The Blessing of Going Outside the CampBy Nikki Hurt
August 6, 2020
The question prompted a visceral response from within me: “Can anyone even truly be saved in America?” I understood the premise behind the question. Is following Jesus, truly picking up your cross and following Him, just too easy in America? Is there any real sacrifice required? Thus the premise goes, are far too many walking around with false assurance because it’s all just been…too easy.
I proclaimed without hesitation, “Yes, you can be saved in America. I live here and I know I am saved.” I do not know this due to any goodness or righteousness on my own behalf. Rather, I have tasted the bitterness of sin and now know the sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness. As a freshman in college the Lord opened my eyes to my sin, enabled me by His grace to repent and turn away from that sin, and has blessed me with the grace to seek after Him—not perfectly, but continually ever since.
And yet, another reason brewing deep within my soul also testifies to the fact that Jesus has redeemed me. I live somewhere that I don’t want to live. And I live here solely because Jesus told me to go.
In Hebrews 13:12-14, we read, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
Through a series of events along with many prayers and conversations, God called my husband and me to plant a church in a neighboring town. We were called to go to Jesus outside the camp, so to speak. We were living in an area that we loved, residing in a home we had hoped to remain in for many years, and serving at a church that felt more like home than any place we’d ever been. Although life was not always easy, it was often comfortable. We were loved, and we loved back. Additionally, my whole world sat within an area of beautifully planned neighborhoods with miles and miles of walking and biking trails that connected them. A place that some would detest but others, like me, craved.
And yet the Lord, in His goodness, called us to a people. These people happened to live and desire a church in and around a much more rural environment than anywhere we had ever lived. I can still recall the first bloodied deer that we saw hanging from a neighbor’s front yard basketball hoop. My children and I were dismayed. Such a spectacle would never have appeared in the upscale neighborhood we called home. It was the first of many culture shocks.
The second shock was the amount of driving we began to do. I was used to living in a lovely neighborhood that was within a 5 minute radius of anything I could desire. The stores were on the upscale side; the local grocery store was even dubbed the Gucci grocery store. Soccer moms would joke about the need to change into their skinny jeans and do their hair and make-up before running in to grab their milk. The library, just down the road, and where I had worked before my children were born, was full of friendly librarians who knew us. It had been completely rebuilt in more recent years and was the most sun-lit and welcoming place. Even our church building was within biking distance from our home.
The stores closest to me in my new town are not as well kept and definitely further from our home. The mall that had its heyday in the late 70s is almost completely vacant now with store after store shuttered. The parking lot is full of weeds, and the rough cement is cracking. The only anchors remaining are a run-down J.C. Penney and a large Hobby Lobby. Even the local Target reflects the rural setting in its much smaller size.
We planted our church in the Spring of 2019 and moved that same summer. The first few months left me feeling like I was suffering from a form of PTSD. I cried a lot. I missed our home. I missed shopping at familiar stores. I missed the convenience of our local library being right down the road from our home. And I especially missed taking my kids on bike rides throughout the wide streets of our family-friendly neighborhood. Taking 3-year-old twins out on a busy county road only to turn at a 90-degree-angle and go a long way down another deserted county road bordered by cornfields just didn’t have the same vibe as meandering through our wide, curved streets of the tree-lined neighborhood, nestled on a golf course, while waving at friendly neighbors along the way.
However, all of it—the neighborhood, the stores, my home, my church—was all, somehow, inside the gate. We were inside the gate of the camp we had built, that was being lived for the Lord, but was comfortable. Yet here are a people. They were outside that camp, and they asked for a pastor. But no one was going. Maybe they weren’t going, because like me, they preferred the nice neighborhood. Or maybe like me they enjoyed shopping at a store that was nicknamed the Gucci grocery store.
These people here, they have my heart. I am happiest when I am amongst them singing praises to our good God and fellowshipping together. I am at peace when I hear my husband preach a solid, Gospel-centered message, and Jesus confirms again that He called us here so that my husband could proclaim Him. I have joy deep in my heart that knows Jesus rescued me from my sin; and my conversion is evidenced, in part, by the grace He has given me to obey his final command to GO and make disciples.
Living here drives me to Jesus in a way that I haven’t needed to be driven in a long while. I need Him. I need Him for the ache in my heart when I miss the life we used to have. I need Him when I load the kids in the van to go to the library and after nearly 20 minutes of driving we are still not there. I need Him when we drive around trying to find a house to buy because we know we can’t rent forever, and nothing comes even close to what we had before. I need Him when I drive by the uglier parts of town and my sinful flesh wants to flee and go somewhere prettier. I need Him to answer my daily prayer, “Lord, help me love the people that live here and are my neighbors.” He has and He will.
There are many beautiful parts of my new home, too. I suspect that the longer I live here the more beauty I will uncover. Life somehow feels a little slower out here. It helps when you regularly hear the cloppity-clop of the Amish horse and buggy. The expectations of what our church will look like is different here too. Our people desire a simple church with rich teaching and worship. They desire solid, sharpening relationships with other believers in Christ. Our church is small and yet our small group attendance is exploding.
Verse 15 of Hebrews 13 proclaims, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” That is my aim. I offer up praise to God and I acknowledge His name before our people and any people who will listen. He is worthy to uproot the life you loved to move to where you didn’t want to go.
Can anyone be saved in America? Yes, absolutely. The call to deny yourself and pick up your cross to follow Him can be found in a plethora of ways. But sometimes someone still needs to GO. For how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?
It will not be easy. You will grieve the relationships that will shift and other parts of your life that you will have to leave behind. But you will also find blessings, and maybe even a bloodied deer hanging from a neighbor’s front yard basketball hoop, when you go to Him outside the camp.
Nikki Hurt, a lover of family bike rides and shady trees, moved with her husband Ben to Goshen, IN in the summer of 2019 to help him plant Gospel Community Church. The Hurts have been joyfully married for 17 years and are the happy parents of five adventurous children.