Where do I even begin? Well, I suppose I'll start with how I even got to Atlanta in the first place. For the strangers reading this, I am part of a campus ministry here at Missouri State University called Chi Alpha. (Shout out to my AMAZING Chi Alpha family).
Every year, we host multiple spring break mission trips available, as well as some international trips available over the summer. And, well, as you may have noticed in the title, I chose to go to Atlanta, Georgia with a team of other Chi Alpha members.
From the beginning, I knew Atlanta was where God had called me to go, but I didn't really know why yet. Everyone who had gone in the years before had loved it, some even going back again in the years after they first went.
People spoke very highly of the trip, and of mission trips in general, talking about how we would be stretched both physically and spiritually. They certainly weren't wrong. You see, I expected to be stretched, challenged, exhausted.
But what I didn't expect was how I was going to be stretched, and God certainly gave me quite the shock when I was stretched in ways that I never saw coming.
It was a ten-hour drive to Atlanta, and my team of 16 was divided up into four vehicles. After much team bonding and road trip karaoke, we made it to the beautiful city of Atlanta.
We unloaded all of our suitcases and stretched our legs when we reached the dorms for the Atlanta School of Ministry, also known as ASOM. The plan was to stay there while we were in Atlanta, and I'm really happy it happened that way because I met some really amazing student missionaries.
These students are so loving and so intentional and so talented. We got to experience lots of ministry leadership, artistic talent, and musical talent represented at ASOM. I definitely recommend Remnant Worship and Co-Heir Collective's music on iTunes.
Hallelujah Holla Back? I'm just saying, that song is a BOP. No, but seriously. These people are passionate and are doing amazing things to serve the kingdom of God while using the talents he's given them.
So this is a shoutout and round of applause to the students we met at ASOM and the amazing staff at the Atlanta Dream Center as well. You guys are glorifying God in mighty ways.
Now, I'm not going to go into too many specifics here just so that I keep this at article length instead of book length. But we got to serve with lots of really amazing outreaches at the Dream Center, including the Metro Kids children's ministry, the Out of Darkness ministry for victims of sex trafficking, and the iAm ministry for the homeless.
The outreaches involved in these programs were powerful, touching, and eye-opening. I got to see the light in my teammate's eyes as they served the Lord in ways they were passionate about.
I got to experience what it truly looked like to serve the kingdom of God, and it only made me more passionate about doing so. I had the opportunity to meet and pray with lots of amazing people on the streets of Atlanta, and they will forever be in my heart.
These people inspired me and gave me an immense motivation to serve God's people in even more ways once I left. I think most importantly, these outreaches taught me and my mission team how easy it actually is to just go out and love people. Seriously, try it.
That being said, what affected me most was more of a personal "in-reach" rather than outreach. I knew I was going to have to give my testimony in front of my team at some point, but I hadn't really been all that concerned about it.
I'd never given my full testimony before, but I figured I could lay out a bunch of facts about my life and how I came to be a Christian and that that would be good enough. Well, God had other plans.
The day I was supposed to give my testimony, I started to really dig deeper and think harder about my story, what it meant, and why I acted in certain ways at certain points in time. Through this attempt at self-understanding, God revealed to me a lot of things about myself and my identity that I had never noticed or even tried to look for before.
I began pulling my notebook out at random moments during the day, carefully recording each revelation on paper. I spent much of the day unfocused on the ministries and intensely focused on what made my story important, why I am the way I am.
When I finally gave my testimony, it ended up being 22 minutes long and even then I still felt like I had left out important things after I was done. I began to think about why God had called me to Atlanta, and what his purpose was for me there.
As the week progressed, I began to learn more about myself and the importance of not only my story, but others' stories as well. I began to realize that my entire life had been spent seeking closeness and someone who sought to understand me, someone who truly pursued me.
And that had a big impact on me because I started thinking about the fact that while I had wished to be understood this whole time, I had so easily given up on understanding the people I love. My need to be understood on a deeper level was so great that it selfishly prevented me from even attempting to understand others in that way.
The Lord brought to my attention two really big things in Atlanta. First, a conviction that I was not pursuing others in love the way that I should have been. Second, that He was calling me to take up my cross and follow him, which I'll elaborate on another time. God broke my heart for a specific loved one that I won't name right now.
He made me realize that I had given up on her way too easily. While I had claimed to love her and had often said that she was one of my closest friends, I began to realize how little I truly knew her. I never sought to understand her, had never asked her what her story was, or asked her about anything that really mattered.
In truth, I only knew her on the surface and knew nothing about what lay underneath. I thought about where I might be if God had given up on me as easily as I had given up on her. Recognizing this after a message one night, I found the most secluded corner in the room, drew my knees to my chest and cried with my head buried in my arms.
I hadn't loved her as I thought, I hadn't loved her with a Christ-like love, with an all-enduring and persevering love. I had let her down, and my heart broke for her.
From that point on, I have been thinking a lot about how important it is to listen in order to love properly. Two weeks after my trip, and I'm still stuck on it. I encourage you to ask someone about their story. What makes them tick?
What brings them joy, what fills them, what drains them? Believe it or not, it's important. Think about your story, but don't spend all of your time doing that, ask someone else about their life. Remember little things about them, and do it intentionally. Invest in people, go through life with people, pursue them in love.
Because that's what Jesus did. And I don't know about you, or what you believe, but I know for a fact that I would be a mess without Jesus in my life. Jesus didn't give up on me no matter how many times I screwed up, ran to sinful places for comfort, or failed him.
When I ran away from Him and I tried to hide, Jesus looked for me. He knows what true love is, and I'll spend my whole life trying to follow His example.
We are all looking for someone looking for us.
Be the person who looks for people.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." -John 15:12