Urbana 15: Telling My Story

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend InterVarsity’s trip annual Urbana Conference.  For five days, St. Louis, Missouri, was invaded by 16,000 college students and adults seeking to learn about world missions.  This year’s conference was themed around one very important question: What story will you tell?

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Taken right before one of the large group sessions.

As a writer and avid reader, stories fuel my everyday life.  I breathe them in, soaking in the perspectives of others.  I breathe them out, letting my own experiences take shape through words.  Throughout the week, we heard countless stories from around the world.  We heard from indigenous people in the Pacific Island, refugees in Jordan, college students in Mexico.  We heard from the persecuted church in the Middle East–the stories of men and women imprisoned for their faith.  We heard the stories of our black American brothers and sisters, whose voices have been long silenced by racism and inequality.

We didn’t just hear their stories.  We entered into them.  Multicultural worship is a challenging, humbling experience.  It was uncomfortable at times.  We fumbled our way through Arabic, Korean, Hawaiian, and Swahili, to name a few of the languages.  My mouth stumbled over the strange words and sounds.  Even though it was different and awkward at points, entering into the songs of brothers and sisters from around the world gave me a larger picture of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom is for everyone, for every tribe, tongue, and nation.  I got to experience what that looks like at Urbana.

As a writer attending a conference centered around stories, I can’t merely describe what went on.  I need to take up the pen and join in, adding my words.

I suppose my Urbana story starts with answering a question: Why missions?

My whole life, I’ve felt very drawn to Europe.  Growing up, I remember reading about far-away places and having this sense of urgency.  I couldn’t explain it, but I needed to go there.  I needed to see these places with my own eyes.  I needed to walk the streets and see the faces of the people who lived there.  In 2013, I spent a semester studying abroad in London, England.  During my three and a half months there, I traveled a great deal.  Finally, I could see and experience the places I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.  Along the way, I learned a great deal.  I learned that the world is a dark, empty place, and that even though Europe is largely comprised of first-world nations, there are people who desperately need the light and love of Jesus.

Upon returning to school in the United States, it was a matter of months before I felt the need rise up in me again.  I had been thinking and praying about going into ministry for a while, but my thoughts and prayers began to turn overseas.  “What if,” I asked myself, “feeling drawn to Europe isn’t just me wanting to travel?  What if God wired me with this desire, growing it with time, into a calling?”

Eager to dedicate my life to God, I embraced the calling.  He wants me to go to Europe?  I’m all in.  But so much remained uncertain.  Where would I go?  What would I do there?  Who would I serve?  How would I find the money?  What does the missions field even look like?

Attending the largest student missions conference in the world seemed like the logical place to answer these questions.  Last week, I arrived in St. Louis, willing to go, wanting to serve, ready for God to point the way.  What I didn’t realize was that, although I was intellectually ready to take the plunge, my heart had a long way to go.

Let me pause here for a moment.  You should know that, although I feel very deeply, I’m not what one would call an emotional person.  I rarely cry.  I’m not very touchy-feely.  Emotional things don’t seem to impact me like they do others.  It’s as if my heart is sealed behind a series of walls and gates.  Within these walls, I feel very deeply and these feelings guide the majority of the large decisions I make.  But my heart and mind don’t often connect.  It takes time for the right keys to get into the right doors.

When one enters into service for the Kingdom of God, it is important for their heart and mind to align.

Going into Urbana, mine did not.  My brain was ready.  But, frankly, my heart didn’t actually care about the people I was supposed to be going out into the world to serve.  Of course,I didn’t realize any of this until after the fact.  More on that later.

The first half of the conference was extremely affirming.  To share a bit of my testimony, I grew up in a highly politicized church where one was treated differently if they held a different perspective.  My experience with the American Evangelical church is that it places certain values over others.  College was a wonderful time of exploring other worldview and perspectives.  However, I’ve been living at home for the past nine months.  Being back in this highly Republican community has me wondering if my family is crazy for caring about things like racial equality, LGBTQ rights, showing kindness to refugees, affirming women as leaders in the church, etc.  Through speakers and seminars at Urbana, God affirmed that we are not crazy and that we are not the only ones thinking about these issues.  He cares about them too.

As awesome as this affirmation was, I felt like something was missing.  “I’m at the largest student missions conference in the world”, I thought.  “Surely God brought me here to do more than affirm my perspective.”

I was right.

On Tuesday night, the large group session was dedicated to the persecuted church.  Individuals, often unnamed and unseen, told their stories of being imprisoned and tortured for their faith.  They talked about God empowering them to love their captors even in the darkest hours of their lives.  We then were given time and space to pray for the church.  Banners with different countries were raised and we could gather beneath them, praying for each nation.

It was a powerful night–16,000 people lifting their voices in prayer.  As I knelt on the hard concrete praying for Kenya, I felt God’s Spirit rising in me.  As I prayed, my words intangible even to me, I felt the keys to my heart unlock–The layers pulled back.  Finally, the deep desires of my heart were accessible and in the open.

“Lord, I want to go,” I prayed.  “I want to go.  I want to go.  I want to go.”  It was a prayer of frustration.  I came to Urbana hoping to find direction from God that would empower me to take the next step.  Where was my direction?  Where were my answers?  As the dust from my prayer settled, I felt God’s voice: Not yet, Amelia.  Wait.

I was confused.  “What do you mean I have to wait?” I asked God.  “I’m ready!”   But, up until that point, I was ready with my mind.  But my heart was sorely lacking.  That night, God opened the floodgates to my heart and prepared me to not only hear His voice in my mind, but in my spirit.

If I had to describe Wednesday in one word, I would say it was humbling.  With my newly opened heart, I came repeatedly before the Lord and listened to the words He had for me… These words were not comforting.

That morning, our passage in Bible study was the end of Matthew 25, where Jesus divides the sheep from the goats and says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me”.  As a large group, we studied the intricacies and implications of the passage deeply.  I emerged with the sense that, despite my readiness to go abroad, I hadn’t given much thought to the people I’d actually be serving.  I realized that when it came to serving others, I didn’t know how.

One of Wednesday’s speakers was David Platt, pastor and author of the books Radical and Follow Me.  His books were the catalysts of my decision to go into ministry.  I read them during a very spiritually challenging season and they pushed my desire to serve God with my life.  It was incredible hearing Platt speak.  The power, authority, and incredible love of God is so present in his voice and words.  He talked about the woman in Matthew 26 who pours a very expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ head as an act of love and submission.

Platt’s words cut me like knives.  One statement hit my spirit like a ton of bricks: 1425524_1044940998901836_7089898850993416208_n

I see myself in that statement.  Here I was, trying to figure out how to get going when my heart and spirit had completely forgotten why I’m called to go in the first place.  In my ambitions to go abroad, I lost my heart for Christ.  Platt went on to say, “Missions is not meant to be your life.  Christ is your life.  Jesus is worth losing everything for.”

These words are so simple and straightforward, but my heart forgot.  I forgot what it feels like, what it means to love Jesus unconditionally.  My spirit churned and I felt God’s voice rising again, with words that were not comfortable:  Amelia, how can you go into the world and represent My Kingdom if you love yourself more than you love Me?  You want to serve me, but don’t know how.  The answer is simple: love My children.  Care for them.  Give yourself for them.  What you do for them, you do for Me.  Go, Amelia.  Feed My sheep.”

I left large group that day feeling burdened with God’s Spirit, wondering what living out this command looks like in a practical manner.  What does it look like?  How am I to care for others?  What skills and abilities do I have to contribute?  Where do I fit in the grand scheme of things?  How can I serve others with the gifts I have?  As I meditated on my questions, God slowly revealed answers.  I attended more seminars and large group sessions and began to receive smile answers.  I could go into what those answers were, but that would end in lots of tangents.  So I’ll start wrapping this up…

I went into Urbana feeling confident and ready.  I left feeling the opposite–small, weak, and inadequate.  There is so much to process.  There’s so much I don’t know.  Amid a big, dark world… I’m so small.  So unsure.  I’m leaving for England in less than a week and I don’t feel ready.  I’m stepping into the vast unknown with a one-way ticket and have no idea what is in store.

The most terrifying thing is that I honestly don’t know if I’m ever coming back.  At least, not permanently.

But maybe that’s the point.  God isn’t looking for people who are ready.  He’s not interested in how prepared I feel.  He cares about my heart.  He wants me in a position of weakness and humility, for it is then that I need Him most.  At Urbana, He showed me that my prayers need to shift from “Where will I go?” to “Show me how to love others the way You love me”.

I don’t need to have all the answers.  What I need is a heart for Christ.  Like the woman in Matthew with her alabaster jar, I need to place myself under God’s authority.  I need to relinquish control and let my story align with the beautiful story God is writing all across the globe, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that He will provide the next step.

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading.  Yes, this is the story of how my life was impacted by attending Urbana.  Additionally, it’s also the beginning of a new story–a story I don’t know the end to–a story in which I don’t hold the pen.  There is still so far to go in the journey of cultivating a heart for others.  But this is a start.

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Gateway Arch at sunrise.  Taken Friday, just before we headed for home.

Leaning in

On my way out of the gym this morning, a man offered me a Bible.  I always find it awkward when this happens.  At least once a year, the Gideons position themselves around campus and hand out New Testaments.  I do my best to smile politely, not wanting them to feel discouraged, and explain that I already have one.

When it happened unexpectedly, at the gym of all places, it got me thinking.

This semester is extremely challenging in many ways.  The apartments, which have been my home for three years, suddenly feel WAY too small.  My workload is immense.  Being in three literature classes is insane.  I’ll sit and read all day long and still not feel like I accomplished half of what I needed.  Preparing for the Bible study I lead is taking a lot more time.  Speech season is coming up, which means my Saturdays will soon be spent judging meets all day instead of getting ahead.  In addition to all this, the head copyeditor of the student paper is away for the semester and requested my assistance to help the paper stay afloat.  (Do I say yes when I really don’t want to?)

Then, there’s my senior seminar, which is the most challenging class I’ve ever encountered.  I knew it would be hard going in, but good grief.  The professor is one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever met.  All my classmates have had him before, so they already know how to handle his intense, direct, probing way of teaching.  I know I’ll get there, it will just take time to adapt and get a grasp for the ideas.  What’s most frustrating for me, though, is that he’s very into philosophy, tied intimately with theology and religion.  I’m not irked by the fact that his views and treatment of Christianity are flawed, but by the fact that I find a lot of that strain of discourse pointless.  My brain doesn’t naturally function philosophically.  I’m much more practical.  I like to see the work before me and do it, not sit back and ponder the philosophical meanings behind things.

Last night, I woke up at four in the morning and spent an hour having a hypothetical, half-asleep theological debate with said professor.  Back and forth I went, mentally finding scripture passages that validate my points, all the while knowing he (who is an atheist) will not understand.  The whole time, I knew it was stupid and dearly tried to fall back asleep.  But the thing is, part of me knows that my professor will push me and put my faith on trial when he finds out I’m not only a Christian, but one headed into a lifetime of ministry.  He’s going to batter me with empty philosophy, wisdom of the world, in attempt to push my critical thinking skills.

That’s why the man at the gym offering me a Bible stood out to me so much.  It was a reminder–God’s on my side.  I don’t have to debate or defend myself.  Because my faith is not his business.  It’s not his job as my professor to push that.  It’s his job to teach me about American biographical novels and help me learn.  In turn, it’s not my job to try to win him over.  This isn’t the movie God’s Not Dead (which I haven’t actually seen ’cause I find the whole concept too heavy-handed).  It’s my job to be diligent, write my big paper, and move on with my life.

It’s incredibly comforting that, even though this semester feels like such a burden and weight in so many ways, I don’t have to worry or fear.  All I have to do is lean in and trust that God will bring me through.  He’s called me to a life of serving, doing, encouraging, loving, and building the Kingdom and He is going to get me there.

Tis the Season Day 7: JOY to the World

We’ve come to the final day of Tis the Season.  It’s Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year.  But instead of decorating cookies with my younger brother, I’m sitting here pondering the meaning of Christmas.

(As I wrote that last sentence, I could hear Sam from the next room go, “How ‘come Amelia’s not helping?”  I really should be helping.  Sam’s decorating takes a violent turn if left alone for too long.  We’ve had a number of bloody snowmen cookies over the years.)

Christmas is many things.  It’s a time for family and friends.  It’s a time for giving.  It’s a time for laughter, for memories, for nostalgia.  More than any of those things, though, it’s a time for JOY.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about happiness and joy.  At first, the two words appear synonymous.  Dictionaries will tell you that they’re the same.  But I disagree.  Happiness great, but it is fleeting.  It’s a state of mind, something that you feel for one moment and then is gone the next.  I can chase happiness and something still falls short.  The thing about joy, though, is that it runs deep.  It sinks into the soul.  Down in the core of who I am is a small, indistinguishable flame.  When the metaphorical storms of life hit and everything seems to fall apart, joy remains.  It is steadfast, unshakable.

Where does this joy come from?  Easy.  It comes from knowing and being known by God.  When it comes down to it, that’s what this holiday is all about.

The creator of the universe, the almighty God entered into His creation as one of His created.  He was born not to the wealth, glory, and splendor He deserves, but is born of a peasant in a barn.  He grew up poor and even during the three years He spent teaching, healing, and performing miracles, He was hated and despised by the very people He created.  By the very nature of who Jesus is, He deserves honor and praise.  But by the people He created, the ones He came to redeem, He received slander, torture, and death.

Despite everything, He still loves us.  He still wants us.  It doesn’t matter how broken we are, He is right there with open arms.  He not only provided salvation from our sins, but adopted us as His children.  He wants to know us and be known by Him.  He doesn’t just want us to know things about Him, to live a life of empty religion, but wants us to know who He is, His character, and His love.  It’s intimate, it’s deep, it’s rich… and there for free even though we deserve none of it.  Woah.

This beautiful intimacy of what we celebrate on Christmas is the essence of JOY.

Peter sums it up perfectly: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

One of the most popular Christmas songs out there is “Joy to the World”.  Growing up, I never thought much about the words.  This year, though, they resonated in my heart.  Although they’re associated with the first coming of Jesus, they’re actually about the second.  The words speak of the immense joy that we will have when all is finished and we can physically be with Him once more.  The joy is so great that Heaven and Nature sings–even the rocks cannot help but cry out in adoration.

What better way to end Tis the Season than with inexpressible, glorious, inexhaustible, steadfast JOY?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The life and times of a college Bible study leader

This past Tuesday was my final Bible study  meeting of the semester.  I’ve been leading the same group of girls for the past three years.  It’s been really fun getting to know everyone, forming friendships, and watching them grow in their faith.

At the beginning, I didn’t know much about leading Bible studies.  I took on the role as mediator.  I would read the text at hand, be it part of the Bible, a devotional, or supplementary book, ask questions, and make sure conversation happened.  It was fun because I was in on the action, learning with everyone else, but also managing some of the behind the scenes details.

This year, though, Bible study has taken a fun turn.  My co-leader, Jourdan, and I decided to plunge headlong into the New Testament book of Hebrews.  I’ve read through it in my personal devotions several times and knew it was a theologically challenging book.  There’s a lot of confusing stuff!  We covered a chapter a week and I was in charge of the first discussion.  I ran it like I usually do, asking questions and trying to get people talking.  It was awkward.  I came away a bit disheartened.  How was I supposed to mediate a conversation about this?

As a result, though, I’ve had the opportunity to step into more of a teaching role.  Every week, I’d spend a couple hours digging through the text, figuring out what was there, what it meant, and why it was important.  I’d consult different translations of the Bible, assemble quotes from footnotes, and scour devotionals for inspiration.  Then, after pages of scribbling notes, I’d tie it together into more of a lesson plan.  At Bible study, we would read through the chapter as a group, then I’d dive into my notes, explaining theological concepts, arguments, asking questions, and trying to apply it all to life.

The thing with teaching is that it’s a LOT of work.  I’ve been pushed and stretched this semester, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding!  I now understand theological concepts so much better and have an increased appreciation for how the Bible functions as a whole text.

What got me thinking about all of these things was an message I received from one of the girls in the group.

Hi Amelia!

I just wanted to thank you so very much for a great semester of Bible Study! You are so energetic, positive and encouraging and I really enjoyed getting to know you better these past 14 weeks! Wishing you the best of luck with all of your papers and finals.  I hope you have an incredible and relaxing break– can’t wait until next semester!

I don’t know the sender of this email very well, but getting this email brightened my entire day.  What a sweetheart!  Although I’m not in it for the praise, it’s always encouraging to receive thanks for something you have poured a lot of time and effort into.

Letting go of Me

When I was younger, I was incredibly ambitious.

It drove me insane when girls I knew got married straight out of college, had babies, and settled down to be stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their kids.  I vowed never to become that woman.

I was determined to go to a academically prominant college, earn a degree, and begin an illustrious career.  I wanted to do things with my life–I wanted to go places, to meet people, to gain prestige and success.

Although I’ve always maintained high academic standards, my freshman year of college is when everything began to change.  That year, I found myself pursuing my Christian faith more than anything else in my life.  As the years have gone by, my eyes have gradually shifted from my ambitions to the sheer joy of knowing Christ.

My relationship with Jesus Christ has taken over my life.  Every part of who I am has been affected.  My friendships, relationships, on-campus involvement, grades, and even what i want to do with my life has changed dramatically from freshman to senior year.  Everything else in life is meaningless compared to knowing and being known by Him.  His love is incredible.

When I came into this school year, I dreaded everything.  I wrote several posts (Looking ahead and Return to School) expressing my dissatisfaction.  I think the reason I was so apprehensive was because last year was incredibly challenging.  I spent half the year across the world from everyone I loved and the other half learning that, because of my time abroad, I no longer fit with the people I loved in the same way.  It was a year of learning, a year of lonliness, a year of great frustration.  Part of me was scared that this year would be the same.

But the thing is, God is good.  He sees me and knows me.  He understands where I was at and knew exactly how to provide for me.  No, He didn’t bring me close friends to replace the ones I have lost.  But He gave me more of Himself.  People cannot fill the needs of my soul, but He can.  Not only does He fill me, love me, and provide for me, but He wants to be known by me.  He desires intimacy with me, deep closeness.  And, as I’ve responded to that over the past few months, I find myself falling more and more in love with Him.  There’s a line in a Christmas song that goes, “Hearts unfurl like flowers before Thee / opening to the sun above”.  That’s me.  And oh, it’s so beautiful.

Not only has God been providing for me personally, He brought me to an incredible Bible study where I am challenged like I haven’t been in years.  There are times when I feel like I know everything there is to know about God, faith, and the Bible.  But through this Bible study, God has been teaching me to let go of everything I think I know and know Him.  Every week, I walk away with a new insight on His goodness and am left breathless.  It’s been so, so wonderful and my entire faith mindset has shifted dramatically.

It’s scary, letting go of yourself and trusting something you do not see.  But, oh my goodness, it’s beautiful.  There’s nothing like it in the world.  The greatest pleasures in life pale in comparison to the goodness of knowing God.

In the book of Philippians, Paul has similar words:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes by faith.” Philippians 3:7-9

I’m not quite to the level of Paul yet.  I haven’t dropped every material thing, nor have I experienced any great suffering.  But the spirit behind the verses, the same deep longing and affection for Christ resonates in my heart.

I realize this is a bit different from my usual posts, but the need to express these things in words have been bubbling up in my heart for quite a while.  Here they finally are.

 

Jenny & Tyler @ Art House North

If you remember back to my second “Influential Albums” post, one of my favorite bands of all time is Jenny & Tyler.  Well.  This past weekend, I had the opportunity to see them play live!  On Saturday, I drove to the Twin Cities from Morris, kidnapped my friend Ruth and, after a delicious Chipotle dinner, headed to the show.

The show took place at a venue called Art House North, a renovated church owned by Troy and Sara Groves.  The Groves’ vision is to create a place for artists of all kinds (painters, writers, musicians, photographers, actors, designers, etc.) to “express themselves and wrestle with questions of faith, culture and beauty”.  It’s a place for collaboration and community, for people to “foster creativity inspired by the pain of the world and the beauty of the gospel”.  It’s a place to “demonstrate the way of Jesus by seeking justice through art and living as creative advocates”.  (Information taken from their Facebook Page).

It was my first time at Art House North, and Ruth and I were both impressed by the environment the Groves have created.  The space itself, with the church pews, Christmas lights, and fall decorations, has all the nostalgia of old-time-religion.  All the while, the atmosphere is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Even though Ruth and I entered the doors as strangers, we left feeling like we had forged new friendships.  There were so many kind souls at the event, and it was a pleasure getting to know people who had been strangers.

Now on to Jenny & Tyler.  I discovered them by accident several years ago.  In fact, I found them via an ad on Facebook.  Upon clicking said ad, I found myself on NoiseTrade where one of their albums was available for free.  I downloaded said album and immediately fell in love.  Their music soon became a staple in my life, carrying me through and over many spiritual hills and valleys over the past several years.  I listened to them in times of grieving, in times of loneliness, and in times of bold adventure.  Their music filled me with the courage to fly to London for a semester abroad.

The husband and wife duo simply emanate the Holy Spirit.  Their harmonies are saturated in the love and peace of God.  Their website describes them in this way:

In a crowded industry glutted by banality, Jenny & Tyler stand out as true psalmists. Their music holds a mirror up to nature, culture and all the reckless passions of the human heart and points ultimately toward a Creator. Their songs mark them as modern-day contemplatives and troubadours, rooted in age-old wisdom set to new melodies.

IMG_2942Because their music means so much to me, the concert was a perfect one.  They were a bit awkward on stage between songs, but that added to their charm.  Jenny is the image of sweetness and Tyler is deeply passionate.  Even though they perform the same songs week after week, it felt like they were singing for the first time.  When they sing, their love for God is so evident.  They performed a song about their 15 month old daughter and their love for her shined.  And when they told the story of how they met and performed their love song “One Eyed Cat”, they kept giving each other these adorable sideways glances that showed how much they continue to adore each other.

Ruth said to me after the show, “I kept looking over at you and you were absolutely beaming!”

It was true.  The evening filled me with so much joy that it was hard to stop smiling.

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Ruth and I on the stage area after the show.

Seeing the following song live was one of the highlights of the show.  It had never been one of their standout numbers for me until now.  Tyler described it as a “divine love song”–words stood out to me, and have helped me fall completely in love with “Song for You”.

Looking ahead

Where do the days go?

I looked at my calendar this morning and was shocked to find that July is almost gone.  In mere weeks, summer will be over and I will be back in school.

Since I’m going into my final year of college, I’ve been paying a lot of thought to where I want to go in life.  What will I do when I graduate?  Where will I go?  Who will I meet?

One of my biggest fears is that, a year from now, I will get sucked right into life in the real world.  I’ll get bogged down with a job, college bills, car payments, etc.  I will work just to get by, settle down, and the most adventure I will have is the occasional weekend excursion to the North Shore.  (Not that the North Shore is bad… but I want to go farther than three hours away.)

I want to live a life that is extraordinary.  I want to travel and explore the corners of this world.  I want to do something worthwhile.  I want to make a difference, to touch the lives of people I encounter.

More than anything, I want to live a life that is not my own.  I can make all the plans I want for myself, but ultimately, the life God has planned for me is a million times better than anything I can conceive.  The more I taste of the world, the more I realize how empty and unsatisfying it is.  I want my life to be a living sacrifice, a la Romans 12.  I want to be a city on a hill.  I want to spend my years planting seeds and reaping fruit for the Kingdom.  God has planted heaven in my heart, and I want to spend my life sharing that with others.

During the parent program at my day camp this past week (which was in Rogers, MN), I had one of those “How did I get here?” moments.  I was standing in front of a sanctuary of kids and their parents, sharing about Camp Shamineau and what our mission is.  Briefly, I found myself explaining, “At camp, we have lots of amazing facilities that help create fun, exciting memories.  But as great as fun is, that’s now what we are about.  Our main mission is to take campers away from the distractions of the world and place them in an environment where they have a real, personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Later, when summarizing the lessons of the week, I noted that we told the story about how “Jesus died on the cross for our sins so we could spend eternity with Him.  He did this not because we deserved it, but because He loved us.”

Standing on that stage, it hit me.  So many people my age hem and haw and fret about what they are doing with life.  But here I am, at a mere twenty one years old, living the life God has called me to.  Already, I’m living out the dreams God has placed within me.  Through the opportunity to work at camp, specifically being on Program staff, I am learning to lead others and sow seeds.  All the things I long to do, I am already doing.

As my final year of school draws nearer, words cannot express how much I loathe going back.  I’m dreading it, actually.  A life spent sitting in classrooms, reading books, and writing essays is enjoyable, but definitely not satisfying.

But just because I am in school does not mean God cannot use me to further His kingdom.  He has plans for me this year, and lessons He needs to lead me through.  I eagerly anticipate the day when my life becomes less about getting my own name on a diploma and more about bringing glory to the King.

Contrasts

Last week, I had the opportunity to run two different day camps.

The first was at Rockpoint church in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.  It was a gorgeous facility, with a fancy McDonalds style slide leading the way into the childrens area.  We had 75 kids total, and oh boy, were they a handful.  Just about each of my eight person team had a problem child or two in their groups.  Each day, we battled for the kids’ attention and focus.  Each day, we just barely walked away in one piece.  By the time three o’clock rolled in and the kids rolled out, my staff would collapse from a day of fighting inattentive listening and bullying.  They’d roll around on the floor for a while, until I came by and made them help clean up.  It was a wonderful church, with fantastic staff, volunteers, and our host families were fantastic.  But, oh boy, those kids were a handful.

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On Thursday, after the last parents pulled their children from the bouncy castle we so kindly hauled down from camp with us, I sent my high school staff back to camp with a couple of my Program friends, who had kindly come down to get them.  Then, with my team of five collegiate staff, we progressed to step two.

None of us really knew what we were getting into.  The only information I got from Shamineau was that we were running a two day long kids program at an Ethiopian church in downtown Minneapolis.

It turns out, the programming we were in charge of was for an annual international conference for the church of one of the Ethiopian people groups.  We were given a few rooms upstairs in the old church.  Throughout the days, we could hear the conference going on–countless voices singing praises to God in a language we did not understand.  We had no sound system, no internet access, and no real outside space.  Some of the basics of day camp–snack time in the mornings, 
Kid Snippets videos in the afternoons–that I now view as luxuries, were absent.

The day camp itself was absolutely chaotic.  Throughout the days, kids came and went as they saw fit.  At the beginning of the first, we had 35 youngsters.  By five o’clock that evening, when our work was over, we had fifty… the youngest was three, and the oldest was twelve.  The second day was less hectic, but similar.

When we arrived at the church the first day, I had the opportunity to meet the pastor.  His English was rather good, although I could tell he was not wholly comfortable speaking in it.  Right away, he shook my hand and said, “You are Amelia?  I’ve heard your name.  We are so happy to have you here!”  What he next explained to me has stuck with me.

“The people of this church, we are immigrants from Ethiopia.  Culturally, we are Ethiopian.  We were raised Ethiopian, and that is how we live out our faith.  We worship in our own language and teach in the ways of our home country.  But our children, they are not Ethiopian.  They were born here, they are Americans.  The culture they are growing up in is different than our own.  We do not know how to teach them to follow God in a way that is relevant in their culture.  That is why we are so happy to have you here.  You can teach our kids.  We wish we could have you all the time.”

I’ve never worked in intercultural ministry before, so I was shocked to find that the pastor (and people of the church) thought so highly of us.  When I look at myself, I definitely do not see a teacher equipped to raise up children in a way pleasing to God.  No.  I see a twenty one year old who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life whose summer job is to run around like a crazy lady in churches trying to keep kids entertained.  But here were people who, within minutes of meeting me, saw me as someone with spiritual authority and knowledge, someone equipped to do what they could not.  It was incredibly humbling.

And the kids, oh my goodness, those kids were thirsty for Jesus.  They’d be rowdy and rambunctious during activities, but the second we started telling Bible stories and sharing about God’s love, they quieted down and began to listen.  Seven little girls decided to follow Jesus for the first time, and nine rededicated their lives to Him.  They asked questions, they soaked in every word.  They understood that the chance to truly learn about God doesn’t come around often, and they took advantage of our presence.

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Me withs some of the girls

It’s amazing to contrast the beginning of my week to the end.

The Rockpoint kids had everything.  They had an amazing church building, all the best equipment, a gym, an outdoor playground, space to run around in, and every kind of game imaginable.  But they weren’t content with that.  They fought constantly.  They didn’t listen.  They thought their own selves were more important than the good news we came to share.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic, wonderful kids in the bunch.  But, as a whole, they were frustrating and exhausting.

Then there were the Ethiopian kids.  They attend church in an old, creaky building that has little air conditioners in the windows, no gym, no balls or game equipment, and the only rooms available to them are awkward closets and corners of offices.  They have no children’s ministry, no teaching.  Their parents aren’t able to feed them spiritually in the way they need.  And they, lacking little, were so grateful.  They were so attentive, so respectful.  Yes, a lot of this I do attribute to cultural differences, but at the same time… there was a genuine eagerness to learn about God.

So often, the Bible talks paradoxes like the last being first, blessed are the poor, and rich men giving up everything to gain everything.  Day camp this past week reminded me of that.  Where there is much, there is little true seeking.  Where there is little, people are eager for the Lord.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but definitely a blessed one.  I had a blast working with the kids, was encouraged by my host family, and deeply loved my team.  Here’s some photos of us working throughout the week…

Took my team home to my family's apple orchard on Monday!
Took my team home to my family’s apple orchard on Monday!
Tuesday night's adventures included Nelson's ice cream in Stillwater!
Tuesday night’s adventures included Nelson’s ice cream in Stillwater!
Water Day
Water Day

So there you go

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what God has done in my life over the past year.  It was an incredibly challenging time–I was pushed and stretched in just about every area of my life.

But not many people know about it.

You see, I tend to keep things pretty close to the chest.  I don’t tend to open up to people until they make an effort.  In a way, you have to work to get the Amelia beneath the surface.  It’s not that I’m not friendly–that’s definitely a word I’d use to describe myself.  I’m friendly, cheery, positive, optimistic, the list could go on.  But when people ask, “How was London?  How was your year at school?”  I tell them that it was fantastic.  It’s not a lie–while abroad, I went and did all the crazy things I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life.  But it was challenging.  It was dark.  It was lonely.  For weeks at a time, I’d feel depressed because of the spiritual weight associated with where I lived.  There were times when all I wanted to do was go home.  I missed my friends, I missed my campus ministry.  My friends at home were too busy to Skype me.  I felt like they didn’t care.  When I finally got home, I hoped things, after a brief transition, would fall back into place and return to normal.  And they didn’t.  Nothing was the same.  My friends moved on without me.  Relationships that had once been deep were suddenly shallow.  People I had leaned on were suddenly unavailable.  Almost all semester, I felt like I had no one I could talk to who both understood where I was at and cared enough to reach out.  I was constantly dissatisfied with almost everything around me.  I was unhappy.  I was so eager to get out that, the second my final papers were submitted, I packed up and bolted home.

The whole year, all I wanted to do was do something practical for God.  I wanted to use my hands, I wanted to get down to business, I wanted to plunge into ministry.  I wanted to pour into others.  God has given me some incredible gifts, and I wanted to use them to encourage my brothers and sisters.  I tried and tried and tried in London to get my foot in the door of some kind of ministry or church.  God shut all the doors in my face.  When I got home, again, I tried and tried to do something for the Kingdom.  I lead a Bible study.  I tried stepping back into prayer ministry.  I sought for people to pour into.  But, again, God had other plans.  He told me to be still.  He told me to wait.

So there I sat, exhausted and frustrated, waiting on God.

Sitting and waiting is hard.  But through it all, God showed me incredible things.  I learned about the depth of His faithfulness.  I was alone in Europe, disconnected from any kind of spiritual body, and every single day, when I opened my Bible, God was there.  It says in Lamentations that God’s faithfulness is new every morning–it’s so true.  No matter how dark it got, He continued to shine His light into my life.  He continued to wrap His arms around me, He continued to speak comfort and whisper beautiful promises into my ears.  He protected me from the darkness and gave me hope.  Over the past year, I have learned that God is enough.  Community is important, yes, but when it comes down to it, God is the ultimate sustainer.  His faithfulness is incredible.

After all this, God lead me back to Camp Shamineau, one of my favorite places in the world.  Today was the last day of staff training.  I’m on Program staff this year, and have had the honor of helping pour into the staff as we have trained them for a summer of ministry.  This morning, we had a chapel service where we worshipped and took communion.  While I partook of the elements, I reflected on all God has done.  I thought about the darkness, about the confusion, the loneliness, the frustration. We sang the song “Cornerstone” and in the line about Jesus being our anchor in times of darkness, I just about lost it.  Because, even though I had just gone through one of the toughest years I’ve ever had spiritually, God was still good.  He still loved me enough to use me.  As we sang, I looked around at all the exceptional people around me–my fellow Program staff, the counselors, SMT’s, and support staff.  I realized that, after such a trying year, God had finally brought me to a place where I could do everything I longed to do.  I could pour into others, pray for them, encourage them, step up in leadership, and help spread the Gospel.  Here I was, doing something practical for the Kingdom at last.   And I thanked God.  I praised Him.  For, even though I fail daily, He is so incredibly good.

So there you go.  For more on my spiritual journey during my time in London, stop by my old travel blog!