As many of you know, I have been home from my trip to Bithlo, FL since Tuesday. I have been busy catching up with life, work, and adjusting to the weather back in Portland. Working with United Global Outreach (UGO) was a really great opportunity for our youth group (students and leaders) because it challenged us to serve the people around us in ways that were difficult, we had to rely on strength and grace from God on a daily basis, and prayer was a huge factor in the overall atmosphere and condition of our trip. I want to give a few short points (that I will get to expand upon in future articles) of what I really took away from that trip.
1. Everyone is a VIP (Very Important Person) and we should give each person the unique love, care, and respect as people made in the image of God. This was a lesson the director of UGO, Tim, really taught me about this week. He wants each person to know they are individually valuable as a part of Bithlo and a part of God’s plan.
2. A hug goes a long way. Many of the kids that we had the opportunity of serving through a Vacation Bible School needed more than just a good place to be and very real behavior change- they needed relationships with people who would get down at their level, talk and play with them, and give them a hug. Modeling appropriate affection can help kids develop a positive self-image and relational connection that they often lack in other areas of their lives. I got to read to kids a lot last week and help them read. When they did a good job they wanted affirmation that was more than words. I was glad to be a person that God could use to love them. Some of these kids came from really rough homes and just needed attention to know they are loved and valued.
3. Having a pastoral heart can stretch into many fields- not just ministry. While this is obvious to many I think that somehow I had gotten jaded to believe that some type of church ministry is the most effective place to be if you have a pastoral heart. God really laid it on my heart to trust him more about being open to pursuing something more related to community development, social justice, and relational evangelism. I would ask for your prayers in this area and that God would give me wisdom and direction as I enter my last year of seminary.
4. We all deal with a type of poverty. For some this isn’t just a material issue. The people in Bithlo were materially, economically, relationally, and spiritually poor. I believe that all of us suffer from some type of poverty in our lives. I think that being honest about where our poverty lies will allow God to come in and do great things. Also, don’t be afraid of being humble and asking for help because God made the church for us to bear our burdens together.
5. Listen, because you might be surprised about the stories people tell you that you can relate to and share how God has impacted your life. During a time when we were handing out flyers for a free dinner in the community, a girl shared her story about her grandma and best friend dying. This girl was a teenager and when we told her we were from a church she told us, “Well God doesn’t like me that much.” We asked her why and she told us she was an atheist because it seemed like through all these bad experiences that either God didn’t care or there wasn’t a God. I got to share how losing Jennica made me have doubts about God, my faith, and my calling. I told her, “I’ve felt all of those things, and trust me those are scary thoughts when you’ve invested your whole life to go into a job serving God full-time.” God seemed to be moving through our conversation and she said she had asked God for a sign- and that we just might be the answer. I’m praying that she would come to know Jesus and be healed of some of the emotional and relational pain she’s experienced.