Man, what a time it has been! Just two weeks ago Avance said “see you later!” to the summer team we spent the past 8 weeks serving and growing alongside. Avance has several options for coming to serve, the shortest of which, is our 8 week summer program. This year, one June 12th, God provided us with a team of 5 women! Still early on in their college careers, working on their Master Degrees, previous missions experience, no missions experience, healthy eaters, picky eaters - the team was quite the mix of people! This summer the leadership team focused on creating a program that would accomplish a couple different goals. We wanted to expose our participants to the variety of ministerial options Avance offers on a full time basis during our yearout program. We also wanted to introduce them to the many amazing people that work in the city as other United World MIssion missionaries, or that we serve as key ministry and church partners. And finally, we wanted to have weekly classes that went into detail on specific parts of the Christian faith in a time we called, “Back to the Basics”.
My favorite part of this 8 week program is visibly being able to see God work in the lives of our team members. Normally, all come with a level of anxiety, nervousness, and uncertainty. They are coming to a new country. Most have some level of Spanish, but not always, and regardless, rarely are they at a level where they can handle their own with no confusion. They are unsure of what they will be doing. We tell them they will live with a host family, but no details on the specifics of the family. They will serve in a church, without knowing much else. And they will build relationships within key ministry partnerships. But for the most part we do not share specifics within them because coming with expectations can be one of the biggest obstacles cross cultural workers can face. Just like in the ministries our yearout participants work, the majority of true ministry doesn’t happen at official events, but in the small conversations that take place by doing life together. And this summer was no different for our team.
Being present to see God work is a privilege, a blessing, an encouragement and indescribably exciting. Let me tell you about one of my favorite conversations. The Gospel according to John is an amazing book. It is filled with literary devices, conviction, and the love of Christ. I personally think one of the most powerful literary devices comes from the 21st chapter - repetition. I know my Cy-Ranch English teachers are likely jumping for joy to see that I still use their literary analysis tools today. I certainly do! They are amazing tools to help understand and live the Gospel. In John’s 21st chapter, what is going on? Well here is the quickest of summaries. Check it out for yourself if you want to be blown away! The 18th chapter - Jesus is arrested, Peter, one of his closest disciples, denies ever knowing Jesus, three times. John’s 19th chapter - Jesus is sentenced, crucified, killed, and buried. Chapter 20, the tomb was found empty!! Jesus appears risen and alive to Mary and his disciples! Which brings us to the repetition I mentioned in the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to John.
The risen Jesus is standing on the shore while his disciples are out fishing. He has a small camp fire prepared with fish and some bread. When the disciples finally realized who He was, Peter jumped head long into the water and swam about one hundred yards to shore. While they sat together, enjoying breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, son of John, “do you truly love me more than these?”. This he repeated three times, one time for each of time denials Peter gave before others. It is a beautiful passage that allows us to see the unending forgiveness and love Christ has for each of us. This was the focus of our prayer retreat over the summer. And it was an emotionally difficult one for many on our team. One girl broke down in tears. She later explained to us that she always knew that God loved her. That Jesus died for her sins. That there was unending love and forgiveness. But, she never gave much thought to if she loved Jesus back. I was excited! What a place to be. Present, before God. Being made aware of our need for His love and grace. She didn’t know what to do now, how could she love Jesus back? Well that same passage answers that question!
Each time Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?”, Peter responds with “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you”. And Jesus’s response in turn? Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me! It’s really quite simple, but we tend to make it so complicated with “religion”. Keep it simple. And the rest will work itself out.
I leave you with this question. Do you love Jesus?
Feed His lambs. Take care of His sheep. Feed His sheep. Follow Him!