It’s hard to believe, but almost 3 years ago now @SupaLupaWife and I answered God’s call and left the ministry we had grown comfortable in to move to Charlotte, NC where I had taken a position at St. Stephen UMC. Sure, 3 years doesn’t really seem like that long, but when I first started in student ministry full-time (nearly 10 years ago) the average tenure for a youth pastor was just over a year. So, hitting 3 years at any given church always does my soul well to know that I have more than doubled the national average from when I first started in this profession.
I’ll never forget my first visit to St. Stephen UMC. Walking through the front doors of the church, the first thing I noticed was a mural of the church’s vision statement…to be the hands, feet, & heart of Jesus Christ. Something about that statement really resonated with me. During that initial visit to St. Stephen I was amazed to see that every room, including many of the staff offices, had the churches vision statement displayed in them. As the interviews progressed and then as I came on staff at St. Stephen, it became clear that this vision was more than a framed document in the classrooms or a mural in the Gathering Space. For the members at St. Stephen UMC, the vision to be the hands, feet, & heart of Jesus Christ is truly a part of the culture. It is something that we LIVE into every single day! This was a staunch contrast to many of the churches I had previously been affiliated with, where the vision was something that had long since been forgotten.
Over the past 3 years, I have seen the people of St. Stephen live out their vision as a missional church. Sometimes, it seems that we have so many mission projects going on that it’s truly hard to keep up. Within our student ministry, we send teams to YouthWorks and Appalachia Service Project mission camps every summer as well as a huge fundraising initiative that takes place during our beach retreat at Garden City to benefit their children’s home. Remember that these are just some of the large scale missions we participate in, not to mention the local missions, the Treasure Sale, our church-wide Missions Sunday, and the plethora of other opportunities afforded to members through different groups and organizations within the church.
So this is all great, but the true driving factor of this post is that I write it on the eve of a brand new season of mission work at St. Stephen. Since 1968, 10% of every capital campaign at St. Stephen UMC has been donated to mission work. Most recently this meant that our church donated approximately $45k to a local elementary school we partner with, Greenway Park, and the decision was made for the other half of this tithe (another $45k) to be pledged to building a Methodist Church in the village of Xeabaj in Guatemala. Certainly in the past, we have contributed to international missions, but this will be the first time that we as a church have sent our own mission team internationally and in effect, put “boots on the ground.” Not only is this our church’s first venture into the international mission scene, but it is the first time that I find myself going to another country to do Kingdom building work. For the past several months I have worked to raise funds to help pay for my own trip, as well as working closely with our Missions Team chair to plan and organize this venture.
There are so many emotions which surround this trip. Sure, I am extremely sad to be leaving @SupaLupaWife and our two baby girls, TSL & APL (and I can’t forget our fur baby – Maui). I know myself…for at least the first two days I will be miserably homesick, but I’ll push on for the Kingdom. A second emotion is simply excitement. Today feels like Christmas Eve, for months now the anticipation has built up and the day of our trip is finally here! I’m also scared. Taking 9 students (HS Juniors & Seniors) on this trip is somewhat daunting, but we have an amazing group of adults going who I know will pour the love of Christ into these students. Finally though, there is the realization that we will be in Guatemala to do Kingdom building work on Easter Sunday. I can’t think of a more special way to celebrate Easter Sunday than to be immersed in a foreign culture among our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yesterday, my good friend Erin sent me these words in preparation for the journey: “The journey you are about to engage in is so wonderful! I encourage you to go as a pilgrim-not a tourist or missionary. Go as a pilgrim on a journey…to discover more about God, more about the culture and people, and more about yourself. Listen to their stories. Bear witness to who they are and how God is already moving and shaking in their lives. See them for who they are in all their uniqueness; in their vulnerability and in their authenticity. You will learn so much. In the midst of the world today, people need to be heard and you have such a unique opportunity to give them a voice upon your return. Engage fully, my friend. I can’t wait to sit and listen and bear witness to YOUR experience when you get back!”
As we prepare to embark on this journey, I covet your prayers for the days to come. Sure we pray for safety (Lord God keep us safe), but I would ask that you pray for our story. In the days to come, I can’t imagine what we will learn, but pray that God would grant us the opportunity to bear witness to the grace of Jesus Christ as shown through the cross.
I close with these words from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism which I have especially found inspiration in over the past several weeks:
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee.
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”
…so that we might be the hands, feet, & heart of Jesus Christ.