I've lived on three continents at this point, but there is nothing as great as coming in to service at the Embassy and seeing Pastor Brandon and Pastor Derrick and Cheri and Zaneta and Joan get excited to see me. Derrick's older son was the first person I saw when I came in, and I knew he wouldn't remember me as it's been four years and he was just entering middle school at the time. I chatted with him a bit to get an update on how I can be praying for him, letting him know that he's someone I regularly pray for. This kid is special to me - I've prayed regularly for him to be supported and encouraged by his teachers so that he will be able to thrive in school and grow in maturity and deep love for Jesus. I pray for his younger brother to have his energetic spark fanned into flame by those around him who can help him channel his passions towards Jesus. I pray for Brandon's son to lead well the peers around him who are drawn to him; I pray for his daughter to be healthy and celebrate the body God has given her and to honour him in how she lives. These families are special to me despite how little I see them. They are special because they know me deeply in a way passing acquaintances don't. They know my heart for discipleship and they encourage me to live how I do through words and examples.
I've been shaped by a lot of wonderful Jesus loving people in my journey to become this weird missionary who hosts tea parties for high schoolers to talk about theology. I arrived in America over a week ago, but I'd scheduled my annual Playlist to drop so I could keep my attention on getting over jet lag and spending time with my family the first week I was here. I even got a weekend with Shannon, one of my absolute best friends, who flew up from Dallas to spend a couple days with me. She and I headed up to Denver for service last Sunday, and I promised my pastors I would return this week. In the mean time, I managed to do a lot while adjusting to this time zone. My parents took me to buy some new clothes and needed electronics to be prepared for the weeks ahead. I even convinced my mom to let me stop at the library and check out a couple of books to help me relax in my spare moments alone (which are few and far between for the next month).
Controlling planner that I am, I was oddly at peace about the upheaval this home assignment has been to prepare for. As I have told dozens of people already, about fifteen different plans were overturned before I even got here, and upon arrival things have been constantly shifting as well. What a God thing it has been to be open handed about it though as I spontaneously ended up at a prayer night in Castle Pines on Friday night and had half a dozen brothers and sisters lay hands on me and pray for me. I also adjusted my afternoon plans today and ended up getting to meet another pastor coming alongside the Embassy family with his congregation. What a joy to get to hear him and his wife reflect on their past couple of years of service and the growth they've seen in their church.
I had the chance to say a few words at my church service this morning, and I was chatting with my friend Joan before and after service about the value of being known in this place despite never having attended the Embassy. Most people know this is my "sending church" though they don't know the story of how I connected to the congregation. Two years before coming to Germany, I went on a "mission trip" to Denver with friends from my church in Portland, and we volunteered to serve the community where this new gathering was beginning. When I was support raising, the pastors took me out to lunch to tell me they wanted to send me out as the first missionary from their church. I was floored at the generosity of spirit as they brought me in front of the congregation and laid hands on me; this morning Brandon and Zaneta stood by me again as Derrick prayed over me. These people love me so well; they are my family.
My life is richly blessed to also have biological family who love me too, and over the past two weeks I have been face to face for the first time in four years with my immediate family, grandparents, and almost all my aunts and uncles (my last aunt will hopefully get to see me in a couple weeks). Each of these people mean so much to me as well, and I love that they are all such incredible supports for me while I am away.
While I hit the highest levels of introvert on any scale, I know that whatever it means to be made in the image of God, it has to do with relationship. So while I need my recharge time alone, I also need people to help me to grow in my walk with Jesus and in being a complete and healthy human being. Pastor Brandon preached a beautiful message this morning about how we as Christians are called to be representatives of Christ in the world so that people are drawn into this life of community. Life with Jesus is a beautiful thing. I love talking to my students about how much better life is with Jesus; some of them are not convinced by the things they have seen, but as Brandon's message said, we need to live out the Good News in a way that represents accurately how good it is. My life involves spontaneous tacos and worship nights, Umbrella Academy with theological commentary, and connecting with stories of diverse people eager to share the kingdom message on earth.
All of these unique pieces go into making me, and some people know more than others. What is most beautiful to me, though, is that when I go away for years at a time, there are things that stand out to people who know me about my character - my love for Jesus and desire to live all out in a God-honouring way. Before starting his sermon this morning, Brandon shared kind and humbling words about how he's seen me grow closer to Jesus in the decade he's known me. That's the feature I want people to know me to see first and to remember and recognise. I get a lot of little things wrong, and hopefully I'll continue to have the grace to repent and grow, but the big thing I have right is following Jesus above all. What an absolute joy to have a career that places my passion for sharing Jesus with young people right at the centre of it. What an absolute joy that I have a team of people scattered around the globe praying for me and encouraging me to do that.
Visiting America is a wild adventure for me these days as I'm raising support to continue doing my ministry which involves connecting with people already on my team who know me well and have followed my journey for years in addition to meeting loads of new people and inviting them to join my support team financially (there's a link to donate in the menu bar above) or in prayer. Next Sunday I'll be in a new city and hopefully able to post at a reasonable time, but I crave your prayers for safe travels on the road as I'll be hitting up old friends and students in LA, PDX, Pocatello, Rawlins, Chicago, Peoria, and Kansas City over the course of just over two weeks. PDX friends, I'll not be able to see everyone in six days, but I'll be putting myself in some public places and posting on Facebook where to find me in Hillsboro the first full week of July.