Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tales of a College Ministry Ex-pat

This series has been a long time coming. I left full-time ministry about four and a half years ago on good terms. I was debt-free, fairly well thought of, and on top of it all getting married to a very handsome man. Since then I've had a long time to think about my experience; what I've gained, and what I would change.

This story begins with a young and impressionable 18 year old girl who was about to head off to college. Before I even set foot on campus one of the youth volunteers at my church told me that if I wanted to be a godly woman I needed to get involved with this specific campus ministry.

So armed with this knowledge, I started my freshman year ready to jump in with both feet. At the same time, I was away from home for the first time and questioning just about everything.

 I grew up in a Pentecostal church where the Holy Spirit, His gifts, and personal holiness were heavily emphasized. One Sunday I remember my youth minister asking us to raise our hands if we could go through a whole day without sinning. Not surprisingly, no one raised their hand. He was shocked, "Do you really think you can't go through a day without sinning." I know at some point they covered Jesus and the gospel but I don't know that I had the ears to hear it.

On campus that first year I went to ministry meetings, read my bible religiously, and tried to make friends with people who were involved. All the while I was having a crisis of faith. I had a long walk to class from the 4th floor West Mary (the name of my dorm) room I shared with my two room mates.

 I remember praying one day, "Lord I want to be a Christian. I want to live for you, but I don't understand why I need to believe in Jesus. Why do I need Him?" I didn't get my answer for almost another year and a half.

The summer after my freshman year I worked at a Younglife camp in Colorado. I read Desiring God by John Piper (a book that lays out the gospel pretty clearly) and became even more deeply committed to "living right". Obviously I missed the whole point of the book...

 It wasn't until the summer after my sophomore year when I attended my first Summer Beach Project that I finally came to understand why I needed Jesus. My campus director gave a talk during evangelism training on the bridge diagram. He explained the gospel in simple terms without assuming that we knew what he was talking about.

 I still remember walking out of that talk feeling like my mind was blown. I was a sinner (which I already knew) but God wasn't standing over me shouting that I better straighten up or He was going to throw me into hell. He was standing there with His arms open shouting, "even though you deserve hell for all the things you've done, I've made a way for you to be my daughter, but the path is soaked with the blood of my Son, who suffered the consequences for your sin to bring you to me."

Then one of my roommates that summer told me she was struggling with election. She said she didn't believe in Calvinism. Struggling with what? Calvin Coolidge was the only Calvin I had ever heard of. She read Romans 9 to me and suddenly in her eyes I'd become a Calvinist.

For the next two years I became deeply involved in the ministry. I began meeting regularly with an older student in a "discipleship" relationship and I strove to share my faith regularly. Naturally, I did everything I could to be well thought of in our ministry community. The December of my senior year at a Christmas conference, my campus director approached me about going through the assessment process and possibly coming on staff full-time as a staff girl.

I couldn't believe my luck!  At the time, I was planning to go to grad school but was honestly too tired between my school work and my social life to get the applications cranked out. I'd already decided to delay grad school for a year so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. It felt like a calling.

I drove home from Christmas Conference, opened the door to my house and promptly broke the news to my parents. If I was hired I was planning to work full-time for this campus ministry. Oh yeah, and I was going to have to raise my own salary. My parents were shocked. I still remember what my dad said, " Why don't you just work at a church that pays you?" I was determined to make it work.

 I went to the assessment that semester, and before I had to interview and meet with their psychologist to see if I'd be a good fit for the job, I snuck downstairs and bought a few books from the bookstore. Both of the books happened to be about evangelism which is the focus of the ministry and an area where I felt I had a lot to learn.

 While I was meeting with the psychologist he commented on my purchases. He said, " You already know everything you need to know about evangelism. What you really need to learn about is love." His words were prophetic.

After graduation, I packed my bags and moved back into my parents house. I spent the next year working at a daycare during the day and raising support during every spare moment. It was rough. I had to make phone calls, set up appointments, ask people for money, and endure rejection after rejection.

 I went to my home church and met with the Missions Pastor (who had been my youth pastor the first two years I was in high school). He listened to my presentation and told me that I was a Christian long before college. He acted almost offended that my presentation hinted at anything to the contrary.

Then he told me that the church only really supported foreign missions and that they could help me in a small way but I couldn't really count on them. I'm not a big crier. You can ask my husband. But I broke down and literally left his office blubbering.

 I'm not sure if it was the fact that he didn't believe my conversion story or that I was just shocked and let down that my church really wouldn't help me. It wasn't just a few tears, it was like a tsunami  swept over me. I couldn't stop sobbing and even after I'd finished there was just no hiding it.

Growing up I attended a large church with over 3,000 members; the kind of church that can afford to support the full salaries of their missionaries. I had been so sure that they would help support me financially, but God used this blow to increase my trust in Him.

Despite being rejected by my church God allowed me to raise all of my support and a year later I found myself living and working in Montevallo, Alabama.

The summer before I started my job there was a staff training after summer beach project. One night we were asked to sign index cards, making a commitment to stay on staff for a certain length of time. The new staff were expected to commit for four years and even though I was unsure I signed the card.

Alright, I think I'm going to stop here for now. Be on the lookout for the second installment of my story. In it, I'll be letting you know what my experience on campus as a full time staff girl was like.

Make sure to check out my other posts on this topic third installment, and fourth installment.