Her couch is stained with peanut butter and jelly, little hands having made smears that somehow she’s overlooked. Toys are scattered everywhere. Her house is in its usual state of disarray, the kind caused by a busy family with young kids. Her neighbor has asked to meet with her today. She wonders what the woman must be thinking about the chaos she’s just stepped into, but it doesn’t seem to faze her. She kicks off her shoes and plops down beside the young mom on the family room floor, cross-legged, as the little ones crawl and play around them. There is no judgment in her eyes, just love, and a peace and aliveness that radiates from somewhere deep within her. She’s on fire. The young mom doesn’t quite understand it, but she thinks to herself, “I want what she has.”
As they begin to chat, the neighbor asks about the young mother’s spiritual journey. Sheepishly, she replies that she doesn’t really have one. She doesn’t know that much about God, and she doesn’t go to church. She’s not looking for Jesus on this crisp October day, but apparently He’s looking for her.
When I first attended a neighborhood Bible study at Debbie’s house in 1999, I thought it was one of the weirdest things I’d ever experienced. After the study, which focused on the love of Christ, I pulled aside the friend who had invited me.
“Was that just the weirdest thing?” I whispered. “I mean we’re from the Midwest! We don’t talk about religion and Jesus and all that stuff, right?”
Of course, my friend seemed to think it was entirely normal. I was intrigued by this gathering of women, but not particularly interested in the Bible part. As a brand-new stay-at-home mom with two young daughters and a recent transplant to Georgia, I just wanted to make friends and get to know my neighbors.
I wasn’t looking for Jesus.
Several months later, Debbie asked to meet with me, and we had that moment on my family room floor when she asked if I’d like to know God personally. I was terrified. I remember thinking, “I already do,” but then having a sinking feeling that maybe I didn’t. Here I was, so lost, and I didn’t even know it. She explained the spiritual principles of God’s love and forgiveness to me and led me in a prayer to ask Christ into my heart and life. I did it more for her than myself, but God met me right where I was.
Debbie told me that day was an important date – October 4, 2000 – and to write it in my Bible. I confessed that I didn’t have a Bible. Before I knew it, I found myself in a Christian bookstore with a 50 percent off coupon she’d given me, selecting my very first Bible.
I figured I wasn’t going to read it very much – I’m not much of a reader – so I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on it. I found one on sale, used my coupon and paid about $3 or $4 for it. I brought my new Bible to our next meeting and proudly showed Debbie the cover.
“Look, I got one written by Marcus D. Thorntnton Sr.! He’s the author of this Bible,” I said.
She realized that I must have gotten such a good deal because the cover was engraved with a misspelled name! “Well, who is the author?” I asked. She explained to me that God is the author the Bible, not Mr. Thorntnton.
I came knowing nothing, and I mean nothing, but at our neighborhood Bible study, I felt comfortable speaking up and asking questions when I didn’t understand. I would never have thought to attend a church at that time in my life, but I felt comfortable going to Debbie’s house, making friends and learning alongside the people I lived life with.
I really went looking for relationship, and I found the greatest relationship I can or ever will have – my relationship with Christ.
Debbie never pushed me. She just stood by me, and when I took a step, she took a step. I learned years later that before I’d even moved into the neighborhood, Debbie had prayed over my house. She prayed that someone whose heart would be opened to Christ would move in there.
That someone was me.
I developed a great passion for God’s Word during that time, and I was continually amazed by the truths I would find in there. I learned that His Word never returns void. I also developed a heart for His lost sheep because I had been so lost myself. I often think about my neighbors, the ones who think their lives are just fine. They’re going through the motions without much hope. That was me. I was always an upbeat, social person but inside I was secretly depressed, desperately lonely and always looking for something – I just didn’t know what. When I met God, the very One for whom I’d searched, my inside began to match my outside. My smile was no longer forced or fake.
Knowing that God was with me – that He would never forsake or leave me – has completely changed me.
For awhile, I was the only believer in my family. But in time, God came after every one of us. My husband and daughters came to know the Lord, we were all baptized and my kids have gone on to influence their friends. When I moved to Colorado, my neighbor and I began leading a neighborhood Bible study there. Me, leading a Bible study! Who would’ve thought? Although I don’t feel like I have the gift of teaching, the Holy Spirit is the teacher at Bible study, not me.
I’m just shining a flashlight. It’s the place to come as you are, be real and ask questions when you don’t understand.
I have such a passion and hunger for the Bible now. My life was dramatically transformed the day I accepted Christ, but you don’t grow as a Christian day by day. You grow word by word. By the way, the date I wrote in the Bible – October 4, 2000 – is still there. It turned out to be the day that I discovered I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, as well as the day I was given my own new birth when Jesus found the girl who wasn’t even looking for Him.
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Missy Novak responded to God's call to start a Neighborhood Bible Study of her own when she settled in the Denver area 10 years ago. "I am not a gifted teacher, but I’m willing to open my home and hold the flashlight, so to speak. I want to extend the same love and acceptance that was extended to me."
Missy’s story was written by Erica Rountree. Erica is a freelance writer and the communications director at Action Ministries Inc. She lives and works in Marietta, Georgia, where she’s a member of a neighborhood Bible study and mama to two girls who constantly outsmart her and drive her to drink sweet tea.