Avinash grew up in Saudi Arabia before moving back to India with his mother and siblings in 1996. His father worked in Saudi Arabia on a dairy farm as a mechanical engineer, and on the weekends they hung out with their friends. This part of life was pretty normal, but going to church was a completely different story.
“When I was a kid, me and my brother never knew this, but the church was happening in secret. The meeting mostly happens in the same place, but sometimes the location had to change to a different house. Once the decision about the location was made, we would plan how we would get there, because some people needed to travel from 1 hour to 2 hours away. Once we reached the location, we would not park the car nearby, we would park it like 2 to 3 blocks or even 4 blocks from the church location because we did not want to bring attention to us. Once we reached the house where the Church was happening, we had a secret word to use so that they would know it’s us, the people who came for the church.”
Avi remembers how the adults would soundproof the house church and try to make it seem as if the families were gathered for a party, just in case the police came. He also remembers having to hide his shoes so that nobody suspected there was a large gathering inside. Often the house chosen to host the church had at least two more church-goers houses nearby, and one of these houses would be used to host a Sunday school for the children.
“Even if there is a raid, the children will not be affected by it because it will be arranged like they are having a play date with the other kids. Sometimes when the service was going on, we would hear a police patrol outside and we would keep silent, and once they had passed by then we would continue. Each time we would start our service with a prayer
'God, you are the one who can protect this small church gathering from facing any problem.'”
Avi talks about how, after the service, the children would rejoin the adults to talk and have fun together. He remembers how close they all were, bonded by the weekly meetings, but also the experience of the secret church. Eventually, the families would slowly leave one by one so as not to attract any attention.
“I was brought up like this and as I got older I got a sense of feeling that the Church is not a building we go and worship, it’s a place where all the like-minded gather to worship our Lord Almighty. It can be your backyard, living room, or your own house, because if there is another world war or something like this pandemic, that does not allow us to go to the Church. That’s why I love Our Church Too because it is not defined by any building where people can gather for a prayer meeting. All we need is a smartphone, tablet or a laptop and a Zoom or Google Meet link. The church should always be defined by the people, not by the building.”
Part 2 of Can We Gather? In this article, Genevieve addresses shame.
Genevieve take's a pilgrimage of churches and tackles the question, can we gather without harming one another?