One overused phrase that always rings true for me is, 'time flies.' It seems like just a couple of months ago I had just gotten back from my very first missions trip. In reality, it's been just over a year since I went to Phoenix, Arizona to evangelize on college campuses. I returned from my trip, my cup overflowing, more exhausted than I ever thought I could be. A group of nine friends and acquaintances became family in just seven days, solidifying relationships bound to last a lifetime.
When the opportunity was initially presented to me to spend my final Spring Break of life in Phoenix, Arizona, telling people about Jesus, alongside people I didn't really know, I turned it down without hesitation. "Missions are for other countries," I thought. Which brings me to the first thing I learned.
1. YOU DON'T HAVE TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY TO LOVE PEOPLE.
There are people right here in the U.S., in your neighborhood, who are broken, overwhelmed by the demands of life and searching for something greater than themselves. I used to be one of those people, depending on the day, I still am. Although Arizona is over a thousand miles away from me, I didn't think it was going to be far enough away to make an impact on people's souls. While in Arizona, I was proven wrong almost daily. I encountered people who had never heard of God, people who didn't believe He exists and many who believed but haven't given Him much thought in years.
On my very first day, I had an encounter with a sixty-year-old man named Jeff. He maintained the air conditioning on the campus, grew up Lutheran, but had since left the church. As I began to get to know more about him, he shared with me how he came from a home of abuse and neglect, he had many questions about the nature of God yet still believed. He told me that he had never really talked about these things with anyone and then allowed me to pray with him. As soon as we joined hands and started to speak, the wind began to softly blow. The Holy Spirit is often described as an invisible force, much like the wind. The unseen breath of Yahweh, if you will. The presence of God became tangible for me in that moment, I knew that He was there with us.
We said our goodbyes and I left, almost in tears, struck by the fact that I was allowed to share this tender moment with this stranger on the other side of the nation. It only took twenty minutes for me to walk away loving a person I had never even seen before that day. That moment was the first in a series of events that showed me the importance of simple human connection. My time with Jeff birthed a revelation, a new mindset of the importance of just seeing people for who God created them to be. I learned to remove my agenda and to not walk into a situation with the motivation for someone to surrender their life to God but to simply love them. To be a vessel for the love of God to flow through. This supports my second point...
2. I'M NOT THE ANSWER TO PEOPLE'S PROBLEMS
It's funny because I think sometimes we go on missions to serve, thinking we are going to give what we have to offer to expand the kingdom, to impact those who don't know God with His love and grace. In reality, I was the one who was truly impacted. I returned home, implicitly transformed by my experiences. I remember every person I encountered on that trip, I think of and pray for them often. I could write a short story about each one I encountered and how they changed my perspective of life and of others.
Jeffrey. Mitch. Bri. Marshall. Sam. Carissa. Taylor, and many others. Dry bones of my soul were given life during a week in the desert. Much like the story in Ezekiel, when I first arrived in Arizona, I saw a land desolate and dry, and I was overwhelmed with the work that had to be done. Until I remembered that it was God and God alone who could impact the souls of these beautiful people. He loved them more than I ever could.
I readjusted my mindset and became a co-laborer alongside Him. I spoke into people's lives, told them how they were knitted together in their mother's womb, that they had a purpose on this earth plane greater than they could ever dream of. I spoke less and listened more, to their doubts fears and problems. I removed my preconceived notion that any scripture I recited to them was going to change their entire lives, that anything other than authenticity and genuine compassion was going to help them see God. Only God could change their lives and only if that was what they wanted. I was simply a vessel through which His work could be done and big seeds could be planted. Let me tell you something about God's work, if your heart isn't postured properly, it can be very intimidating which is why I had to learn to...
3. JUST DO IT, BUT NOT WITHOUT HIM.
I don't know if you've ever had to walk around telling complete strangers about Jesus, but it's definitely not as exciting or easy as it may seem. Every morning I would be paralyzed with fear, exhausted from the day before that was spent pouring out to others, lugging around equipment, walking in the sweltering heat of the desert. I would just think to myself about how divided the church is and how many people had been hurt by people who called themselves Christians. Fear would consume me as I thought about the dialogue I would potentially have with those who believed in science over Saviors or Hotep over the Holy Spirit. I felt like I had to be a vast encyclopedia ready to defend what I believe in the most perfect, intellectual, captivating way possible.
But then, I would take a moment to pray, to worship and meditate on the fact that I didn't need to be perfect because God already was, and perfect love removes fear. Fear and love can't reside in the same place, so if I was fearful, I needed to remember that it wasn't coming from the God that I believed in. As I allowed my cup to be filled again, I was able to flow with the Holy Spirit, agenda-free, looking to make friends and tell them about Jesus when the opportunity to do so presented itself.
I heard Pastor Bill Johnson say once that, "evangelism is an overflow of worship." I carried this statement with me and my fear continued to dissipate. As I carried the presence of the Lord with me and postured my heart in a state of worship toward Him, I was able to have positive interactions with others, where the goal was simply to understand each other on a deeper level. Free from fear and full of love.
On this Easter Sunday, I hope you'll remember to carry the love of Christ wherever you go, that your everyday life will encompass the carrying of love in Jesus' name.