One of the themes that came up in my journaling is that I have many reasons “why” I am here discerning this call. I feel called to ministry to a variety of causes, all of which center in giving a voice to those whose voice is drowned out by the injustices of the world. In my life, I have had the opportunity to serve in a variety of contexts that have opened my eyes to the needs of God’s children. I have spent time as a chaplain for the Appalachia Service Project in rural Appalachia and seen the suffering of poverty firsthand. I have spent time as a day camp counselor with Alabama Rural Ministry tutoring children in poverty that is victims of failing school systems. I have served with Glide ministries on the streets of San Francisco with the overwhelming large homeless population. Although these have all played a formative role in my call story, this is not the moment that defined my “why” of ministry.
I mentioned in my introductory post that I became involved in the United Methodist Church and fell in love with social justice. I found my voice through my work with their youth ministry. The summer after my sophomore year in college, I got a job as an interim youth director in Orange Beach UMC in Alabama. I was only 22 years old at the time, and after starting that summer, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. At this time in my life, I thought God was leading me to become an elementary school teacher. I told myself that I was content to do ministry on the side and while maintaining a full-time job in the secular world. That summer, I lived by myself for the first time in a new town and had a lot of time to spend in self-reflection and prayer. As the summer continued, I continued to struggle with my leadership abilities, and I questioned my ability to help these teenagers in their faith formation when I had so many questions and doubts myself.
Close to the end of the summer, part of my position was to lead the youth group to a summer camp a few hours away. My youth group only averaged 25 youth, but somehow 60 plus children ended up signing up for the trip with only three other adult chaperones. This task was beyond stressful for someone who is questioning her leadership abilities. The three chaperones were parents of some of the youth and did not realize just how young I was until we arrived at the camp. The week turned into the chaperones grilling me with hypothetical questions to test my leadership abilities. It was evident that they did not think I should be in charge of these youth. I cried myself to sleep every night, telling God that he picked the wrong person to be in this position. I felt utterly defeated.
The last night of the camp, the staffers at the camp created this experience for the youth. The youth were split up into groups and taken to different stations that depicted the final night of Jesus’s life. An immersive version of stations of the cross (A baptist denomination run this camp and would never have admitted this parallel). At the end of the stations, the kids ended up in this big field with a cross at the center. Each counselor of the youths’ group washed their feet at the foot of the cross and told them the story of salvation. I walked around the field, keeping a watchful eye on the kids in my care. Suddenly, Tatum, a 16-year-old youth, came up to me with tears in her eyes and told me how much she felt this overwhelming sense of love for God. She opened up about how she prayed for someone to show her how to live out her faith, and how she felt that God used me to answer that prayer.
I will never forget that moment. The world slowed around me and I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I hadn’t before. I heard this voice say, “If you love me feed my sheep” from John’s Gospel. I heard God’s voice clearly at the moment. It is the only time in my life where I have felt like God was specifically speaking to me in this way. I had this unexplainable sense and peace and a feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. My call was solidified at this moment, I knew that God was calling me to help his children enter into his loving arms. Love is at the center of the Gospel and while dogma is important here at this moment I felt God telling me that all of these things pale in comparison to his Love. God could use me despite my brokenness, insecurities, and mistakes. All I need to do is say yes to God’s control of my life.