Lonna’s Lines, Strange News from around the World (Issue 7, “The Problem with Big Churches & Big Bucks”)

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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.

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“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.

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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