“Don’t touch that switch” the pilot warned, pointing to the mysterious little death lever positioned between us. There had been something about the seriousness of his focus that infused within me complete confidence as he, in deep thought, methodically walked around his aircraft with his checklist just before I’d climbed across the wing into the passenger seat. And though no girl in her right mind would ever toy with such a switch in an airplane she knew nothing about, I liked that he was willing to say what might sound over cautious, just to be as quadruple sure as he could be that we’d all be okay. When Mark and I had both buckled up, we were soon cleared for flight and up we went for an exhilarating, scenic ride over the lakes and rivers of North Central Texas that we’d never forget. It was an experience we had no idea would transpire when Mark was invited to preach for this, the oldest congregation in Lewisville, Texas, and yet the element of surprise made the experience that much more wondrous!
A few years after this ride with pilot Steven Estes, one of the elders at the West Main Church of Christ, the congregation there hired Benjamin Lee to help them bring the truth to their community. Benjamin has created an informative video called “The Church - Who Are We?” that you’ll find on the congregation’s well-designed Facebook or YouTube sites. Benjamin and his lovely wife, Nikki, were out of town during our most recent visit, but in his place, the congregation’s other preacher, Myles Hester, shared in his sermon some inspiring takeaways from the life of Joseph so relevant today with our culture growing more and more hostile toward those who, like Joseph, are living under the moral standards, and thus the favor and blessings of the Lord that the world sometimes envies. What are we to do if we, too, find ourselves "conspired against" or experiencing unrelenting, outrageous injustices in our lives when the natural response would be to allow bitterness to build up in our hearts? Myles reminded us that if we want to land on the other side of such ordeals with the forgiving, grateful attitude of Joseph (Genesis 45:4-15), then we, too, must fix our eyes on the bigger picture of what God’s providence may be up to when He allows us to suffer so that unforeseen blessings can later rain down and accomplish amazing things. We, too, must lean into the awareness of the ever-present nature of God in order to find the self-control we need to not sell out during times of temptation (Genesis 39) so that in the end, with sincerity, we can say along with Joseph, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction" and can be so grateful for the comfort of His providence that we can also say, “God has made me forget all my trouble” (Genesis 41:51-52). That sounds like something someone would say who is “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) and is certainly a joyous attitude much easier to live with than lifelong bitterness and resentment.
There’s so much to learn from this lively congregation. I love how the elders are so “among” the flock they serve, and are so available to them that my friend, Christie Estes, jokes that, as one writer put it, they “smell like sheep”! Leadership makes it easy for both members and visitors to get any questions answered by simply scanning a QR code on the screen in front of the auditorium or in the church bulletin. Another tool they use to make sure every soul is well-tended to is that they send out annual surveys to every member to double check (like a pilot!) that each member has an extra opportunity to communicate his or her needs as well as to gather any bright ideas among the flock to make their work together more fruitful. The annual survey is sent via email through a site called surveyking.com and is customized from year to year as needed to include such questions as:
- What is your greatest unmet spiritual need? What is your greatest unmet physical need?
- What can our congregation do to improve our service to God and to one another?
- What are some Bible topics or questions that you would like to be addressed in future adult Bible classes and/or sermons?
- West Main receives frequent requests for Bible studies from its website www.texasbiblestudy.com, or from its Tuesday evening study via www.meetup.com/dallas-bible-study. Would you be willing to tell someone else about your own salvation and lead or assist with a Bible study? (The choices on this question include: “No, not at this time”, “I would be interested in sitting in with someone who is leading the Bible study”, “Yes, sign me up!”, or “I am already involved in leading or sitting in on one or more Bible studies”).
- If you choose not to attend the Bible classes on Sunday morning and Wednesday night here at West Main, please explain why that is the case.
- Are there men you believe are qualified to serve as elders according to 1st Timothy 3:1-7, 11 and Titus 1:1-9 who are not already serving as elders? (Please note if you believe you are personally qualified and are now ready and willing to serve as an elder, you must put your own name down. We also suggest that your wife include your name on her survey if she believes you are qualified to serve).
- Are there some hymns or spiritual songs not currently in our Song Supplement that you would like to be considered for a future addition to the Song Supplement?
- Did you and your family attend Vacation Bible School this year? What changes to the format or timing would you suggest?
These annual surveys are used in all kinds of ways from encouraging one-on-one conversations with the elders to essential sermon ideas, to relevant conversation starters for the congregation’s smaller “focus groups”. Once per quarter, a focus group composed of members who are involved in various outreaches to share the gospel get together to encourage and support one another or offer a little advice when anyone is encountering a challenge. During our three-day stay with the Estes, Christie had several online Bible studies with people in her community who had found the opportunity for an online one-on-one study on the church's website. Another focus group might send cards to the preachers the congregation supports all over the world, and to preachers who will be coming to hold a gospel meeting so that they can know the congregation is looking forward to hearing what he has been preparing for them.
The congregation also reads through the Bible together and “hide in their hearts” (Psalm 119:11) memory verses that the children say together with the adult they’ve been paired with on any given month —the side benefit of which is the development of some special bonds that would not necessarily have otherwise had the opportunity to develop.
My pilot friend and brother in Christ is an entrepreneur and by nature is always looking at the root of any problem for the most biblical, longer-term, and efficient solution. One of the inspiring ideas I stumbled across during our most recent visit to West Main, began when Steve heard that Christians were repeatedly sending funds to buy maize to feed their brethren in Zimbabwe. His compassionate heart was moved and the wheels started turning in Steve’s head. He wanted to come up with a sustainable solution for these brethren who, due to their government, are not allowed to leave their territory to look for better farming conditions, so he began a privately funded non-profit called Lifestream Charities. Here’s the story as told on Lifestream’s website:
Those who began Lifestream Charities became aware of men, women, and children who were unable to provide food for themselves in the southern villages of Zimbabwe due to lack of water. The people living in the villages would prepare the soil, plant seed, and yet sufficient rains would not come to bring the crops to maturity. As a result, these people were forced to cry out for help to sustain their families. Those who heard of their situation would contribute funds for use in purchasing maize to provide life-sustaining meals from crop failure to crop failure for years. We began to dig into solutions for these industrious people to bring the needed water to their communities. About 25 years ago, the government of Zimbabwe drilled boreholes for local villages to use for drinking, however, these do not produce enough water to water crops. After speaking to others who had provided boreholes and pumps for villages in the northern regions, we embarked on doing the same for these in the southern regions. Our local project manager, Warren Scholtz, has been vital to the process in gaining approvals from local village chiefs, lining up contractors, directly overseeing the projects, etc. without expecting any payment for his services. He is a South African man with a deep love for the people of Zimbabwe. We hope to continue these projects one at a time as long as the funds allow.
The brethren that would benefit from this effort, began participating in the laborious process by clearing roads to allow the necessary equipment to be brought in. To avoid the scenario Jesus describes in Luke 14:28-30 of a man who “began to build and was not able to finish”, a geologist was hired, and though there is never a guarantee of the volume the wells will eventually produce, prayers were answered when the formations and surface structures looked promising enough to proceed in ordering the necessary pumps, tanks, solar equipment, and fencing! The project was just getting off the ground when the coronavirus hit, making a source of cool, clean water to drink and use for hygiene even more invaluable than ever. But with the pandemic also came the challenge of holding the drillers to their pre-COVID quoted pricing, as material and labor shortages threatened the completion of the wells.
Though the project had many hurdles to clear, everyone involved pushed through. Then one by one well after well was successfully dug, and the moment each gushed up fresh, clean water from the ground for the first time, thankful brethren shed tears of joy at the prospect of eating food they could now grow themselves in their irrigated fields.
Brother Scholtz, the local preacher, was also much encouraged by no longer taking on the heavy responsibility of, over and over again, explaining in writing the crop failure due to lack of water, gathering funds from generous donors, finding a source of maize, collecting it, and delivering it to the bush to these brethren he dearly loves. After almost every well hit water, He wrote a letter of appreciation on behalf of the grateful brethren in the Zimbabwe villages of Dare, Moshovi, Nyhombe, Chiromvati, Chamviro, Mutupurwa, Mukukuzi, Machona, and Conjane, as well as the thankful brethren just outside these villages who could now also come to draw water. “You have given them back their dignity and spirit of life… it will only get better as basic food needs will now be available and the feeling of being able to look after their children and family without a handout is such a blessing. Our GOD is good and it is a blessing to be in your love and fellowship.”
Like Joseph so many years ago, the individual Christians who have donated to this effort, as well as all the brethren in this bright light of a congregation, have certainly taken to heart the directive to do good to all as we have an opportunity (Galatians 6:10). At the time of our visit, the congregation was even figuring out the most efficient approach to gifting Bibles to any member of the churches they support, who cannot afford one. I can only imagine the joy as these happy recipients are handed within the word, the opportunity to drink of the only spiritual well that can quench their thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6), “...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-15). And these beautiful Christians who gifted their brothers and sisters in Christ their own copy of the word of God? They have something imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4) to look forward to, that is beyond anything we can even imagine; for Jesus promises in Mark 9:41 that "...whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward" (Mark 9:41).
West Main Church of Christ
950 W. Main St.
Lewisville TX, 75067