A Room in the Inn
(Fairview Heights, Illinois, circa 1997)
It was our first Christmas in Fairview Heights. Late December 1997. We had run down to DuQuoin for a holiday Friday/Saturday gift exchange with my mom and dad. When we arrived at the parsonage late Saturday night, it was clear something was wrong at 9 Keelan Drive. I left the family in the car and cautiously unlocked the front door of the house. As I slowly opened the door, a cold wind bit my face. The frigid draft that assaulted me was from the back sliding door which had been forcibly opened. It stood wide open with the drapes dancing to the beat of a harsh winter wind. The parsonage was ransacked. The thieves had invaded our space, gone through our drawers and cabinets, took what they wanted and worst of all…stolen our Christmas gifts. I called the police and a couple of church leaders.
The House of Bishop was shaken to the core. Would this event define our entire Fairview Heights ministry? Would fear enter my children and family? I felt lost in a strange and faraway place. After the police arrived, a couple from the church came by and extended an invitation to let us stay the night with them. We jumped at the offer. It appears there was room in the inn after all. I suppose we learned something that night of Christmas. It was all about a young family with nowhere to stay and about the grace in finding a much-needed room for the night. It was about Christian love and compassion lived out in a way that brings warmth in a cold world. The next week Christmas gifts for the kids began to pour in from the congregation; by the time Christmas came around, we were no longer in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers…we were in our new home surrounded by family.
When my grandchildren are older, I will tell them this story right after I read the Christmas story from the Bible and before they open their presents. It will teach them that Christmas didn’t just happen in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago…it is still happening today in the places our feet touch the ground!
-Shane L. Bishop is the Senior Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois and the author of “Exactly As I Remember It” and “Re:member.”