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Have You Been to Bethel?
It was a beautiful autumn day and I was taking pictures of the trees in the yard of the Bethlehem Church and cemetery in Pennsylvania. The date on the church building was 1843 and some of the grave stones in the church cemetery were very old. Many had epitaphs and I always find myself drawn to them though some were difficult to read because they were faded by time. Those words were important to someone and they wanted them to be carved in stone so their mother, father, child, or friend would be remembered. Anyone who has buried a loved one wants them to be remembered.
As I walked around I came across an epitaph that caught my attention. Beneath the name and dates on the stone it simply said, “A Friend”. I wondered what the story was behind those two words written on a man’s grave stone in the 1800s and my imagination caused me to want to make up a story for him. Perhaps he had no family but the church and community put up the stone for him because he was “A Friend” to all of them. Whether my thoughts were accurate or not, it seemed evident that someone cared enough to place the stone there to remember him.
While I was lost in these thoughts, an elderly man with a cane came slowly walking, with some difficulty, up the hill toward me from the back of the cemetery. He asked me if anyone was inside the church. I explained to him that I was visiting my daughter and her family who lived nearby and I didn’t live in the area, but we had been inside practicing music for the Sunday service. I told him the pastor was inside if he would like to speak to him. He seemed very happy that the pastor was there. My daughter walked up about that time and she walked him inside the church and introduced him to the pastor. I was curious to know if he wanted to talk to the pastor or if he just wanted to see the inside of the beautiful old church.
Later, my daughter told me that the man had said he was living in another state now but had attended Bethlehem Church in the past and he wanted to tell the pastor that he had accepted Jesus as his Savior in this very church when he was sixteen years old.
It seemed very important to him to come back to Bethlehem Church where he had met his Savior those many years ago and to go inside the church. I wondered if he looked for the pew where he once sat or the place at the alter where he had knelt to pray.
There is a similar story about another man who met God, not at Bethlehem Church but the name begins the same. He met God at a place called *Bethel. His name was Jacob and he had drifted away from God. (Genesis 35) God told Jacob to, “Go up to Bethel”. Bethel was the place where Jacob first met God. He was told to go back up to Bethel to the place he had met God so he would remember and renew his commitment. It was a new beginning for Jacob.
The elderly gentleman I met at Bethlehem Church was so intent on making that difficult uphill journey back to his Bethel that it made me think of my own Bethel.
What about you? Have you been to Bethel?
*Bethel means house of God
Contributed by Pamela Perry Blaine