beth, felt the Lord encourage her to talk with the young lady. When the service ended we were delighted to find Rachael was in no hurry to leave. So, after church she talked with Beth. Over the next few days they talked again and again. She, the visitor not my wife, was an exotic dancer, a mother of two and without a husband. This was new for us. Exotic dance clubs were not on our agenda. We didn’t know what to expect. It was in the Lord’s hands to lead and guide as Beth continued to talk and share her faith with Rachael. Praise the Lord, in the days ahead God touched Rachael’s heart and she gave her life to Christ.
The excitement of Rachael’s new found faith was evident. Soon she was sharing the gospel with her friends.
Rachael sought to follow the Lord with every facet of her life. She married the father of her children. She found a new job. Soon, her friends started coming to church to see what happened to their fellow dancer. They couldn’t believe a group of religious nuts could be more interesting than their life at the dance clubs.
Most Sundays I took time, as folks entered for services, to look around the congregation and see who was there. As friends entered I would wave a greeting and make note of first time visitors to greet after the service.
One sunny Sunday morning I looked up and down the pew. I paused, shook my head to make sure my vision was clear, and looked again. I found myself, and my children, in the middle of a covey of exotic dancers on the second row of the church. Let me say not all their attire was what you would normally find in a Baptist Church! Come to think of it, I’m not sure you would find some of their outfits in any church. But, they were there. Their curiosity, and love for their former dancing companion, made them take a daring step and enter a church.
The service started. Songs were sung. Prayers were prayed and a sermon was preached. The service ended they greeted us kindly and walked out the door. They had heard the word of God. Over the next few weeks some responded, some did not.
In the days ahead Beth developed a ministry with several of the women. Now and again I found myself enjoying coffee with Beth in a little shop when one of her new friends would join us. Invariably someone else would enter the shop and recognize Beth’s friend due to her former occupation. I wonder what they thought about us sitting there, sipping coffee and talking? It was a small island with a big gossip vine.
I’m reminded of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Her past was, shall we say, less than spectacular. She was amazed at the open minded Jew sharing a message of salvation. She heard, she questioned, and she accepted the Lord’s salvation. She was so excited that she had to share her faith with other Samaritans.
I wonder what the other Samaritans thought when the woman from the well sat and talked about Jesus? Sipping a Samaritan Cappuccino in a little shop, she would share how Jesus changed her life. I’m sure they remembered her former lifestyle and listened dubiously to try and understand what made such a difference in her life. Some would understand, some would not. Jesus changed her life forever. In their eyes her past colored their present view. They couldn’t see past her to the wonder of God’s grace. In her eyes life was new, the past was out of sight.
Jesus forgives. Jesus changes lives. Maybe we have a past we would like to forget but people remember. Maybe we know someone with a sorted past who now is a member of God’s family. At times we let our memories disrupt our relationships with one another. We have a hard time removing the person from the past. But at the cross the two separate.
At the cross we become new creatures, new people, new children of a gracious and loving God. It is a comfort to know God has taken our sins away for eternity. Next time our head reminds us of someone’s past lets put it in the past. Let’s share the grace God showed to us with them. Some may respond, some may not. But, God still forgives for eternity.