Not many people can say that they’ve visited the biggest church in America and the biggest church in the world. I went to both of these, not as a welcomed speaker or acclaimed, best-selling author, but as a traveler needing a place to sleep.
I came upon America’s biggest church quite by accident. I had just arrived in Houston, Texas at the turn of the New Year, 2016. A winter storm with strong gusts and torrents that blinded my driving pushed my car off the downtown freeway to Lakewood Church one night. I thought it was odd that the name “Joel Osteen” was lit up in lights next to the church’s name. The building was a former convention/sports stadium that had been turned into a mega-church. It boasted several levels, below-ground parking, and an arena that could seat hundreds of thousands.
I parked in the lower-level parking area and found my way inside the church which was hosting many events for children and adults on a Friday night. I walked past the cafe and bookstore and took an elevator to Level 4 where people gathered for a Celebrate Recovery meeting. While my husband, still shy about America, waited in the car, I listened to a woman give her testimony of being free from an abusive relationship. She also played the guitar and sang. I stayed for the free soup after and asked a woman with a badge if anyone could help me and my husband, new in town and with little money, to find a motel for the night.
“Oh, you have to come back on Monday when the office is open,” the badged woman informed me. I thanked her for the soup and mentioned, as I walked away, “I need gas and food, and that’s 3 days away. I’ve tried all the public welfare agencies.”
A black man handed me $20. “I don’t know if you are telling the truth or not, but Jesus loves you,” he assured me.
He walked quickly away, before I could thank him. I found my way back down to the parked car. We drove to an old auto repair shop not far away to spend the night in our Mazda 5 minivan. Since we blended in with other parked cars, no police or neighbors bothered us.
Monday morning I returned. The church looked more ominous in the daylight. I walked up its steep entrance ramp, through one of many glass doorways, past a uniformed guard, to the long security desk. Continue reading