The ruins of Philippi were incredible; you could even see the jail where God sent an earthquake to free Paul and Silas. But my favorite part was actually outside the city, down toward the river.
This is where Paul met Lydia, a businesswoman and a "worshipper of God." This is where Lydia decided to follow Jesus and be baptized.
Here, outside the city, their stories took center stage. Their faith was honored.
Below the church, the river where Lydia was baptized flowed serenely through the trees. A baptistry had been built there, so others could follow in her footsteps. As I sat there, Lydia's story came alive. I could imagine the Philippian women leaving the bustle of the city behind and gathering at this river like it was their own private sanctuary. And Paul, too, was looking for a quiet place to pray. In Acts, we usually see him going into a city and heading straight for the synagogue to preach. But on that particular day, he headed outside the city gates.
It was there, outside, that the Philippian church began. Starting with one woman who believed. Lydia immediately invited Paul to her home, and then later (after that prison incident) she did it again. Except this time there was a whole church gathering there.
We don't know much about Lydia, but certainly she was generous, hospitable, and savvy. Probably pretty influential as well. After her encounter with Paul, she found a place to use all of these gifts, and the church thrived.
As I sat by the river, I felt the Holy Spirit stirring inside me. In all of our lives, there are times when we feel on the outside of things, but for me, this season has been particularly obscure. As a woman in the Balkans, I'm often pushed to the fringes. As a writer, I'm usually alone at home, working outside the structure and social life of an office. As an expat, I am literally outside of my city, my country, and my culture every single day.
I am, like Lydia, a woman outside the city gates. My life is good—successful even—but I know that I will never fully fit the city norms. I'm always slightly outside, on the fringes.
In that moment, though, the Holy Spirit reminded me that God loves going to the fringes. He led Paul outside the city to find Lydia, because he wanted her specifically to help build his church. Before that, Jesus was always wandering off grid, choosing locations and people that shocked the powerful.
And on this Good Friday, Jesus went outside the city gates to die. So that all of us outsiders would be brought back into the family of God, where we are our most useful and most loved selves.
God loves the outsider. He loves using our unique gifts and perspectives. He loves showing us that, in Christ, we can belong. Like Lydia, we can build something that will last forever and live stories that will be told for centuries. Long after the city of Philippi was burned and abandoned, Lydia's work in the kingdom of God lives on. Her story is still told in the Bible and etched on church walls.
What happened on the fringe didn't stay there. God turned it into the main event.
If today, you find yourself on the fringes: take heart. God sees where you are, and he sees who you are. He is coming to meet you, to bring you into belonging.
You're already in his favorite spot, down by the river, outside the city.