From Wikipedia: “Gumbo is often used as a metaphor for the mix of cultures that exist in southern Louisiana. The dish combines the culinary practices of French, Spanish, native tribes, and African slaves, as well as Italians and Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, people from these cultures lived together within a fairly small area with minimal mobility. This fostered an environment in which cultures could influence each other and meld to create new traditions and cuisine.”
About once a year I spend a weekend hanging out with some people who have become very good friends. Years ago I would have never believed that I could spend an entire weekend with such a motley crew. These friends come from all walks of life, with various religious backgrounds, levels of education, occupations and personalities. When you stop and think about it you quickly realize that we are all very different, yet we are so incredibly the same. We all get together in a secluded area in west central Indiana. Not at a hotel or resort area with five star amenities, but at a campground with little more than the necessities; -we don’t mind it though.
We always invite new friends to come and join us on these weekends. As a matter of fact, the primary purpose of the entire get-together is to be a blessing to these new friends. They are often very apprehensive about attending our little retreat. They arrive nervous and curiously anticipating what could possibly happen during this pilgrimage. Many of these “new friends” have heard stories of those who have attended the retreats before whose lives have been changed and transformed. And just as I did on my first weekend, they wonder how this “transformation” could happen in such a humble atmosphere? And more importantly, could it happen to them? To complicate matters, those of us who are veterans of these weekend pilgrimages are not to quick to share all the details of what actually happens. We tell our “new friends” that the veil of secrecy is kept in order to make their weekend as special as possible. And on Sunday evenings, they almost always return to their lives different from when they arrived on Thursday evening. As a result, many of us return in order to help provide the same opportunity for others. And although those of us who return do so to joyfully serve and give, we actually receive much more than we could ever possibly give back during the weekend.
There is so much more I could say about these retreats, about this extended family and how God has used them in my life, however I seriously doubt that I could ever find adequate words to express their worth to me and thousands of others. In addition, it must be stressed that the people who participate in these weekends are imperfect and they know it. We are not anyone special, and we know it. Those who participate in this community are simple ordinary people who just happen to love God, each other and their neighbors -a lot. We are Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Catholics, Non-denominationals and any other Christian denomination in between. Yet we come together, set our religious differences aside and love one other. Participating in such a diverse yet unified community has profoundly affected me. God has revealed Himself -and His ways to me through these experiences and He continues to use these weekends to teach me what His Church is supposed to look like. -It looks so much different from what I once thought.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I am often critical of “the Church” in the U.S. I try hard to stay positive but my frustration often shows. Being a part of this community encourages me. These weekends give me hope. Again, I want to stress that this motley crew is full of ordinary imperfect people, just as I am ordinary and imperfect. But it seems that those of us who participate have made a conscious decision to love each other -and others despite their imperfections and differences. God honors that decision to love -and it creates an atmosphere that is simply indescribable. Being from southeast Louisiana, it has always been very difficult to find good gumbo here in central Indiana. However, I do believe I have found it here after all.