"This is Supposed to be a Safe Place!" - Rev. Bonny Mulder-Behnia
We have a trio of picnic tables in the “inner courtyard” of our church campus, with access from all four directions. The tables are hidden from view of the streets and parking lot, so provide a private spot for people to rest or congregate for various reasons.
It’s not uncommon for teens to gather there to chill with a few puffs of a high-inducing blunt, complete with loud background music that directly conflicts with the message of our Sunday morning worship songs. From inside my office, I can hear the young people talking, telling I-can-top-that stories, and laughing as the smoke lowers their inhibitions.
My habit as pastor is to crash their parties with a friendly welcome to our church campus, ask their names, and strike up a conversation about – for example – why they would choose this particular place to get high. My message is this: We love to have you here, but we need you to respect what we stand for with your choices. On more than one occasion, a young man will pipe up and say, “But I thought this is supposed to be a safe place?” My indignant response the first time was, “Well, yes, but not for smoking weed!” I may or may not have rolled my eyes before asking them to either put away the paraphernalia or leave.
But the second time this line was used on me, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to listen to what the young man was really saying. What did church represent to him? Perhaps a place where God’s people show kindness and hospitality, rather than judgment. Perhaps a place where he feels God’s presence, and feels safe from the rest of the world. God convicted me to respond differently this time.
So I said, “You’re right, this is a safe place. It’s a safe place to be not okay, and to be honest, and to be broken. Because none of us is perfect, and I don’t judge you for smoking weed. We have many people in recovery in this church. And if you ever want to come and meet God here, you are welcome. If you ever want to come and ask me to pray for you, I will.”
But yeah, you still can’t smoke weed here.
Since then, others have told me that our church campus feels like a safe place. One was a young man who was just released from jail that day, and he was sitting on the steps of church as close as possible to the door because he sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit there. Another was a young woman with her two little children who was living in a shelter due to domestic violence. She said this is the safest place she could think of to come and watch her little ones play.
Some people have suggested we put up gates and fences and walls to keep people out, but if keeping our campus open so that people who feel distant from God can come here and feel safe in God’s presence, maybe that is part of our ministry. God is calling me to be a safe person so that those who feel lost and hurting can feel accepted, because as a follower of Jesus, I represent Him wherever I go. May God open your eyes and heart to provide safe places and be a safe person, just as God is for you.
HOW TO PRAY:
Pray that God would inspire Bellflower congregations to think creatively about how their properties can be used to bless the city and to be a safe place for their neighbors
Pray for the protection of our youth in Bellflower, specifically in the hours after school and before bedtime.
Pray that God would show you what it means to be a safe person.
Psalm 31:20 “In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues.”
About the Author: Bonny serves as executive pastor of Rosewood Church in Bellflower, where she has been on the pastoral staff for 17 years. She and her husband, Jahan, moved here from Albuquerque, NM. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.