The large, white doors were closed when I arrived. It wasn’t too late. I could turn around, walk back to my car and drive away. No one would be the wiser. It was a tempting thought, but not one I would indulge that day. With my stomach roiling, I opened one of the heavy doors, and was hit by a wall of music. I didn’t recognize the song itself, but the spirit behind it was unmistakable.
I had entered the Church of the Nazarene in Spring Valley, New York, where the congregation was standing and singing a hymn I didn’t recognize. Realistically, I didn’t stand much of a chance of recognizing it. The hymn was in Creole. The Church of the Nazarene serves the Haitian community of Spring Valley, and all hymns, sermons and prayers were delivered in Haitian Creole.
I was there as an invited guest. Like myself, a few members of the congregation were running for office, and with the election only three weeks away, we were there to court votes.
A woman standing in the back of the church gave me a big, welcoming smile, then grabbed me by the arm, and escorted me down the center aisle, all the way up to the alter, where four other candidates were already seated. There was one empty chair waiting for me.
When the hymn ended, the congregation sat, and the preacher spoke. I had no idea what he was saying. After a few minutes, the preacher yielded the floor to Jacques Michel, a Rockland County Legislator running for reelection. I, too, was running for a seat in the Rockland County Legislature, though in a different district from Jacques. My district, did, however, include parts of Spring Valley, so it made sense for me to be there.
Jacques spoke in Creole, as did the next three candidates. Then it was my turn. To say I stood out from the crowd would be a massive understatement. I confessed to the congregation that my Creole was a little rusty, so I would speak in English. This got a chuckle, which helped put me at ease.
I kept my speech short. Sixty seconds max. The congregation applauded, and I sat back down. There was some more preaching, a hymn, and then the whole thing was over.
After the service, I mingled with members of the congregation. To a person, they were warm and enthusiastically welcoming. They gave me fresh baked buns and hot coffee. It was a sunny, autumn afternoon, and I stayed and talked for almost an hour. Everyone I spoke to said they would vote for me. And everyone encouraged me to come back and worship with them again.
All in all, it was a positive, uplifting experience, and one that confirmed one of my life lessons; good things come when you step out of your comfort zone.
Walking into the Church of the Nazarene was certainly not the first time I had applied that particular life lesson. I stepped out of my comfort zone when I loaded up a U-Haul van, and moved myself into New York City over the Fourth of July weekend many years ago. In the years that followed, I would make innumerable friends, grow my professional career and meet the woman who would become my wife.
I stepped out of my comfort zone in 1992, when I knocked on the door of the Tappan (New York) volunteer firehouse. I didn’t know anyone inside, but I was intrigued by the idea of becoming a firefighter, and that was the first step. I served as a volunteer firefighter for 19 years. Over the course of those years, I made many friends and experienced a variety of challenges and rewards I could never have anticipated.
Certainly the greatest rewards I’ve received have come when I stepped out of my comfort zone to become a parent. Our two sons have brought my wife and me the deepest and most meaningful experiences of our lives—the good, the bad and the ugly. (Though mostly good.)
Good things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. It’s a life lesson that has served me well, and I’m confident will continue to.