Searching for Walmart


The first night I arrived  in Kentucky, I made a lengthy trek from Lexington to a town about two hours and a thousand years away.    As I did, I started to get hungry.   In retrospect, I didn’t even think that there would be a place in this country where a McDonalds or Burger King were not easily accessible. 

Needless to say there is at least one.   Imagine that for a moment:   making a two hour trek for a greasy, fast food burger. 

Despite this reality, deep in the Appalachia there is one thing that can almost be guaranteed to be seen every half hour or so:  A church or a walmart. 

That first night, with hunger pains in full force and no McDonalds in sight, I stopped at a walmart in search of something, in search of anything.    

Within a few minutes  ( probably due to both proximity to the door and some inherent skill or genetic trait) I found the Ben and Jerry’s cooler, and with that discovery, a tub of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
I had my dinner for the night.    Little did I know, that the harder part of the quest was finding the plastic spoon that made the ice cream worthwhile. 

After wandering around the store, I finally found a young woman folding shirts. 

With a sense of relief, I asked her if she could point me to the plastic utensils… 

I got “sureba demt sees kin there”  in response. 

Wide-eyed I asked her to say it again… 

“Sureba demt sees kin there, y’all” 

With a “Thanks!”, I went on my merry way.   Still to this day, I have absolutely no idea what her reply was,…or even what language it may have been.   I never found the plastic spoons, but I did find a lovely set of camping utensils that will be a prized possession for years to come. 

There was a failure to communicate that was born in the simple fact that although we both spoke English;  we spoke different languages.   To further highlight this linguistic gap, let me tell you of another story. 

I was told by hosts of the mission, that when we went out as a group, that me and the two other folks from north of the Mason Dixon line, probably should not speak. 

It turns out we talk funny in New England, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo. 

In the end, we were advised not to talk because our accents made us sound fancy and they would assume that we were Revenue agents looking for money.   We were likely, as one host so bluntly put it, to find a shot gun barrel in our face. 

I was only happy to remain silent, at least as long as it took me to learn to fake the accent. 

It was a text book example of broken communication, and in some small way its akin to the gap that we fight with, when we try to convince the world about what is so wonderfully important about faith, the church, and following Jesus.

We talk about Grace, Pentecost, Forgiveness, and people hear “Sureba demt sees kin there y’all” 

They keep asking,… we keep saying the same thing,… and eventually they will walk away….pretending they have us figured out.

I am reminded that on that first Pentecost, we were given the gift of the spirit, which transcends language, and communicates to all in our presence the people who we are.  It is the Spirit that becomes our voice, our words, and our speech.   I becomes a speach that everyone can understand,…despite the language of their birth. 

It becomes the voice that is heard in our work in the food pantry, when our individual language is forgotten.  It becomes the voice that is heard in our service to our neighbors, the children of our communities, or one another. It becomes the voice we are heard most clearly through.  It becomes the voice through which our Gospel is most wonderfully and completely heard. 

I am reminded of an old sermon illustration, of a missionary serving in a clinic deep in the jungles of South America. 

“One day, a canoe loaded with 15 people from a distant village arrived to receive medical help.  

They stayed for a week in the missionary’s village village, and while there they attended services where they heard the Gospel for the first time.  

Before they returned home, the visitors asked, “Could you come to our village so that we might know about God, too?” 

The missionary promised to one day do just that.    

Almost a full year later, some Christians set out for the village.  

They arrived to find a new building, very different from the surrounding houses, standing in the center of the village.  

When the missionaries asked about the structure, they were told, “That’s God’s house! That’s our church!” 

The missionaries were puzzled, knowing there had not been any Christian work in that part of the country.  

“What’s the building for?” they asked.  

“Well, we saw that church in your village, and our people decided to build a church, too. Now we are waiting for someone to tell us about God in our language.”  (Author unknown) 

There are certainly people in our community who are waiting to hear the message of faith.   There are people waiting to hear the Gospel for the very first time.  We have to ask, why are we waiting for them to come through our doors, and to learn our language.  When are we going to learn theirs?

We need to translate our Gospel into both acts and worlds that our community can understand. 

We need to stop beating them over the head, and telling them what they do wrong, and just welcome them in. 

We need to be about compassion, love, forgiveness, inclusion, and acceptance.  This is the language we are to speak, and its a tounge the world can understand.

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