When I turned on my laptop this past Monday, one of the first things I saw was a breaking news story from the Associated Press. It told of horrific happenings at Word of Faith Fellowship (WFF)—a church in Spindale, NC, where much abuse is alleged to have taken place. Whenever I hear of control, manipulation and fear being used in the name of religion, I am dismayed.
Anyone who reads the New Testament should be able to clearly see that on the old paths, Jesus did not use any of the tactics mentioned above. He did believe in demonic activity such as the WFF folks do, but when He dealt with it, He simply told the demons to leave the people—none of this screaming, yelling, beating-somebody-up stuff I read about on Monday. In fact, there were times when Jesus told the demons not to harm the person as they were expelled. So much for those physically abusive deliverance tactics purported to have been used at WFF.
After an AP reporter/friend of mine posted the news story on Facebook, I commented that control, manipulation, fear and physical abuse totally go against the basis on which Jesus performed everything He did—the foundation of love. If the fruit of any religious organization or mission isn’t the love the God, then something is amiss. (Notice I did not say “tolerance”; I said “love.” Jesus did not tolerate sin, but He loved even the sinner.)
Since I am now in full-time ministry, the allegations against the Spindale church are extra-disturbing. Such abuse of Christianity can cast a bad light on all churches; it can make those already hostile to Christianity even more bitter toward it. So yes, this news story threatened to put a damper on my Monday.
And then came Dee.
Dee became my friend when her 16-year-old daughter Sonia Luster was killed in a car wreck in September 2008 on her way to school at North Stokes. As editor of The Stokes News, I covered the tragic accident and met Dee after I later wrote a column about the loss of Sonia. We have kept in touch all of these years, and I have watched her go through some dark places en route to her healing.
They say tragedy either makes you bitter or better. Dee chose the latter. One way she emerged from the abyss of the loss of her only child was to spread love to others. She raised money for a scholarship fund in Sonia’s name to bless other teenagers. She worked with the NC Eye Bank and
witnessed a basically blind man become a seeing, active person again after receiving one of Sonia’s donated corneas. He is now working a job and earning high-level belts in karate; he and Dee meet periodically for a meal, and he sends her Mother’s Day cards.
Even though she had moved away, Dee—whose dad still lives in Stokes County—was in my town on this Monday when I was so solemnized by the breaking church news. She asked me to meet her for dinner. The Spindale scandal—plus acute trials being endured by some of my family and friends—had stolen my appetite and even my smile. Truth be told, I wanted to curl up on my couch at home, but I wanted to see Dee more.
Within an hour of greeting her and being engulfed in a bear hug, I was tearing into a taco salad and smiling from ear to ear. Dee was telling me how her dad’s dilemma last year of having more fresh garden produce than he could use had sparked an idea within her. She will be working with the Northern Stokes Food Pantry, and hopefully North Stokes High School, to make sure the less fortunate enjoy the bounties of local gardens.
Just imagine the overflow if everyone who grows a garden would plant just an extra row of some crop that could be donated to the needy. High school students who need volunteer hours could help harvest the crops and take them to the food pantry. Perhaps there is a retired person who used to feel they were needed as they managed an office or worked an assembly line. Perhaps they now feel a loss of purpose from those more active days. Volunteerism—even by simply raising a few extra vegetables—can help restore that purpose.
As I watched Dee’s eyes light up while talking about feeding the hungry through “Sonia’s Garden Goodies,” that hard lump I had carried around all day began to soften. Once again, I was reminded that the love of God is indeed the answer for all of the world’s problems.
I began to think of the good work so many local organizations, especially the outreach ministries, do in our county. I thought of the Sandy Ridge Girl Scout troop which recently made blessing boxes to be put out at churches to help feed the hungry. I recalled my little 4-H friend Andyn who gave up her birthday presents this year to collect food for King Outreach Ministry. I thought of the churches that participate in the Backpack Buddies program to make sure every hungry child is fed on the weekends when school lunches aren’t available.
By that point, I was once again confident that no matter how much evil swirls all around us, no matter how much hatred is reported in the news, no matter how many wolves are disguised in sheep’s clothing even in the religious world—the love and light of God still shines brightly in many
people who continue to sacrifice themselves to make sure others are provided for.
Thank you, big-hearted Dee, and thank you to those of you who give and give and give….and all for the sake of love for your fellow man. Retaliation and revenge will not overcome the darkness in this world. Only love can do that.
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.