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When roadside bombs hit the church

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“The church is a Hummer.” That metaphor is somehow missing among the many New Testament pictures of the church. We know it is a body, a fortress, a bride, an army, a house, a city, a family, a temple, a cosmic force for divine justice, but not everyone knows – it is also a Hummer.

What’s a Hummer? It’s the brand name for a “High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle” (HMMWV) that was designed, from the ground up, to carry troops and supplies in battlefield conditions. It is an impressive machine – rugged, powerful, versatile, functional, and meant to transport its cargo through terrain that is often unmarked and dangerous. What a great metaphor for the church! If it was in the Bible, I’m sure we’d have songs and choruses declaring, “We are the Hummer of God!”

The picture of the Hummer became meaningful to me as our church drove over a “roadside bomb.” A great explosion rocked us. Pieces of debris flew through the air and wounded indiscriminately. When the dust settled we picked ourselves up and surveyed the damage. It was what you would expect from a bomb.

And as the injured were cared for and repairs were being made, we understood the blessing of being the church – even while we grieved our losses and struggled with the pain. The metaphor of the church as a Hummer emerged as the dust settled and we were reminded of some basic truths.

First, we were reminded that the church is actually built with roadside bombs and many other forms of calamity, in mind. We so easily forget that. The church is to be a place of safety, healing, and restoration – but in the context of a battlefield. The church exists because the world is a dangerous place. It’s a place of relative, not absolute, safety.

Bombs will surprise us. The fact that there are bombs shouldn’t. “Dear friends,” Peter wrote 2000 years ago, “do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Going over a roadside bomb in a Hummer is a devastating event – but it is better than going over that same bomb in a Jetta.

Second, the church is a high maintenance piece of equipment. It is extremely complex, with countless parts, some moving and some stationary but each with specific functions. And each part requires care and attention. When the parts are ignored or minor problems dismissed, when repairs are not made and maintenance programs are ignored – the machinery breaks down.

But when the bomb had gone off and we stepped back and gathered up the pieces we were so thankful that we were indeed travelling in a vehicle designed for dangerous territory. Suddenly all those hours of maintenance and all the effort that had been poured into keeping the parts working together were worth it.

And we also recognized that some parts of the church are designed to function precisely when bombs go off. The fact that the bomb leaves a gaping hole is not something that should shake our identity – instead the wound confirms it.

The Hummer most of us are familiar with is a pale reflection of the original HMMWV. This version delivers children to soccer games, transports groceries home from the mall, or drags assorted recreational toys behind itself. This too is a Hummer and it can look impressive – but its fancy wheels, glistening chrome, and shiny paint belie its original purpose. It has no shrapnel marks on its side, no dents on its bumpers, and no dirt to dull the lustre of its glossy paint.

No, it is not the battle scarred Hummer whose identity is in question. There will come a day when the church will be arrayed in all of its parade glory – when its grimy, battered exterior will be repaired and polished, never to be tarnished again. In the meantime we, the Hummer of God, carry on – “we do not lose heart . . . we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus . . .” (2 Corinthians 4:1–10).

—James Toews is pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.

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