This is the story of the first eight days of the Hamilton family in Bellevue.
At the beginning of December, my wife, Crystal, our five kiddos, and I arrived to beautiful Bellevue, WA after driving up from Albuquerque, NM to begin serving in Community Groups at Mars Hill Bellevue and help shepherd all of the local Mars Hill churches.
A series of unfortunate events
We had been nursing our 6-year-old son’s bleeding ear infection and his 8-year-old sister’s less severe ear infection, but we felt it was time to begin a round of treatment through antibiotics. After faithfully administrating the drugs for a few days, they both had a wild allergic reaction where their entire bodies were covered in red, itchy splotches. Crystal got sick the day after we arrived, and when Mom gets sick, the whole family suffers. Our youngest boy had the flu and our oldest daughter got whatever Crystal had. That left just my youngest daughter and me healthy.
The sickness was a hassle and not the best welcome to the neighborhood, but what we didn’t know was how much more hassle was in store.
The first night in our rental house, the new washing machine flooded our laundry room, and the garage flooded partly due to the clogged gutters overflowing. A day later, I returned from running an errand, and the automatic garage door broke off its hinges and needed to be completely replaced. Then the furnace broke, even though it had never been used, followed quickly by the gas fireplace. The toilet overflowed, and the valve to shut the water off was rusted open.
Issues at the house started to slow down. Our landlord was raised in Communist China and forbidden to believe in God. He came to the U.S. to raise a large family but ended up with two kids, just one more than he was allowed in China. As we talked about God, my work as a pastor in town, he was deeply moved and even agreed to lower the monthly rent because he didn’t want to “mess with a man that works for God”! I’ve invited him to join our family at a service, but there hasn’t yet been a time that works for him. Pray that he meets Jesus and joins God’s family.
Our landlord was expedient and helpful to fix everything that was falling apart around us, the illnesses were lessening—and then I got the call I was praying I wouldn’t get.
When we left Albuquerque, we arranged to have a guy from the church to drive our second vehicle to Bellevue, and in Kennewick, with 1200 miles down and just 200 miles left, it exploded! Smoke, loud crunching noises, burning oil and fully broken down on highway I-82.
We bussed this poor guy up to Seattle so he could catch a red-eye flight back to Albuquerque, and I began to search through my options to get this broken vehicle to our new home the last couple hundred miles to our home. I searched the Acts 29 website for a church in that area and ran across Crossview Community where Pastor Josh Pasma referred me to a local auto shop. There, they were able to replace the tires that had led to a destroyed front differential and the vehicle was drivable again. Now I had to get out there and drive it back.
I bought a Greyhound bus ticket to the station in Pasco, WA. (Before deliberately packed the second car as full as we could to save space in the moving truck, with no room for a passenger. Hence the reason I had to go by myself and couldn’t bring a passenger.) Sitting in the Greyhound station in downtown Seattle was quite an experience and made me appreciate all of the Southwest flights I’d taken this year, which are often referred to as a Greyhound bus in the sky. Looking around the station, I wondered if I would have an open seat or if one of these people would be my aisle mate for the trip.
A young guy sits next to me and after a bit I notice that he’s reading a book by Pastor Doug Wilson that I’d been given early in my ministry training. I ask him what he thinks of it so far. We continue talking and I find out he’s a Christian and he shares how thankful he is for Pastor Mark’s preaching ministry as he’s a faithful podcaster. His trip ended much earlier than mine so he left me with a big bag of sandwiches to get through the day that his aunt made for him on his way to Yakima.
Then the seat next to me is open and I figured I would get caught up on Season four of the show Southland, the bus starts moving and a woman takes the empty seat. Cathy was a sweet woman who explained that she had some sort of mental deficiency and was very talkative about returning to her caregivers after a visit with her family. She then asked if she could ask me a question.
Now, this happens to me all the time. Complete strangers begin to explain their sins, their huge life problems and their fears, and most begin without even knowing, and sometimes even asking, my name. Her question was more of a tear-filled, lengthy explanation of her problems with her family and their trust of her or lack thereof. She was sad that her sister didn’t trust her and had accused her of stealing, that her parents were broken-hearted that their daughters weren’t getting along and saw most of the problems as caused by her actions. At some point in the conversation, I couldn’t get a handle on whether or not Cathy had stolen from her sister, so I asked her.
“Cathy, did you steal anything from your sister?”
And sweetly and honestly, like that of a child, she said, “Yes. I stole her Seattle Mariners sweatshirt.”
“Did you steal anything else?”
“Yes, a t-shirt of hers.”
“No, that was all.”
She was still pretty broken up by the consequences of her actions, so I asked her how she was going to be clean of these sins and clean relationally with her sister. She told me she’d try to be better, not steal, and other answers where the weight of reconciliation rested on her. So I asked her what she knew about Jesus, and her answers were amazing.
“He’s the Son of God, who died for our sins because he loves us.”
I encouraged her to ask her sister to forgive her and to return the items she’d stolen, but more importantly, I asked her if she’d asked Jesus to forgive her for stealing from her sister. When she said, no, she wouldn’t do that, I asked her if she wanted to pray right there on the bus. Her prayer was beautiful, and she not only asked Jesus to forgive her for stealing, but for the jealousy in her heart that led her to steal, and for Jesus to fix the relationship between her and her sister.
I asked her how she felt after talking to Jesus. She said she felt much better and clean and that when she and I saw each other “next time,” she’d let me know how everything went with her sister.
Cathy’s final words to me were, “I didn’t know you were a Christian.” She got off the bus. I believe I’ll get that update from her when we see each other in heaven.
The owner of the auto shop was a Christian man and offered to pick me up at the bus station and take me back to his shop to show me the repairs he’d made and the damage that was done to the differential. I paid him and set out for Pastor Josh’s house where we ate corn dogs and bagel bites while we talked about the church he’d planted and how much he appreciated Mars Hill Church. He and his sweet wife prayed for me as I began the long drive over the pass, in the snow, back to Bellevue.
The bonds of family
In short, the first eight days for our family in this new city were terrible. But in that, I was struck again and again by how we are blessed with a marvelous church family, one that goes beyond biological blood but united in the blood of Christ, one that includes the strangers we serve and the strangers who serve us.