How, as a hen gathers her chicks, a church becomes the body of Christ
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37, NIV)
When I was a freshman at Covenant Bible College in La Merced, Ecuador, I would often get up in the morning and put on whatever clothes I could find laying around my room. One day after my first class, I realized a wardrobe change would probably be a good idea, so I headed back to the dorm.
The entire campus was walled off, with a gate at the top of the campus and a guardhouse adjacent to the dorms. The rest of the grounds sloped down to a basketball court, soccer field, and cafeteria. Between the cafeteria and the soccer field was a little gazebo. At night we’d walk down to the soccer field and look up at the stars—the hazy Milky Way created a backdrop for thousands of stars, shining brightly in an unobstructed sky.
That day as I walked through the gate back toward my room, I saw a white duck fly over the wall. A few minutes later I heard a ring at the gate. When I opened the gate I saw an old woman standing in front of me. In La Merced many vendors travel around by truck, hawking a variety of goods over a loudspeaker. I assumed the woman was a vendor (primarily because my Spanish wasn’t all that great), and I said, “No gracias.” I closed the gate and turned back toward my room. Again, I heard a ring. This time the woman was insistent, and while frantically speaking, she started waving her hands up and down like a bird. “Oh,” I responded, “the duck!”
We spent the next five minutes looking for the bird. When we spotted it on the soccer field, the chase began. We ran after it until finally we cornered it in the gazebo. I had never realized how big a duck could be until I found myself trying to grab one of its flapping wings as it quacked up a storm. Being a city guy, I was a bit sheepish about nabbing it. I tried a couple of times but found myself inches short at every attempt. Finally the old woman just reached out and scooped up the duck in her arms, and the wild goose chase ended.
When its rightful owner approached, the unwilling duck was gathered up and brought home.
I grew up in a Christian home, a member of the fourth generation of my family attending Edgebrook Covenant Church in Chicago. It was a blessing to be part of a faith community that cared so much for me. That community became my family, especially as I experienced many challenges because of my own family story. Yet I have also experienced a deep sense of joy, and I have come to understand that Jesus has gently scooped my family up and brought us home.
My father is a Native Alaskan from a small town in southwestern Alaska. My mom met him in 1984 while she was doing a short-term mission stint at KICY in Nome. When she found out that she was pregnant she was beside herself. For many reasons, she did not have the support to sustain both a shaky relationship and a new baby. She knew she needed to leave Alaska, but she didn’t know where to go. She was unsure of how the folks at Edgebrook would feel about her situation, so she decided to try her luck with a good friend in Seattle.
After I was born Mom didn’t know where we would live, but she felt like she had a strong support system in Chicago with some of her friends and relatives. My grandparents were no longer living, but there were others back home who could be a safety net for us.
So we went back. We moved in with my great-aunt Elinor and her husband, Ellsworth, who became my surrogate grandparents. We stayed with them for six months until Mom found a place for us on the northwest side of the city near North Park University.
Mom was nervous about our re-entry into the church, but we were welcomed back to Edgebrook wholeheartedly. That welcome into the body of Christ paved the way for my Christian formation.
The community of believers that has consistently surrounded and encouraged me to continue living as a follower of Jesus is the thread that connects me to Christ. Many people have served as family to my mom and me, and that unabashed willingness to welcome us, regardless of our family’s struggles, has served as the witness to God’s great love for me and for all the poor and powerless in the world. Through the church, Christ has gently scooped me up and brought me home.
As a child I was brought up in Christian formation classes; as an adolescent I was welcomed into youth ministry; as a young adult I attended CBC and North Park; as a man in ministry I have been formed and refined at North Park Theological Seminary. While some comment on the tight-knit nature, perhaps even the exclusivity, of the Covenant, it was the undeniable witness and consistency of God’s faithfulness through the Covenant Church that spoke to me of God’s truth and existence.
My faith is not placed in the Covenant Church of course, but rather in the God who is witnessed to by those who have faithfully served in Covenant ministries throughout my life. Through the faithfulness of the body of Christ, God has shown abundant kindness to me, an ever-providing Father to a fatherless boy. And Jesus has demonstrated the kind of motherly love exemplified in this passage in Matthew to me time and time again.
Tim Anderson is the youth director at DeerGrove Covenant Church in Palatine, Illinois.