Friday, March 16, 2012

Jesus On Purpose

The theme for the last few months of my life has been honesty and communication. Through lovely experiences and challenges I have discovered the immense importance of being able to share your heart with the world. I have learned that the most effective communications and the deepest friendships are cultivated when you can be be real, when you can share yourself and your imperfections as easily as your finest attributes. This is what I aim to do in all of my interactions and something I would also like to be able to do on this blog.

So, today I will be sharing some of my story. I will be explaining how and why I chose to make a mission trip to Swaziland my goal for this summer. This is going to be a tad lengthy, but it is something I hope you take the time to read.

I think it's important for me to begin by saying that I love Jesus. I wasn't raised in Christianity and throughout my adolescence I actually put up many walls toward it. I had Christian friends, but absolutely no interest in listening to them speak about their faith. Instead, I used the news as my main source of information about Jesus and Christianity. Media showed me hypocrisy, prejudice, self-righteousness, and hate and I decided that if Jesus was okay with all of that, I most certainly didn't want to know Him.

I assumed every Christian I met was a cookie cutter impression of what the media had shown me. I stereotyped, I made assumptions, I closed off my heart. I felt resentment toward Christians because I believed they were outrageously judgmental. 

But during the summer after highschool, something started catching my attention. I was becoming very close to two Christian girls I had known since childhood and I realized that there was this incredible openness about both of them. I felt like I could tell them anything without fear. Our friendship deepened because of our mutual understanding of our extreme imperfections. They never made me feel like they were above me. They didn't judge my flaws and insecurities, but shared their own with me.

Our conversations began going to faith and I was amazed at how comfortably I could talk to them about my questions and doubts. I told them that I had always believed in God, always prayed to God, but how I felt like I was on a search for Truth where I always seemed one step away from actually knowing God. My friends listened. They never told me I was wrong, they never told me I was going to hell, they simply shared what they believed about Jesus's love and continued to support my journey to find God. 

I saw a kind of strength in both of them, a light that shined through their incredible character and gently nudged its way into my heart. I wanted to find the source of that light. I wanted to know what made my friends so strong. 

And then, one day when I was feeling exhausted from the challenges of life, I looked online for inspirational quotes. The first one I read nearly made my heart stop.

"We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe,
by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are,
but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
-Madeleine L'Engle

I was simply astonished by how this quote exactly described my experiences with my two Christian friends. I realized then how hasty I had been in my assumptions about Christians. I had accused them of being hypocrites and yet, I too was a hypocrite. After all, I had been outraged at them for being judgmental, of not bothering to understand anyone with different beliefs, but I was doing the same thing. I was judging Christians for being judgmental. I had thought myself to be far more open-minded and accepting than any Christian, but the reality was that I was not at all. I had stereotyped Christians so completely, that I had shut off my heart.

I decided to look into the bible. I read chapters at random and a funny thing happened. I enjoyed it. In fact, I loved it. I saw so much truth in the scriptures, so much wisdom that I had assumed could not be there. And the more I read about Jesus, the more open my heart became. I felt respect and above all love toward Christians. I saw how passionate so many Christians are about adoption and orphan care. I saw how hard they strived to serve others. These were things that had been growing in my heart at the same time as I began reading the bible. Through my reading, I became more and more interested in service, more and more interested in loving my neighbor.

Last fall, I knew I had to act. I could no longer suppress my love for the world, for all of creation. I could no longer sit back and watch so many people live in poverty while I lived a comfortable life. I didn't really think I was capable of changing the world but I decided it didn't matter. It didn't matter if what I did for others wasn't good enough, it didn't matter if I wasn't good enough, I had to act anyway. I had to just begin.

I joined a non-profit organization in my town that does service in Tanzania, I joined a volunteer club so I could help with local community service projects and I began sponsoring a child in Ethiopia. I began to realize that this wasn't just a phase. Service was something I wanted to dedicate myself to for the rest of my life.

 Then one day when I was looking in my Facebook news feed I saw that my friend's mother had posted about a trip to Swaziland some members of her church were taking. I looked at their website and read about what they had done on previous trips and I was inspired by their work. But, I felt something stronger than inspiration. I felt a giant push. I felt like this trip was one I had to take.

I knew I loved Jesus, I knew I wanted to understand Him, but I hadn't become a Christian. Why then, did I feel so strongly about this trip? This was a Christian mission trip. There were a million secular service trips to Africa out there and yet I couldn't shake the desire to go on this one. 

I know it isn't some weird fluke that I feel this overwhelming call to go on this trip to Swaziland. I know it isn't some kind of accident that I sponsor a child through a Christian organization. I know it isn't by chance that the first friends who joyously helped me with fundraising and continue to put efforts toward getting me to Swaziland now, are my two Christian friends. 

It is because of their light. It is the source of that light within my friends that is drawing me in. I want to understand it. I want to understand Christianity. I want to open my heart to the people I judged so harshly and give to the world with them in love. I want to know the God I have always been one step away from.

I know that this trip will change me beyond any expectation. I am already amazed by my experiences. Never in my life have I had so many people expressing their support, encouragement, and respect for my desire to do something. I never could have guessed that I'd be getting so many of these expressions from people I had never met in my life, people who didn't know the journey I had taken to get to this point but saw that I too was responding to Jesus's call for us to love one another.

I am faithful that this trip will happen, but not just because my desire is so strong. If I make it to Swaziland this summer to serve along with Christians who have responded to the same call to care for orphans and serve the world, it will be because of the people who showed love to me. It will be because of the people who knew of my imperfections and shortcomings but also of my potential. But, I guess in the end, this isn't even really about me. This is about the world, about change, about God.

If you have read this far, thank you. I hope you fully understand how non-accidental my choice to go on Christian mission trip is. I am not going on this trip with the attitude of just tolerating the Christian nature of it but to understand it. I chose a Christian mission trip on purpose to learn about the people I judged so harshly. I chose this trip as a way to learn about Jesus through service, completely on purpose and while I don't know exaclty how I will feel after I return, I know that in one way or another, this trip will be transformative. 

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