I have never been to Disneyland. Or the Hollywood sign. Or the Griffith Observatory. When I got on the plane to spend the summer in Los Angeles, those were all places I assumed I would see. Yet, I left never having visited them.
That summer I spent serving in inner city neighborhoods of L.A. was different than I expected in many ways.
When I applied for the team, I figured it would require a lot of me. I knew that I would encounter hurting people and assumed God would move me to help.
But, I also anticipated it would be fun.
I was excited to meet other college students from around the country. I assumed the daytimes would be draining, but the evenings and weekends would be spent refilling my tank.
In short, I expected to segregate ministry from the rest of my life.
This is how many of us approach ministry opportunities, I think. We hope to go and do our good deed, then come home and kick up our feet, feeling pleased about what we accomplished. We long for ministry and service to have the clarity of tasks we check off our list.
But that summer, I learned something about the life-altering nature of the ministry Jesus calls us to.
Because that summer, I encountered a surprising amount of hurt. Not in the people I was ministering to, but among the people I was ministering with.
One girl had an abusive childhood. She questioned her worth every day. Another girl grew up cycling through the foster care system in L.A. She moved to another state when she was a teenager, and this was her first time back in the place that reminded her of her abandonment. Another girl spent the beginning of her college days doing drugs and living hard. God had rescued her in numerous ways, but she bore a heavy burden of guilt on her shoulders.
That’s not everything. By any means. Everyone on the team carried hurts.
And so, I tried to help. Not because I wanted to. No. I was frustrated and tired. I just wanted to join the others going out to the movies. But I could not ignore the Holy Spirit telling me to walk alongside those in pain.
So when one group went to the Observatory, I went with the girl aimlessly wandering her old neighborhood looking for her former foster home and maybe some sort of redemption of her past. When another group went to Disneyland, I hung out with the girl who couldn’t spend the money, and even if she could, needed to spend time talking instead. When one group was playing card games I met with two team members and helped mediate a dispute between them.
I spent a large portion of the summer frustrated that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.
And, I left without good stories. God hadn’t used me to rescue someone from poverty. Or release someone from prison. Or feed someone who was hungry.
It seems my role was more about meeting the needs of my team members. The problems without clear resolution. The struggles that interfered with my life. The everyday pain of those around me.
This is why discipleship is so hazardous. Jesus asks us to do something difficult: live an integrated life. A life where ministry and kindness and service and sharing are not things we do, but things we live.
Even when it means being inconvenienced.
I’m sharing My Hazardous Faith Story as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. Learn more here.