by Steven Clark Goad
She had attended the church for a little over two years, along with her two young children. No one knew if she had a husband or not, because they didn't ask. As a matter of fact, nobody knew much of anything about this sister in Christ because they never took the time to get acquainted with her. Oh, they offered the usual "How are you?'s in the church foyer after services, but no real concern for her was evident. Then, all of a sudden, she quit attending the worship services. Few missed her.
It occurred to one member of the church that someone was missing from the usual makeup of the congregation. Who could it be? By thinking long and hard, she remembered that the young mother with the cheerful smile was not sitting in her normal place in the auditorium. "Let's see. What was her name?" The member asked others if they could recall the name of the slender brunette who had not been to worship for several weeks. Or had it been months? Someone thought to look at the picture board. Sure enough, her picture, along with her two little girls, had been taken and included in the pictorial board. "Smith. Yes, that was her name. Barbara Smith."
A few members began to discuss Barbara Smith, and one concluded that she must have moved, or worse--just quit coming.
"You know, I see a lot of people here for a while, and then they just disappear. I wonder what could be wrong? They just quit coming to church."
Let me share with you one case history in the myriads of those who come and go in the thousands of churches across the land. This is the story of one of those mysterious souls who appeared for a little while and then vanished.
Yes, her name "was" Barbara Smith. Yes, she had two little girls. No, she didn't have a husband. He deserted her and the girls when he decided he loved his secretary more than he loved his wife. Yes, Barbara had attended the church from the very first week she moved into town. She had grown up in the church. She had been faithful in attendance for two years, four months, and one week. She was at every Bible class on Sunday and every morning worship service except when ill. She was unable to attend Sunday evening services because of her work, but nobody knew that. Nobody asked her. She occasionally attended Wednesday evening services when her work didn't conflict.
What were the children's names? No one remembered. Their names weren't even listed below the picture that was posted. Did Barbara just quit church one day? Did she just wake up one morning and say to herself, "I think I'll stop loving Jesus today. I think I'll just quit Bible class and worship and find better things to do with my time and with my girls"? No, indeed. Let me tell you why Barbara Smith no longer attends a church full of people whose lives were too busy and too fun to notice her and her girls.
Barbara wasn't the best dressed member of the church. Perhaps a few made wrong judgments about her from the first day she arrived. But sister Smith was always clean, and her girls were too. She was a bit shy and always managed to find a place to sit in the back two or three rows. When she first came to church, people greeted her with all the normal expressions of welcome.
"Nice to have you here." "Are you from town or just moved in?" "We hope you'll come back and be with us again."
And these greetings were probably well intended. Somewhere along the way, Barbara's presence was taken for granted. After the first few formalities were observed, little interest in Barbara and her girls was evident. A "Hi!" or maybe a "How ya' doin'?" was about it.
Barbara's attendance was consistent, in spite of the lack of hospitality extended. But nobody asked her into their home. Nobody sent get-well cards when the girls got sick, even though their names were on the sick list. Nine months into her attendance, Barbara became ill. She underwent exploratory surgery. A tumor was found. It was cancer. Surgery and chemo treatments caused her to miss sporadically. Nobody noticed. Her hospitalization was announced at church and in the bulletin. A generic prayer was offered for the sick. Barbara never found out she was prayed for. All she knew was that nobody offered to help with the girls. Nobody sent her a get-well card. Nobody visited her in the hospital. Nobody offered to be her friend or to have her girls over to play with their children. Nobody came by her home to welcome her to the community and to the church. Few noticed she was at church. Nobody cared.
"Did you ever find out about what happened to that Barbara Smith with the two little girls?"
"Not really. I looked up her name in the phone directory and couldn't find it. I called the church secretary, and she said she had never been able to get a phone number."
"Well, what do you think happened?"
"She probably wasn't very faithful in the first place and just decided to quit. You know the kind."
Oh, how wrong we can be. Barbara didn't quit the church. The church quit Barbara. And Barbara died. Oh, she may have died spiritually had she lived. But she died literally and was buried. Alone. With no support net or concern from those who should have cared the most. Her girls are in foster care. The couple from church who were eager to adopt two children under the ages of ten would have been happy to have had Barbara's children. But they will never know. Nobody will ever know. But God knows. I wonder how many Barbaras come and go among us and never become a part of us?
Complacency. Indifference. Self-centeredness. What malignant sins these are. They lie hidden, like a cancer, in churches all over the world. Drunks are easily noticed in a holy fellowship. Liars and thieves and drug addicts are often exposed. But who will expose those of us who care so little that we sometimes miss the Barbaras of this world?
Copyright © 1997 IMAGE Magazine. All rights reserved. Used with permission.