"There is a guy with a backpack sitting at the front door of the church, with no shoes on" my boy told me as we were pulling into the church about an hour before services began. We went to go talk to him (honestly, I was expecting the all-too-common, sad story and the 'humble' request for some money to help him get where he needed to go). David was a 25 year old, thin, clean-cut, smiley, Caucasian guy who spoke slowly and clearly. He was just resting his feet and hoped to join our evening service before heading back on his trip. He didn't ask for a thing.
I let him come in and wash up a bit in the church bathroom. He changed clothes, put on some sandals, and placed his backpack down out of the way. As we talked about his travels, I asked him if he had enough to eat, and he said it had been a while. So, since we had some time, I took him to A&W for a burger and a float. He was a very thankful guy and always referred to me as "brother." David, my youngest son, and I sat at a booth and talked for thirty minutes or so.
When we arrived at the church, people were showing up in our fellowship hall where we have been meeting for our mid-week services during the summer. I introduced David to our pastor and told him a little bit about David. David saw the piano and asked Pastor if he could play a little bit for us. He played some soothing hymns, one after another, that we were able to sing along with while waiting for everyone else to arrive. When he was finished, I thanked him and complimented him on his abilities. He took a seat where my family and I would be sitting and after services he stayed and fellowshipped with several of our members before he was on his way. Our people are very giving, and naturally some of our loving members felt compelled to give David some money. They did it rather secretly...but I still noticed, because I was watching him like a hawk.
Criticize me if you want, but I'm cautious with visitors in our church. I was particularly cautious when he left to go to the bathroom at the beginning of the message. I can't help it! I've heard too many stories, and I knew David's backpack was in that direction...and I had no clue what was in it. I ran several scenarios through my head and had a plan of action should he have come back with a gun or something. Thank the Lord, it was nothing like that.
Another issue we have ran into several times, both in this church and in other churches we have been in, is some shocking demonstration in the middle of the service such as: standing up and speaking in tongues, coming forward at invitation and declaring to the congregation that he was here to heal someone... Thankfully, we had no such demonstration on this night. However, I don't believe it is wrong in any way to prepare for these things, to confront visitors, even to evaluate and suspect certain people of bad motives. And even though David was a very nice young man and his motives seemed honest and sincere, I did discover some things that are worth noting that I think would be profitable for our learning and preparation for future encounters:
-David first told me he was on foot for "spiritual" reasons and to separate from worldly conveniences that could distract him (At surface value, this is commendable and I agreed with him that our earthly luxuries indeed tend to hinder our need to walk with the Lord to the level we would without them. However, there is a type of Eastern asceticism that tends to creep its way into cult-like religious movements, so I felt the need to find out what group he associated with)
-David had recently spent time in Liberty, MO with a group known as the Fellowship of the Martyrs (When trying to find out more, he was quick to state that it wasn't a denomination and called it a "disaster relief" that was formed after a natural disaster. He also pointed out that he wanted people to unite regardless of denominations, and pointed out that he wasn't talking about the "invisible church" but unity within the local churches. Without saying too much about the movement, the little research I did reveals cult-like attributes in the movement and it is very works-based, ascetic, and noted as a "frindge" group because the leader who, I believe, was once Baptist is now pretty much of the opinion that all organized religion is wrong--typical cult stuff!)
-It was later revealed that David desired to learn how to cast out demons, or something to that effect. (The Fellowship of the Martyrs movement apparently is big on demonology, and whereas I recognize we are in spiritual warfare and there are spirits all around, I always feel uneasy around people who seem to think they can personally interact with the spiritual world)
-Get this! There was a mentally ill person associated with the Fellowship of the Martyrs group that attempted to bomb churches (If I had Googled FOTM when I first found out he was associated with the movement, I might have come across this nugget and may have had to have a look inside the backpack before he came in, if you know what I mean. In all fairness, I don't believe the mentally ill person was following any actual teachings FOTM had taught, but how do I know who I am dealing with...even if they claimed to be an Independent, Fundamental, Baptist?).
The point is this, we live in a crazy world. There are all kinds of people out there with varying beliefs and varying levels of strangeness to said beliefs. I know we have to minister to questionable people, and I know at some point it is necessary for us to trust our fellow believers...but we should never be ashamed of protecting our churches or our family. If we offend someone by asking too many questions, or following them to the bathroom to make sure they get where they are going, that is a risk I am willing to take. David seemed like a nice guy, and I'd take him out to eat again. I'd probably even invite him to another church service, but I would have a lot more questions for him regarding his purposes and intentions.