This is part of a series of things previously written. For the series’ preface, read this.
A little girl with wild red pencil curls is running along a hallway peppered with labelled doors, giggling at her escapade with each footfall and a face turned up in joyous enjoyment. A calm colour inhabits the walls of the hall and fluorescent lights create white noise while a small boy is chasing after her. In her mind though, it’s the hall of a top secret organization full of bad guys in sunglasses and suits and she’s escaping while the klaxons are blaring and the sirens are raring. Dodging the baddies they keep sending with dexterity gained from many such imaginary encounters, she carries away the plans for freedom she has reclaimed.
She turns a right corner and finds herself transported to the inner sanctum of her headquarters, the ceiling curved down on both ends and expansive as halls of yore. She sees their decorated captain waiting on a raised platform to the left, awaiting her safe return from the critical mission. The seven-year-old strides up with as much ceremony as she can muster and grandly hands the plans up to him, a small smile poking through her costume of imagination. The captain accepts them with a nod and slight smile and pins a toy medal to her shirt.
She turns and applause breaks out from the spontaneously conjured crowd, and the small smile turns into a grin stretching from East to West, finally bursting her facade. She sees the deep sanctuary of her church with a smattering of people amongst the rows of chairs, still chatting since the morning’s end. She’s standing on the stage, her pastor standing beside her smiling and holding a lost Bible she had found and just returned to him. Her friend appears on the right, huffing and puffing from chasing after her down the long hall. He marches up and says, “C’mon….you have to go now. Your parents told me so!” She puts her hands on her hips, and he frowns. “They said we’re all going out for lunch!” Her face lights up at that. Saying zippy goodbyes to the pastor, they run off again.
Church: it means many things for many people. Dictionary.com defines it as a number of different things, two of which are: 1) the whole body of Christian believers, and 2) a building for public Christian worship. Both the building and the people, they are my second home – a place where I have spent countless hours of fun, learning, and eating among family and friends. Only a couple of years ago, my dad’s side of the family came together to celebrate the dedication of a baby cousin with a lunch at church. After, all the cousins – from ages seven to twenty-two – all scattered and hid while one poor soul had to count, then wander through the cavernous building searching for their relatives in every numerous nook and cranny. For the record, I maintained my position as the self-titled-yet-appropriately-so “de Jong Family Hide-and-Seek Champion.”
My maternal grandparents helped build the current house of my church back in 1988, using giant wooden, curved beams from an old Super Value. They have been entrenched in Kamloops Full Gospel since shortly after its conception in 1960. My grandma and grandpa, my mom and dad, and now I have become deeply rooted in our church, from volunteering with fundraiser dinners by cooking, doing dishes and cleanup, to leading the youth group for the last seven years, to heading up the costume department or building the set each year for The Passion Play our church put on within its walls for eighteen years of Easters.
Memories formed there were among my favourite, as having an uncle doing pyro, my mom and an auntie heading up the costume department, my grandpa working as maintenance, and my grandma volunteering in the box office gave me nearly unfettered access to experience all the marvellous things there were.
This play had a purpose, and so did we: to share a story close to our hearts. It was a significant production, complete with live animals, months of prep, and multiple local churches coming together to make the experience happen. My uncle would often have leftover dry ice, the fog and science of which would have the eyes of my brother and I glazed over with wonder. There was a point near the end of the play where the angel who declared Christ risen from the grave would “fly” across the sanctuary, from the stage to the balcony along a pulley system operated by a crew member on a bicycle, adapted for its pedal-power. Once, the angel got stuck halfway, left suspended mid-flight! After a moment of embarrassment, the spotlight turned off and she was pulled manually the rest of the way. All kinds of those moments have stuck to me over the years.
As a then-twelve-year-old, I had way too much fun telling stories by the propane-powered bonfire (tarped off outside for cast and crew), exploring the different levels of the set that crew crawled through during the play (lit only by blacklight) and helping tear it all down at the all-nighter, which started as soon as the last performance was finished. All these times were covered by the building and people that make my church. I learned by example to be ready to lend a helping hand when needed, and remembered it because I was in a place I loved with people I loved, and for a purpose I loved.
I am like a tree planted by a stream of water, and from that stream I grew and was shaped; my branches slowly grew out further and greener and stronger. Eventually my branches were able to give shelter to smaller trees who were growing by the stream as I had; I was able to lead by example. Here was where I learned how to live; how, even when kids at school would cheerlessly grin and whisper and point, to not give up and become withered and brittle.
This building and its inhabitants fostered me as I grew, as a lattice propels a grapevine to grow skyward and weave within it. We are a perfectly imperfect community; we grow through seasons of pruning, grafting and bareness, but also of fertility, richness and spring. As new little saplings keep popping up in our soil and growing, my branches keep on stretching and growing further – just as my purpose does.