In the nineteenth century, Saint Louis, Independence, Westport and especially Saint Joseph became departure points for those joining wagon trains to the West. They bought supplies and outfits in these cities to make the six-month overland trek to California, earning Missouri the nickname "Gateway to the West". This is memorialized by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
These weren’t the only places you could begin your trek from. But Missouri was the place where you could find like-minded individuals to travel with, where you could gather your supplies, where you could learn the safe routes, and dangerous places. Here, you could buy (or learn to build) a Conestoga wagon, hire a scout, consult with others who have made the trip before you, and come back to teach others.
You could actually leave from any place you wanted, but if you wanted to succeed best, you’d leave from Missouri. People didn’t move to Missouri to settle (usually). They moved to Missouri so they could move beyond Missouri. Or they moved to Missouri to equip others who would be going further.
In many ways, the people of God are in a season not unlike that one. There is indeed an expansion, though it’s not toward the west; it’s toward the Kingdom of Heaven.
But the model today is not dissimilar to the model then. If you want to discover the new territory that God is unveiling – and Oh! What territory it is! – then you’ll need to prepare yourself, to stock up, to learn new skills. It will be wise for you to travel with others who have been exploring further afield, or at least to learn from their experience.
Today’s exploration isn’t physical, so we don’t actually need Conestoga wagons (which is kind of too bad, because they’re really cool!). Instead, our exploration is primarily in the realm of the Spirit. But there are still launch points, cities, strongholds where knowledge – vital knowledge, if you’re going to explore – is far more accessible than it is in the rest of the “civilized” church.
Bethel Church, in Redding California, is one such departure point. It’s not the destination, but it’s a good resource point. The people of Bethel Church – not just the leaders, the people! – are often well experienced and well equipped, and willing to share their experienced insight regarding the trails we face: Yes, God is good. No, you don’t need to preach about people’s sin. Yes, you’ll want to develop key relationships. No, don’t pay attention to the detractors who won’t take to the trail themselves.
There are other departure points, every bit as effective, as knowledgeable, as well-stocked for traveling explorers. The point is not that we must launch from this city of Bethel, the point is that the departure city is for departing. Stock up, gather together, and hit the trail.
There are new lands to discover, new freedoms to explore, new aspects of the King of Heaven and the marvelous Kingdom he’s sharing with us to experience, and then to share with others back home.
Aslan said it best: “Come further up, further in!”