Perhaps you live in the community in which you were raised. Or, perhaps life has taken you to places elsewhere - another community, another state, another country. But if, per chance, you have have revisited your childhood home and haunts, you may relate to my recent trip to small town Ohio and my trip down memory lane.
Our family lived in Rittman, Ohio during much of my childhood. Lots of cousins, aunts and uncles still live there and recently I spent some time in Rittman and enjoyed a walk down memory lane. Church was an important part of my young life. We were a family who went Sunday morning, Sunday night and mid-week service too. I could hardly stand to sit through the sermons that seemed to drag on forever, but what a spiritual foundation that has been.
Until I was five, we attended church here, the Rittman Church of Christ, now the Rittman Christian Church. Several weeks ago, I attended a Sunday evening service there.
Many changes have been made to the building, although some original windows remain. What had been the entire auditorium is now the foyer. The building seemed so big 50 years ago. Amazing, isn't it, what time does to our perception of size?
I remember walking to the church one Sunday evening, holding my dad's hand and skipping along the sidewalks. I remember sitting in the wooden pew with Dad's arm draped around behind me. His hand was dangling five inches from my nose and I remember the hand of a carpenter, strong and calloused, a fingernail black and blue.
I remember helping myself to an ornament off the church Christmas tree. It was probably red and sparkley. Later that day, Mom discovered my new treasure and she insisted that I return it. What a meanie. ;)
I remember the Japanese lady who visited our children's group and told us that Japanese children were already in bed for the night. She was clad in national costume - a kimono, the special clogs and two-toed socks and she held a fan. Her visit opened up new windows of thought in my young mind. That was 35 years before CNN. Otherwise we probably would have already known all that. Or maybe not.
As time went on, a group, including my parents, left that church and started another. They were mostly young families, all sincere and well meaning but with perhaps more enthusiasm than wisdom at times. We met in this building which my dad built south of town, the 2nd story added years later after a publisher purchased it.
We were at this building thrice weekly from 1957 or so until 1968. There were 35 or so of us kids in that church and what a grand time we had after evening services catching lightning bugs, playing tag and running off our boundless energy.
And we sang. We must have known songs by the hundred. Dear cousin Marilyn - we're double-cousins, actually - and I recently sat down together and sang our way through the Singspiration Songbook. Oh what fun that was.
Here was one that sticks in my mind:
I want to be more than a Sunday-go-to-meetin'-Christian!
I want a religion that fills me ev'ry da-ay-ay-ay.
Sayin' AMEN to the preacher is fine, if all the week I let my light shine.
I wanna be more than a Sunday-go-to-meetin'-Christian!
Those early years were far from perfect and I rather imagine that my dear parents - may they rest in peace - and others would do some things a bit differently, given the chance to rewind and redo. But still there is much for which to be thankful. I'm so grateful to have had parents who pointed me toward God, who tried to lay a spiritual foundation in my young life.
And now, as I serve children in Rostov-on-Don, I enjoy teaching them songs that I learned at the age of five, songs that we now have translated into Russian. Songs such as Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain; Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam; If You're Happy and You Know It. Only in recent years have Russian folk had freedom of religion. Our Christian brothers and sisters can hardly imagine being raised with a Christian heritage and they often remind our children how much they wish their own childhoods had included such an opportunity.
Oh dear Lord, please bless my efforts to provide a spiritual foundation for children in Rostov-on-Don. Please grant wisdom and help me to pass along that which is good and pure and holy to the precious children you bring into our congregation there. Oh dear Lord, I pray that 50 years from now that there will be dozens of Godly men and women there with fond memories of how they first learned about You and Your love for them. With memories of what was good and holy in my life. Help them to overlook the human frailties, help them to see a teacher who depended upon you and held tightly onto your hand, the calloused hands of a carpenter.