After a nearly two year stint doing other things, S. returned in December to the church that in a sense, raised us. We started there after only a year of marriage and spent eight years learning and building a ministry.
Now being back, ministry looks somewhat different. We, certainly, have grown and changed. We knew there would be surprises and didn’t know what to expect after time away.
Without question, the biggest surprise and kindest gift God gave was adding former students back into our lives. When I showed up to train new leaders in January I was humbled to see about eight former students who have returned to lead small groups or serve in various capacities.
The same week I received an email from a former student (turned friend) who serves as a missionary in Argentina.
I remember when this beautiful missionary was an awkward, broken middle schooler struggling with addiction and deep loneliness. I remember being overwhelmed at my lack of insight or ability to meet her needs. I couldn’t be everything she needed but I did know the One who is, so with my shortcomings I simply pointed her to Him. I felt like it wasn’t enough- not enough time spent, not enough wisdom to pull her through, not enough prayers for what she was going through.
Yet I learned having her in my small group that God isenough. He spent time with her, He began speaking and giving her wisdom, He surrounded her with other believers to walk with her.
When she wrote me this winter she was preparing to go India for an outreach and said:
Did you ever imagine 9 years ago this is where I would be? You may never leave Lynden my friend, but people all over the world know now Jesus because of your investment in one little girl. Way to gain inheritance in the nations my dear friend
A little love goes a long way.
I love you! And that’s for spending time on me : )
I thanked God.
I was encouraged and drawn to my knees realizing that my flawed efforts were used in a mighty way.
The fantastic thing about doing one thing for an extended amount of time is the perspective it brings. My heart has been broken over many students’ choices and over their own heart breaks. I’ve prayed, agonized, and worried about many of them.
After a decade in ministry I have seen God’s faithfulness. I have seen many who walked away return. We have had former students show up at our door for many reasons this year. They’ve come to announce an engagement, to ask for advice about future plans, or for prayer over personal struggles. Some still come for food and our kids invite them to their birthday parties.
In these few months we have already cringed at some of our current students making poor choices. Working with people is never clean. Investing our hearts can be exhausting. Hearing that another disappearing student was picked up by the cops is disheartening.
My aunt once told me that sometimes in life it’s as if we have a curtain in front of us and we’re unable to see what God is doing behind the curtain. It looks fruitless, hopeless, and mystifying. Then in certain moments He (and here’s where she mimics pulling back a curtain with her sparkly painted nails and opens wide her animated eyes) pulls back the curtain and gives us just a glimpse- “Oh! A glimpse!” of the amazing things He is orchestrating. The glimpses excite and fuel us to continue on in His work.
When I walk into a youth ministry night to see our amazing student led band lead students in worship, I experience a moment of the curtain being pulled back.
We recently had a send off for a former student (who has become one of our closest friends) as he accepted a job where he gets to use his gifts for the Lord. I remember the years we cried with him over his losses and asked, “What are you doing in his life, Lord?” I’m silenced when I see the man God has grown him into- a little peek behind the curtain.
This week I cheered to discover two former students who we worried about years ago (when they called on their way to elope) are expected a baby. They’ve grown from students we wrung our hands over to friends we serve alongside.
In these curtain moments I am reminded that it’s God that does His work. My efforts are wimpy and short sighted but in His power He magnifies them to life change. In catching a glimpse, I am humbled and motivated to be part of what He does.
When I train leaders I tell them about a girl who was in my small group years ago. I knew she was struggling. I invited her to Dairy Queen and prayed earnestly leading up to it. I was confident God was going to do something amazing.
It sucked. It was completely awkward and she refused to open up. I asked the right questions, tried to encourage, and got nowhere with her. I dropped her off a short time later thinking “what a waste of time” and feeling deflated.
A year later the same girl stood up in front of a group to share about surrendering to Christ. She said, “My change came after Shilo took me to Dairy Queen one time.”
My jaw dropped.
“That she would take the time to do that made me realize ‘how much more must God love me’? I decided after that to put my trust in Christ.”
With tears running down my face I repented of trying to judge what was fruitful in my obedience to Christ.
The last few months have been full of “Dairy Queen” stories. They remind me of God’s faithfulness when I’m bringing current and former students before God in prayer; asking for His voice, asking for His gentle hand on them, trusting that He is faithful to complete the work He’s begun.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...