For the first year and half that I lived in Natal, I was told on many occasions by American visitors that I "lived like a college student." You can infer what that does and does not mean, but I can tell you that it was accurate. I had a cute little apartment, but it had the bare minimum of mixed and matched furniture, a tiny kitchen, one bathroom with a hot shower and one whose door did not close all the way when you sat down to, um, take care of business. And it was HOT. Finding that apartment was so exciting for me because it was just the right size, right in front of my favorite bakery, on the 8th floor, and half a block from the church building. I documented my excitement in one of my favorite blog posts to date, a classic from the "I-LIVE-IN-BRAZIL-AND-WANT-TO-BLOG-ABOUT-EVERY-SECOND-OF-MY-LIFE!!!" phase. That apartment served me well for a while, but when I returned to Natal as a full-time missionary in early 2009 (and with more "resources") it was apparent that finding a new place to live would be necessary if I wanted to serve the church here in the ways I had dreamed.
So I made a deal with God. I told him that I wanted an apartment with a big living room (not easy to find in my price range) and easy bus access. Although I planned on having a car, I wanted it to be easy and safe for church members to get to and from my apartment. I told him that, if he provided such a place, the apartment would be his. His for ministry, his for hospitality, his for honing my cooking skills, and his for anything else he might dream up. I found some pretty great apartments (with ocean views) that I really tried to fit into that deal, but thankfully none of them worked out. Because he had something bigger in store.
I've referenced many times on this blog how much I love where I live. I love the size, I love the location, I love the view, I LOVE THE BREEZE, I love the kitchen and how it has inspired me to start cooking, I love how pretty it is, I love that it's on the 6th floor. I love that, even though I was dumb and naive enough to try and strike a deal with God rather than trust that he had something great in store without my having to orient him to the fact, he still provided me with exactly what I had asked for: a GIGANTIC living room and a location right on one of Natal's main thoroughfares.
One of the things I also wanted in this new apartment was a second bedroom for guests. I never used it much, but I knew it was there. Then, in November of last year, God put another opportunity in front of me that tested just how committed I was to making sure this apartment was his. A good friend of mine from the church was in a tough family situation with little stability. She had asked to stay here with me one night, and in explaining to me what was going on I kind of just blurted out, "if you need to, you can come live here with me." In that moment I realized that I was actually serious, but she told me later that she didn't even think twice about it at the time, sure that her situation would blow over. After a couple more rough weeks and giving the idea some thought, she called and asked if my offer still stood. She moved in a few days later. She is grateful to have a stable place to live and I am grateful to have a companion. It was getting lonely around here!
So, even though my deal was stupid, I held up my end of the bargain. I have lost count of how many sleepovers, wedding showers, Bible studies, movie nights, lunches and dinners I've hosted here. The young people from church have gotten so used to coming here that, yesterday, when it was announced that our weekly young adults Bible study would be held at my apartment for the second week in a row, someone made the comment that Cris's house is "the second church." I got a little emotional when I heard that, because that's exactly what I had always hoped for.
This apartment is much more than just a beautiful, well ventilated place to live.
It's a second church.