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City of Refuge
By Nancy Canwell

 "Then the Lord said to Joshua: 'Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses.... When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them' " (Joshua 20:1,2,4, NIV).

Someone in the church hurt his feelings. That's all it took. Rich* left the church because one person offended him. His wife left with him.

He didn't go quietly. Rich let it be known in the community that "that church" was not a good church. People there were unkind, he said. He especially took jabs at the pastor-the one whom he believed had deliberately hurt him.

When the pastor heard the false reports Rich was giving, he didn't take offense. He stayed steady. Rich's wife missed the church members so much that she often stopped by just to say hi. No one spoke ill of her husband to her. Everyone let her know that they were both missed, and would be welcomed back any time. It would be safe to return.

Two years later, when Rich was up in the mountains hiking alone, God strongly impressed him that he needed to return to church. He was well aware of the lies he had told out of anger. And he was also aware that this church had never sought revenge. The pastor and members had only been kind when they saw him. He knew without a doubt that this church was a safe place to return to-a place where he could find refuge and healing. With his wife by his side, Rich returned to church the next Sabbath, and was met with love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Doug and Keri hadn't attended an Adventist church in years. When they started drifting away, no one came after them. After they had wasted years with drug and alcohol abuse, they heard that a new pastor was in town. They heard that God had used this man to turn the church into a caring refuge. They heard that "backsliders" would be safe there.

One Sabbath they got up the nerve to return. Did they quit drinking and using drugs before they came? No. Were they turned away at the door? On the contrary! The pastor and members welcomed them in. They made them feel safe, and let them know that they could heal there. Before long, Jesus filled the emptiness that they once thought could only be filled by substances.

Our churches need to follow the example of the City of Refuge found in Joshua 20. People who have left the church need to know that there is a place they can run to and be safe. What does that safety include? Not being condemned. Not being stared at disapprovingly. And not being spoken to with critical words.

We can only create this kind of a "City of Refuge" if we understand the forgiveness of Jesus. The One who said, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:11, NIV), expects us to do the same. Jesus didn't condone this woman's sin-He just didn't condemn her. And He encouraged her to change-He instructed her to stop sinning. This gave her a safe place to begin again.

Why not get together with your Reconnecting Ministries Team, elders, or church board and discuss how your church can become a City of Refuge for those who have quit coming to church? Your church can be known as a "safe church." Your church can be known as a refuge where people can heal and be made whole. A place where they can begin again.

Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help us be honest enough to ask and answer the question: "Is our church a place where the disconnected person can return and find it to be a city of refuge-a safe place?"

Recommended Resource: Reach Out With Love, by Rich DuBose Click Here.

*All names have been changed