In the Spring of 2008, I served as a short term worker at TCMI’s Haus Edelweiss, a bible training center southeast of Vienna, Austria. Before we began our two weeks of service, the staff took us sightseeing to the town of Derstein and the nearby Stiff Melk, one of the most famous monasteries in Austria. Stiff Melk, established in 1088 by the Benedictine monks, is most known for its library and manuscript collection. The actual abbey was built between 1702-1736.
As I entered the chapel, I was astounded to see elaborate uses of marble, gold, gilt and inlaid wood. Frescoes and carvings adorned every nook and cranny of the walls and ceilings. I have never seen such a richly adorned building in my life.
A sign explained the opulence. For the people of the counter Reformation, which the Melk Monastery represents, “nothing was too wonderful to give praise to God.”
I heard those words echoed this past week in a totally different context. I took a group of ladies to tour the Tri-State Family Services, a former pregnancy support center that has expanded its services to include “down and out” families and senior citizens. The center provides clothing, a food pantry, classes and counseling particularly to women who want to put their lives back together. The testimonies of some of these women were truly astounding.
The center operates the Crysalis Shepherding Home, a women’s shelter, about twelve miles north of Carthage, Illinois. It’s an old farmhouse, dating back to the 19th century. When we parked the van in the drive, I figured a homeless shelter sponsored by a ministry in an old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere would be bare bones, Spartan, frugal to the max. Practical, functional, a “meet-their-needs” kind of place.
I was wrong.
As we walked into a modern, large kitchen, the director asked us to take our shoes off so we wouldn’t track in mud. The kitchen led into an equally spacious dining room with a huge oak dining table. Every room was tastefully decorated with lace curtains and wall-papered walls. The bedrooms had matching quilts and simple but decorative antiques.
“When we began to renovate the home, we decided from the beginning we were going to do it right even if it took years to do it,” she told me. “These women deserve God’s best. He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and we want this home to express God’s best to these women.”
What a different take! We’re used to seeing the best spent for beautiful cathedrals and church buildings. Yet this ministry created beauty for women who had nowhere else to go, women who had seen the dirtier side of life. It made perfect sense. A beautiful home for them said loud and clear, “There’s hope. You can live a different way. Let us show you how.”
Something appeals to me about creating a place of beauty for women who have reached the end of hope and are reaching hands toward the heavens with cries of desperation. It’s a good reminder that I need to give not my cast-offs, but my best. After all, as the director of Tri-State Family Services said, my gift is in honor of the King of Kings who owns cattle on a thousand hills.
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). If we represent Christ as His emissaries, we need to lavish the wealth of His grace, not on buildings that serve as monuments, but on the lives of those who need to experience the essence of His gracious love.