(Disclaimer: I began to write this January 11, 2010, at the beginning of my J-term class, but obviously did not finish writing it until much later.)
This may be a bit premature, but I am just SO INVIGORATED for the next few weeks, months, and years of my life! I have finally come to a place of decision about the next step of my life – urban ministry and community building with the organization Mission Year. Here I chronicle my journey to this place of passion…for the city.
Those of you who know me may know that for the past few months or so, I have been grappling with the fact that I do not know what I want to do after I graduate from Spring Arbor University. I will graduate with a psychology degree, but as counseling has been ruled out for now, I do not know what I want to do with my life, other than help people. That’s a pretty broad career field…human services, people helping careers.
During fall semester, I often lamented to myself that I had not taken better advantage of all the opportunities afforded to me during my college career. Oh, what different fields I could have investigated! The numerous services and organizations I could have volunteered with! The things I could have tried…but did not. So I sat, stewed, lamented. All in my own mind (a dangerous thing to do, by the way. Just talk it out!). My future was unknown, and I was anxious, frightened, inwardly stressed about this uncertainty. My lack of a plan distressed me.
Then, slowly but surely, things began to come together, although I did not understand at the time. Divine foresight? Supernaturally orchestrated events? Looking back, yes, I would say so.
Around the end of October, Tony Campolo came to Spring Arbor University to speak. I do not remember much of his message during chapel. What I do remember is that I skipped my first college class in order to listen to him speak more about a book he authored. He spoke about passion and indispensibility and love and societal systems and poverty and riches and economics…things I identified as classic social-justice focused Tony Campolo. I was blessed, encouraged, and challenged by what he had to say. But nothing big changed. No self-revelation at that point. I went to lunch with my friend Jen, and as I was leaving afterwards I noticed that Campolo was in the Cougar Den, sitting with a couple of professors. I desperately wanted to talk to him…mostly just because he was Tony Campolo, whom I had read about, whose books I had read, and whom had inspired people like Shane Claiborne, another social justice leader I admired. But I also wanted to hear what he had to say about Mission Year, and what he would say about me, little shy suburban girl, wanting to try out working in the city.
So, I psyched myself up to talk to him, figured out what I would say to him…and went for it. I talked to Tony Campolo…but mostly, he spoke into my life in ways he could not understand and that I did not fully appreciate until later. He talked about Mission Year, as I asked, but he spoke about deeper topics and realities. The reality of seasons in life, especially in urban ministry. The need for rest and settling down, recharging, enjoying life. God, You are good!
Shortly after this, spring break mission trip applications were released. I took one, not wanting my last college spring break to be spent sitting at home on my rear. Furthermore, I noted that one of the destinations was Hamtramck…a site so close to my home, but one I had never taken the time or effort to minister to. The site itself was culturally as well as geographically significant to me – Hamtramck is home to a large Muslim population, whom my heart is drawn to due to my experiences in Egypt. These two facts – geographic location and a population I had a distinct interest in – were the main reasons for my application to this trip, as well as my desire to create long term relationships with the people I would be ministering to and the organization we would be working with. I did not have the first clue as to how to best minister with Muslims, how to reach them for Christ, but I wanted to learn. And I trusted that the team leaders, Mallary and Steve, and/or the leaders of Acts 29 Ministries, the ministry we will be working with in Hamtramck, would give us students pointers about ministry. If all else fails, I know that love crosses all boundaries, so I planned to do my best to love whoever I would encounter in Hamtramck.
The next event of great significance occurred during Christmas break. I had been thinking about my options after graduation, and had settled in my mind that I would be doing Mission Year. It did not even cross my mind that I had to apply and be accepted – if I decided I was going to do Mission Year, there was no question that I would be accepted. But I still had one hurdle to clear – parental approval. I researched the program a bit, and once again presented Mission Year as THE THING I wanted to do after graduation to my Dad. I even explained to him my progression rationale: I would be ministering for a week in Hamtramck for spring break, then for the summer I planned to work with Habitat for Humanity in Detroit for several days a week. So, by the time the beginning of Mission Year came around, I would already have a good deal of experience working in the city. After he posed some questions and I promised to check them out with Mission Year staff, he gave the go ahead!
Relieved and happy, I looked forward to my J-term Urban Ministry class with excitement, but still a little bit of hesitation. I was concerned about the potential work load (a 50-60 page paper…in three weeks! Who does that?), and concerned about what I would discover about myself. What if I found I did not like urban ministry, or even worse, I did like it, but did not have the skills, the personality, the toughness, steadfastness, or the heart to be in urban ministry? Carrying these, and even more, doubts and fears, I walked to my first class period.
Within the first day and a half I was hooked.
I found myself reading dozens of pages of the textbook without counting how many more I had to go. The stories our professor, John Weidman told of people who felt loved, who were transformed by his ministry, were spell-binding. In John was an authentic love for every human being, a pastoral heart if I have ever seen one. Whether this has always been his personality, or was a result of so many years of urban ministry, I do not know. I simply know it was in him. All of these characteristics of the class simply made me fall more in love with urban ministry, and more confident that this was what I wanted to do with the next phase of my life. I embraced an excitement, a giddiness, a joy for life I had not known in what felt like eons.
God is at work in the city! God is already present there, in the crack houses and dirty alleys and dilapidated homes and broken people. He cares for them in remarkable ways, in supernatural and compassionate ways, and He calls us to join Him in loving those most precious to Him! He calls us through His word, through His prophets, through conviction, through people like Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne and John Weidman, through His Spirit. He calls us to have compassion upon those who need it the most, the poor, weak, and needy. And where are the poor, the weak, the needy to be found but in the cities? And who better to love them unconditionally than the body of Christ? Jesus cared for them, and we are to emulate him; yet we are also called to love Christ, and according to Matthew 25:40, we are loving Christ whenever we love “the least of these”:
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Following Jesus by going to the city and loving. That is the plan. I am filled with energy and passion! Bring on the city!