Living on Mission
I remember the first time that I drove up to Redwood City, California. It was the summer of 2004. I had just returned from a month long missions trip to Kenya and I wanted to visit some of my best friends, Kat and Isaiah, who were part of the Summer Ministry Project at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. They had told me about their experiences serving at the church and invited me to come up for a visit. Feeling adventurous after my first travels abroad, I loaded up my 1996 teal Chevy Corsica with my belongings and headed out on the road from Colorado up to the Bay Area in California. My dad had sat down with me the day before and we mapped out the journey, the stops, the cities I would travel through on a good, old-fashioned road map. It spread out on the passenger seat, along with all the snacks I would need for the journey, the cd mixes I'd created for the drive, and off I went.
It was a 19-hour drive to Redwood City, and it was in my plan, the plan of the recent college-grad who was yet to be gainfully employed, to stop overnight in a parking lot when my eyes needed rest. I tried, I mean, I pulled over and intended to sleep, but every tree bending in the wind, every leaf that swished past my car in the parking lot, every little noise set my imagination on fire. So, I stopped at the nearest gas station, filled up on power bars (I never was a coffee drinker) and coke, and I was on the road again. I made it to Redwood City, red-eyed and tired, at 2am. My friend, Kat, who was staying in a host home, gladly opened the door for me and welcomed me into her room where I crashed for the remainder of the night.
I spent the next few days enjoying every moment with Kat and Isaiah, observing how the Summer Ministry Project built community among the interns, watched as they loved on children who came in each day for their summer camp, and shared vulnerably about how Jesus set me free from a path of depression and destruction. It was such a rich time, and I knew that I wanted to be part of a community like that too! What I didn't know was what the year ahead of me held.
Coming out of college with the dream and drive to be a teacher, I was continually disappointed as I struggled to pass the state exams for math and science to get into a teacher credentialing program. I felt like I was left in this strange limbo--given the education to teach, but not the credential to make it happen. Though I knew I had been freed from depression (another story for another time), I struggled to find the light during that year. It felt like I had entered a cave and I just couldn't see the way forward into the life I had always thought I would lead. I subbed in a number of school districts (yeah, I could tell you some stories...) and area private schools. I worked for an after-school program called Homework House. I lived my everyday life with my roommates and college besties. And then, the applications opened up for Peninsula Covenant Church's 2005 Summer Ministry Program. I submitted my application early and eagerly waited to hear if I had been accepted to the program. When I got the word that I was in, I felt like maybe my season of cave-dwelling was coming to an end! Maybe there was hope for something better, at last!
Driving from Southern California up to the Bay Area on the 5 freeway was a drive mostly overlooking the farmland and barren deserts of Central California, but when I crossed over onto the 280 freeway, there was a shift. Maybe it was just how the billowing, white clouds rolled over the green hills, filling up the valleys alongside the freeway, but I felt excited. Even once I moved to the area, I always felt that same shifting coming upon Redwood City on the 280 freeway. As if the Holy Spirit was saying, "I have something for you here." This sense of expectation and anticipation.
That summer, I learned the power of vulnerablity--that my story can free others to walk fully in their identity as sons and daughters of God. I learned what living in community really meant--doing life together, encouraging others, building one another up in the Lord, dealing with conflict in healthy ways, and honoring God by honoring those around me. I learned the power of prayer--as we would worship and pray boldly over each other deep into the night. I learned the joy of unrestrained laughter--the kind that makes your belly hurt and has you grasping for the next breath. I learned to give beyond what I thought possible, living life open-handed to generosity. I built friendships that have lasted for over 15 years. That summer changed my life. It taught me that in whatevery season I faced in my life, I had purpose and vision and God could use it to His glory. It shifted my perspective from my previous dark and difficult season to seeing that season as a period of waiting that was used to grow me for what was needed in the season to come.
I didn't know then, but Peninsula Covenant Church would be a part of my forever story. I returned to intern during the summer of 2006 and moved to the area in 2007 to teach (yes, I finally was able to teach!). They became my sending church when I left for Ghana in 2010 and they still encourage and support me all these years later.
The lessons that I learned during my years with PCC were vast, but one of the most valuable ones was to live a life on mission to the call of Jesus in our lives. Each week, we would gather on Sunday morning or evening together and we would close with the same mission--Go out and BE THE CHURCH. We gathered as the church and we were sent out as the church to our various lives and jobs and homes to love others with the love of Jesus.
This is what challenged me to open my eyes to the homeless woman, drinking to drive away her demons and begging for a meal in front of Safeway. My friend, Nina, and I spent a Saturday chatting with her over a hot meal and cups of coffee and sharing our Jesus stories with her. She wept as we drove her to her motel and she shared what had brought her to that place. This is what gave me the boldness to spend a wild afternoon with my friend, Ian, as we drove around town looking for opportunities to serve and pray for others. We found a few willing participants, but I learned a lot about making every moment count when it came to loving others with Jesus' untamed love! It's how I chose to change my thinking after my first year of teaching, where it felt like I had spent more time in tears than teaching. Instead, my second year, I began to come in early to meet with my colleagues, Serena and Colleen, and we would pray over our students, over each other, encourage each other with the Word, and challenge each other to believe truth in the day ahead. Instead of being overwhelmed by the work, I saw the opportunity to love. I prayed over each desk before my students arrived each day, and understood that even in a public school setting, these kids were my ministry! It was the choice to continue to live in community with some pretty amazing women and make a home in the neighborhood my school was in.
THIS is missional living.
It doesn't require you to pack up your things and move 7,600 miles across the globe. It requires open hands, a willing heart, and eyes of vision to see the one thing, the one person, that Jesus has placed right in front of you.