There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA. I stood among throngs of them just a few weeks ago—exchanged glances, made way for passersby, bumped shoulders, watched, smelled, listened.
It was my very first time on the West Coast. In all my 24 years, the furthest I’d ever been across the country was a family trip to the Grand Canyon when I was a child. I had planned my visit months ago when my parents suggested I go visit their friends Stuart and Lisa Bell who had moved to downtown Seattle last October as church planters.
After visiting the city and hearing God’s call to relocate about a year and a half prior, the couple sold and gave away most of their personal belongings, packed what remained in a storage unit, piled their clothes and essentials in their jeep, and made their way to Seattle, WA from Bentonville, AR.
The Bells met me at baggage claim with a hug and a smile. Apart from a brief interaction when I was very small, I had never met these folks, but I immediately felt at home.
Throughout my visit, I walked all over downtown Seattle. For 20,000 steps, I followed closely behind Stuart and Lisa, watching all the way at how they interacted with their city.
Periodically, we would stop on a corner or glance out the bus window at a landmark or site, and Lisa would educate me on the history or significance it carried. It was clear every time that the couple had already fallen head over heels for their new city and had taken great care to learn its story.
When I arrived to my room in their Queen Anne apartment, there was a document for me to keep with stats and facts about Seattle and maps on the wall with markers indicating the locations of other church plants. There were only a handful.
Stuart and Lisa filled me in on the challenges of planting a church in a city like Seattle and on the challenges they’ve had personally in relocating to a place so very far away from all that was loved and familiar to them. But more than their challenges, they told me with great excitement of all the victories the Lord has shown them in less than a year. While seemingly small to those who aren’t really looking, they are nothing short of miraculous to Stuart and Lisa, who know full well that God is a God of careful detail. Every victory is an advancement of the Gospel.
There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA.
On our way from the airport to their apartment, we saw only a handful of that number. We took a quiet, scenic route, and as we walked, Stuart and Lisa began to pour out all they’d learned from their city. They rattled off names of connections they’d made, where they’d met them, when they last saw or interacted with them, and what each person thought about Jesus and Stuart and Lisa’s ministry here.
We walked past a coffee shop, and Stuart stopped and peered through the window. His face lit up when he saw his friend Ben, a barista there. He waved and made a goofy face at Ben, who smiled with recognition and waved back.
We rounded the corner and made a stop at a neighborhood bookstore. When we walked in, the two greeted the owner, Erin, by name, and she acknowledged them with a smile. I browsed briefly while the Bells conversed with Erin, talking about landmarks she suggested for my visit, their upcoming trip to China to meet their first grandchild, Erin’s husband Pete, etc. They introduced me, and she chatted with me kindly as a friend of her friends.
While Stuart met to read Scripture with a believer he met recently, Lisa and I stopped in a recommended coffee shop. As we walked in, Lisa called out to the girl behind the counter. Hearing her name, the girl looked up and smiled as Lisa introduced us.
We visited a Danish bakery a few blocks over for breakfast one morning, and the owner, a young woman named Isabelle, smiled when Lisa said hello and recognized her regular customer.
“Did you hear her call my name?” Lisa asked Stuart. “She remembered me.” Another advancement on the battleground. Another stake in the earth.
On our way to the bus stop Saturday morning, a man in a neon vest exited the CVS on the corner behind us, and Stuart called out.
“Nate! Hey, man!! How’s your morning been?”
Nate smiled broadly and shook Stuart’s outstretched hand. His vest was issued by the city as a uniform to wear when he patrolled his area on the corner of Mercer and Queen Anne. When Stuart complimented him and acknowledged the great work Nate was doing to keep the area clean, his head bowed slightly, a little bashful at the encouragement, but grateful to someone for noticing.
Turns out, noticing is something the Bells are great at.
There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA.
And there are 2.5 coffee shops for every thousand of them. One of my requests when I arrived in the city was for the Bells to help me find a really great cup of coffee. We ended up finding several, but the first came from a quirky place a few blocks from their apartment: KEXP, which functions as a radio station, record store, music venue, and coffee shop.
As I sipped on my mocha in my first Seattle coffee shop experience, I had a chance to pull out my current read and spend a little time in *Middle Earth.
*I’d like to take this time to forewarn you that there may be several other references to LOTR in my future writings, because it’s wonderful and poignant and I make no apologies about my love for Tolkien’s writing.
I opened the page to where I’d last left Aragorn and his captains. In Tolkien’s The Return of the King, there is a moment right before the Last Battle that stopped me in my tracks. The armies of Rohan and Gondor have ridden right up to the Black Gate of Mordor with every ally they could muster riding alongside them. Before the monstrous barrier, the captains of each unit shouted forth their challenge and, after an eerie silence, an ambassador of the enemy came riding out to meet them.
As my eyes moved over this descriptive passage, I was struck by how Tolkien identified the foe.
“The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr he was, and his name is remembered in no tale; for he himself had forgotten it, and he said: ‘I am the Mouth of Sauron.’”
In his service and slavery to Sauron, he had forgotten his own name. His master, the enemy of all that was good and free and true, cared not even for a moment about his identity.
And I was suddenly aware of how true that rang across the pages of fiction into the realms of reality.
For we also have an enemy, a master liar and deceiver, adamantly opposed to all that is good and right and true. He fights to fill human hearts with lies about identity and worth.
“You’re not valuable.”
“You’re not noticed.”
“You’re not worth saving.”
“You’re not loved.”
“No one knows your name.”
It’s all a trick. A lie disguised as truth designed to trap its victims in a pit of hopelessness and loneliness.
But here’s what’s true: Jesus knows every name.
He knows every name, and He values those to whom they belong. He loves each heart personally, deeply, intimately, fiercely. He died for every name and rose again so that every name might be freed from sin.
Individuals in the masses are not lost on Jesus. He sees everyone, and he calls people by name.
“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.’”
“He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means “Teacher”).”
“Then Jesus shouted, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’”
Names are important to Jesus.
There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA.
Jesus knows every one of them. Personally. Intimately. He looks on each face with great compassion and love. He formed them. They are His creation, after all.
And one by one, He is introducing them to Stuart and Lisa.
They know the importance of names.
They understand the value in valuing someone else. They know what it means to be loved deeply by the One who gives worth and identity to His creation.
They are in Seattle, far from home and familiarity, because He called them there.
And every time the Bells call out to a new friend, every time they remember a hometown or a favorite coffee haunt, every time they lock eyes with hurting hearts and call them by name, a thread in the enemy’s cord of lies is severed.
“You are valuable.”
“I notice you.”
“The Savior of the world came to rescue you.”
“You are loved.”
“You are not alone.”
“I know your name.”
“Jesus sees you and loves you.”
“The Creator of all the world knows you and calls you by name.”
There are 704,352 people in Seattle, WA and this Sunday, seven of them met in a conference room downtown for Stuart and Lisa’s very first worship service.
The Lord is not just calling Stuart and Lisa to plant a church, but to be the church. From the moment they heard the call, and every moment since, they have been all in. Every time they leave the house, they bow their heads at the door and ask the Lord to guide their steps and orchestrate their encounters and conversations. They pause in front of buildings with “For Lease” signs in the window and ask the Lord to open their eyes for plant locations. Out loud, without making a show or drawing attention to themselves, they speak to the Lord like He is standing with them, shoulder to shoulder in the crowd. And streams of people bustle past, moving unknowingly under the sound of intercession.
Intercession on their behalf.
Stuart and Lisa have a heart for downtown Seattle, but they know no calling can be answered without prayer. It is the foundation of their ministry. And they asked me to ask you for it.
If you’re reading this and would like to support the Bell’s ministry, please consider committing to pray for them faithfully and intentionally. If you feel led to give financially, you can do so by following this link >> http://nwbaptistplanting.com/give. Simply create an account, click “Make A Donation,” and select “Pike Place Church” to give.
The Lord is moving in downtown Seattle. He is calling hearts that are far from Him–calling them to draw near and be filled. And He is calling Stuart and Lisa and the believers who met in that conference room this Sunday, to be His hands and feet. To look on the faces of 704,352 people with the love and compassion of Jesus. To take the lost around them to the foot of the cross so they can find hope. So they can find peace. So they can find redemption.