When my wife and I moved to Hillsboro, Oregon to plant a church eight years ago, we knew we were taking a certain amount of risk. Church planting is difficult. Burnout among church planters is a common occurrence. The survivability rate of new churches is gloomy at best. But we felt sure this was what the Lord was calling us to do, so we bought a house in downtown Hillsboro and moved in early 2015. The first Sunday we gathered, there were roughly 30 people in attendance. What we lacked in age and wisdom, we made up for in youthful naivety and hope.
One of our core convictions from the very beginning was to be a community that practices biblical hospitality. We wanted to be a church known for how we love and care for the outsider, the marginalized and the disenfranchised. In an effort to give our people simple and tangible ways to live this out, we partnered with Safe Families. Within a few months, we received a call from Safe Families, asking if we knew anyone in our church family who might be willing to take in teenage girl in our community who was experiencing homelessness. I would later find out that this young girls name was Estrella. Both of her parents were living in Mexico. She was a sweet, quiet, 16-year-old, working at Taco Bell and couch surfing with acquaintances. She was no longer attending school as it was just too much to juggle with other responsibilities and unstable housing.
That next Sunday, I stood before my congregation and told them of the need. I fully expected the need to be met, but I was stunned by who stepped up to meet it. After the service, a group of gals approached me and asked if they could do it. They were all living together as they navigated the single, post-college, early career life. We gave Estrella a chance to meet them and she moved into their house within the week. Two of the girls moved into the same room so Estrella could have her own space. They encouraged Estrella to quit her job and helped her enroll at PCC to finish her education. And, get this, they fully funded every step by pooling their money together.
But here is where the story gets really good. A few months later, Estrella was invited by one of her new roommates to attend a YoungLife camp and she accepted the invitation. At camp, the Good News of Jesus began to make sense to her and she decided to become a follower of Christ.
A few months later, we baptized Estrella in front of our entire congregation — our first baptism celebration as a young church. There were shouts, tears and lots of rejoicing. Since that time, we have celebrated dozens of baptisms, but that moment will forever be etched in my memory as one of the sweetest experiences we’ve shared as a church family. I remember going home that afternoon and telling my wife that it was worth the risk. It was worth moving to a new town, worth the stress of church planting, and worth the risk of failure. If that was the only baptism we ever got to celebrate as a church and it all ended tomorrow, it was totally worth it.
Seeing Estrella get baptized was a reminder for me that practicing biblical hospitality matters. Estrella is now married with a child of her own. She moved to a different area, but still shows up from time to time and is thriving! In our current cultural moment, extending love and care to the stranger is a prophetic witness that the Church carries. Safe Families steps into this reality and gives the Church tangible ways to live this out.
Justin Peterson is the lead pastor of Community Table Church in Oregon. He is married to Katy and they have two beautiful daughters – Nya (10) and Willa (5). He does not have any social media, but if you ever find yourself in Oregon, he would gladly buy you a cup of coffee and talk face-to-face. You can find out more about his church and ministry at our website is www.tablecommunity.church.