Nomad – A Church Without a Home
Pastor John Huddle
Luke 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”
It is difficult to say when churches begin, but one was born in a Chevy Suburban at 4:47 PM on a Friday in Los Angeles.
I drove. Terrence rode shotgun. I had known Terrence for four weeks. I taught college classes and planted churches, and he is a college student from Philadelphia. His mother is back in Philly, and she’s homeless; and at this moment in the story, he was homeless, too.
We borrowed a suburban to pick up people for an organic church happening in an apartment in central Los Angeles. While we drove to Trader Joe’s to pick up food for the gathering, Terrence talked.
Terrence talked. A lot. That’s a big deal.
I knew some of his story, but it always came in pieces. As we drove down Manchester Avenue, Terrence told the “Director’s Cut” version. No edits, from start to finish. Something had unlocked inside of him like those springs of water during Noah’s flood. And though Terrence wasn’t a follower of Jesus, he was hungry – hungry enough that he’d met with me and one other guy at a park each week to discuss the gospel of John which he read and reread from start to finish weekly.
“It doesn’t matter what I do or how well I do it or what I major in or where I go to school. I still don’t know why I do what I do, and I hate who I’m becoming,” he said. “The harder I try, the more impossible it gets.”
As he unfolded the shady edges of his story, he kept coming back to the absolute and unrelenting loneliness he felt every day, which, he said, seemed rooted in 1) the junk he’d done in the past that damaged his relationships and 2) the messed-up cycle of self-manufactured redemption which presently ran his life.
We got the food at Trader Joe’s – salsa and chips, bell peppers, some incredible sausages and veggie burgers – loaded the Suburban and headed out to pick up Marcus, the Skeltons, and the others who would gather. But driving back down Manchester, I sensed the Spirit say, “Get ready to stop.”
As we passed a donut shop, Terrence said, “Pull over.”
“Okay—” I said. At first, I honestly thought he wanted donuts.
“We’re going to handle this right now,” he said.
“Okay,” I repeated, thinking, “Sure, if you want donuts, let’s get em!”
We parked and he didn’t get out of the car. We sat for a moment and finally he turned and looked at me and said, “What do I do?”
“About what?” I said, realizing the Spirit didn’t tell me to stop so we could get donuts.
“To follow Jesus,” he said. “I mean, for real. What do I do?” He leaned forward with his hands splayed out on his knees, gripping his pants like he was bracing for a collision.
I said, “Well, let’s talk to the Man.” So we handled it right there.
This is organic church. You’re on journey with someone who is on journey with you. It doesn’t matter how strong they are or how much they know the Word. What matters is that you are together and Jesus is leading you, showing up as he promises when two or three are gathered in his name. And when you are on that journey and Jesus shows up squarely in the center of your life, that moment sticks with you.
Imagine if Terrence handled his business with Jesus in an auditorium with booming worship music and a thousand people singing and an amazing preacher at the helm. If that was when he initiated the greatest relationship in his life, doesn’t it make sense that he would feel comfortable being back in that environment again? And doesn’t it make sense that he would want to become a part of that environment?
So what happens, in his heart and mind, if his moment of imprinting on Jesus takes place in a car while he is picking up food to feed people who are hungry to eat and hungry to know what true redemption tastes like?
That night there were thirty people in that small apartment as we had expected. Jesus ran with twelve, and that seemed like the right number to us. As a church we’d decided to be in two locations in order to cover more territory and be more intimately connected. We planned a celebration party at the beach the following Friday. At the end of the gathering, with all of us crammed into our host’s tiny living room, Terrence raised his hand and said, “Uh, just thought I should tell everyone: tonight I told Jesus that he was my Savior. I am following him till the day I die.”
Indeed, it was time to party.
Now the rest of this story moves fast.
That Friday there was no party at the beach because I am the worst party-planner EVER. We tried to party! We pulled up to the parking lot entrance and were told all the beach fire-pits were taken. We should have reserved ours two weeks in advance? Oops.
As the phones were pulled out to “Google” for help, we turned the cars around and ended up at Westchester Park.
While celebrating, two people joined us, Dave and Deena. We welcomed them, served them hotdogs and chips, and they sat down and enjoyed being with us. When it came time to share the word, Deena asked if she could read the passage. She said she loved reading out loud. She read well, and since it had grown dark Terrence held a flashlight for her to read by.
At the end of that gathering, Terrence said, “We need to come back here next week.”
I said, “Here? Bro, we already decided to meet in two places, not one.”
But his voice held the same passion it had in the Suburban the week before. He said, “John, you always talk about us being able to see through walls into the lives that are all around us. I have a hard time doing that. But here, in this park, I can see everyone around me. I could see Dave and Deena. They could see us.”
So we did come back. We split into three groups, the smallest being at the park- Terrence, Marcus, myself and a couple others. Dave and Deena returned the following week and they brought Kara and her two dogs. We found out that Dave and Deena lived in the park and Kara did, too. When the church came to the park, it came to their home. Terrence shared Jesus with Mark, a musician who had been homeless for six months and was living in the park, and Mark came to Nomad the following week – intoxicated – and asked for prayer. We prayed for him. In six weeks, we had a church of twenty-seven meeting in that park. Terrence helped facilitate food and was a constant, Christ-like presence.