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On the Side - November 2013

Small Beginnings
By Sharon Chatwell

Sometimes big things start out small. In fact, most things start out small – from computer giants that began with a couple of guys building something in a garage to “great oaks” that grow from “little acorns.” Small, humble beginnings all.

This year Side By Side celebrates its 25th anniversary. Robin Morgenthaler, the Founder, says that she “did the math” and it’s been 25 years since a group of 6 women started meeting in her living room for that very first Bible study. Of course, back then it wasn’t called Side By Side. Back then it was just called “Friday Mornings” at Robin’s house. And I know this, because I was there.

Yep. I was there. And it may be my only claim to fame. I expect that when the books are opened in heaven (and they rewind the videotape) the only thing I’ll actually get credit for happened one night while drying dishes in a farmhouse in Rochester, MN.

I remember it like it was yesterday. (Of course, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be, and with all the intervening years I might have embellished the story a little.) But if it is like what I remember, I was standing over a sink full of dishes with Robin (as we often did, after a big meal at her house). The kids were all upstairs asleep, because they had played like crazy persons all afternoon and were exhausted. And our husbands were in the living room talking and having coffee. I think I was drying (I remember this because I hate to dry; I would much rather wash.) Anyway, I was drying dishes and Robin started talking about a dream or, more precisely, a vision that she was hoping to bring into reality.

She was talking about starting a Bible study. She believed that God had placed the idea in her heart to have a Bible study where different people from different places, or maybe even from different countries, might attend. Since the Mayo Clinic attracted doctors’ families from around the country, as well as from around the world, it seemed that God had put her in just the right place to accomplish this. Her dream also included the idea that when folks were finished at Mayo, they would move on to different places taking the experience of the Bible Study with them. Maybe, she said, they might even start their own Bible studies when they got back home.

But, for now she thought it would be enough to just start the Bible study in Rochester. Only one problem; she had never led one before. The question she put to me was simple. Did I think she could do it? Would she be a good Bible Study leader?

That’s when it happened: The only thing I will ever get credit for in heaven. I put down my drying rag and looked her in the eye. “Robin,” I said, “Yes, you should do it.” Memorable speech, don’t you think? I believe those were my exact words. And I really meant it. God had clearly given her a vision for it, as well as the opportunity for it, and besides I thought she would be a great Bible study leader.

We talked about it some more; about things like how and when, and even who might be in it. Mostly I listened, while she talked. But she had one more question for me, “Would you come, if I have it?” “Yes,” I said, “I’d love to.” (See, there I am again, making helpful speeches. It’s going to look so good on the videotape in heaven.) And then our conversation was over. It was time to wake up the little ones (and my husband) and take them all home to bed.

A few months later, Robin started her first Bible study in the living room of that same big farmhouse, with me, herself, and 4 other ladies in attendance. It was great. We studied and drank tea in the living room, while behind the kitchen door our kids (about 10 of them) entertained the baby-sitter and Robin’s two dogs. Often we would hear noises coming from the kitchen, but we would just try to ignore them (unless it really sounded like someone needed us to intervene.

Fast forward 25 years. All of my kids are grown. Robin and I have a few gray hairs (I have more than Robin). And in all that time, Side By Side has grown, and gotten bigger and better. Now besides the original chapter in Rochester, there are 40+ local chapters in the US and one international chapter in Japan. Also, in time, Side By Side has become an official outreach program of the CMDA (Christian Medical and Dental Associations).

Over the years, thousands of women have participated in one way or another, and many continue to be part of the exciting Christian fellowship in their own chapters. Most receive On The Side, the monthly e-newsletter, and more than 500 women are registered in the Side By Side Facebook group.

Big things often start off small. Nature reflects this truth, and it is a truth that is found in spiritual realities as well. In Matthew 13:31-32 Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

In our lives, it is God who is like the man in the parable, who took and planted a seed. God planted the seed of faith in our hearts. And it is He who continues to help it grow.

God can make BIG use of small things. Remember the story of the 5 loaves and the 2 fishes. Jesus took a small lunch that a young man had offered, blessed it, broke it, and then used it to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people. To me, the story of the Bible Study at Robin’s house is very similar. God took what was offered, which seemed small at the beginning, and blessed it, and has used it to reach so many different people. As Robin says, “It was all God. He needs to get the full credit.” And she is right. How good and faithful He is!

Never be tricked into thinking that you aren’t important to God, or that the little things you do aren’t going to matter to Him. They do matter to God. In fact, God seems to enjoy taking little things and making them BIG. It’s ok to start small. Just ask God to bless what you are doing: Dedicate it to Him, and keep on going.

Remember, God cherishes small beginnings. May God bless you and your little mustard seed today!

Sharon is a physician spouse living in Lincoln, NE. She wishes to congratulate Side By Side on 25 years of Christian fellowship and love.