Hello all! I'm Bethany, blogging under the category of “Missions, Service, and Leadership.” I call the quaint little city of Thomasville, Alabama, my home away from Judson. This is my junior year here, and I’m an elementary education major. I plan on revealing Christ’s love in the public classroom, being a children’s librarian, working as a zoo keeper, running an orphanage, writing children’s books, and drinking a great deal of coffee. But for now, I’m just clinging to the promise that God’s not finished with me yet. Feel free to look me up on Facebook if you have any questions about Judson!
My first weeks as an intern with Sowing Seeds of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit organization here in Marion, have been wonderful and challenging. But, for me, this is the most challenging and surprising element of a summer ministry opportunity:
Much of my job as an intern is to do whatever needs to be done. And I LOVE that! If a mission group needs a ladder to work on a home in the area, I get to call local people and then call the people who know those people in search of a ladder. If someone runs out of water, needs directions, or forgot to drop the plywood off at the other construction site…I get to hop in the car with my supervisor, visit the mission groups, and get them what they need. I rarely see the office, I’ve met so many new faces in Marion, and I’m already enjoying reconnecting with some of the kids in town that I met last summer (more about that later).
All of the “running around” is exciting, and taking care of even the smallest things reminds me of my value in Christ and His purpose in Marion, but I never really realize that until the end of the week…on a quiet Sunday evening when I, honestly, have nothing to do.
Student.Go, the student mission board that partners with Sowing Seeds of Hope, really stresses one thing about serving in a summer ministry:
I’ve come to have a love-hate relationship with the idea of reflection because this activity of pausing and dissecting has proven to be the most revealing element of my summer thus far. Student.Go has challenged all of its summer participants to read Psalm 23 each week and reflect on some specific questions related to the daily life of service, and one of the first week’s questions really struck me.
Are you listening for God in whispers or shouts?
Pretty difficult to think about, right? It has been for me. We all have communication problems, but I’ve never even considered the communication problems I have with God. Often times, at the end of the day I lie in by bed, fighting sleep, and pour into pages and pages of my journal trying to explain my life to God. During daily challenges or life-altering moments we all, I think, yearn for God’s guidance and wonder why we can’t hear Him. Sometimes I even feel guilty for not waking up earlier or coming home sooner to have some momentous quiet time with God. Not that that alone time isn’t important…but I still wonder.
Am I listening for God in whispers or shouts?
Today seems like an appropriate day to consider something new and to commit to listening more closely. So far I’ve heard whispers of patience as I tutor a local student who has Down syndrome and shouts of perspective and understanding as I encounter the new faces of those who are drastically different than me. I’ve learned the importance if Godly influence from observing the subtle actions and words of ministers and friends in the area, and I’ve had to face myself, encountering the lies I allow myself to believe about God, service, and Marion.
The summer is just getting started, and I know that there is much left for me to learn and reflect upon…I’m looking forward to sharing even more of both the whispers and shouts that I encounter this summer.
“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and
it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love
ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving
ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a
very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because
of what it enables us to give to others.”
No Man is an Island
Thursday, May 19th,
brought about an opportunity to participate in tornado relief work in
Sawyerville, Alabama. I, along with five other five other Judson girls, one
service learning director, and two Judson professors, loaded up in a school van
and traveled the thirty or so miles to Hale County. When we first arrived at
the Sawyerville Relief Center, I thought that the work we were planned to do
would be minor. I hadn’t seen any damage during the drive in, and I began to
let myself feel a bit of relief in hopes that I wouldn’t see too much damage
during the day. But stopping at the relief center wasn’t our only stop for the
Our guide led us down a few curvy
roads, and past some workers moving trees and other debris out of the road, to
a plot of land covered in piles and piles of…junk.
I tried to prepare
myself before I stepped out of the van.
fellow students seemed excited to be able to help, but I couldn’t get that, “How
did someone ever live here?” sinking feeling in my stomach to go away.
We began to work, picking up large and
small pieces of the mobile home that had been destroyed, and the idea of
helping became easier. After a few moments of this physical labor, I was able
to see this task of cleaning up as just that…a task. I helped lift pieces of
the roof off of the ground, raked up piles of insulation, and carried small loads
of debris to a trash pile near the main road.
though, we Judson girls began to come across more than just debris from the
destroyed mobile home. We found birthday cards, photos, report cards, and other
odds and ends that reassured us all that someone had, indeed, lived there. In
the midst of dealing with such devastation, I can truly say that my heart goes
out to this family who has lost so much.
As I carried debris to the edge of the
road, I knew that these people had lost a house. But as I looked through the
photos, cards, letters, and other personal items, I was reminded that they had
also lost a home.
This was more than the pile of junk I
saw when we first pulled into the site.
I can’t imagine how it must have felt for the family member
who showed up to work alongside us as she swallowed that, “My family used to
live here,” feeling in her throat. I can only hope that the personal belongings
we salvaged will offer some sort of hope and comfort to the family members
affected as their lives return to “normal” after these storms.
Even though I can usually be found
trying to strike up a conversation to offer some words of comfort and
encouragement in situations like these, I wasn’t brave enough to talk to this
woman on Thursday. I’m thankful that my Judson friends and professors were
there to minister to her in this way…because I just couldn’t handle it. Like
anyone, I’ve experienced loss. In the past few years, friends have died, family
situations have been difficult, and things in my life have gone through drastic
changes. But I had no context for understanding this type of devastation, and I
can only hope that the few hours of work I contributed, along with the prayers
I continue to offer, will somehow assist this family as they begin the journey
of starting over.
This service-learning experience has
reminded me to see people as people, and much like Merton’s words in the
opening quote, I am reminded that people are not designed to be alone. The
experience of serving a hurting family in the most practical way that I can
imagine, by helping them pick up the pieces and begin again, has been a
humbling experience that has truly taught me to love myself properly by “accepting
life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us,
but because of what it enables us to give to others.”
Do you remember the days when the approaching summer months filled your heart and head with plans of beach trips, late nights, sleeping in, and complete freedom? Recollections of such summers almost make me wish I were still in high school, especially when the beginning of my “summer break” so far looks a bit more like the list above, and I’ve decided to settle for gazing out the window during summer classes instead of sinking my toes in the sand.
Because there truly is a season for everything (and this summer is my season to work, study and learn to serve), and in an attempt to be mature and maintain a positive attitude…I will share this “cheesy looking forward to the summer” blog with you.
Short term at Judson (and summer in general) still brings so many opportunities.
1.Take 9 hours of coursework in a single month (which is not recommended, but I’m trying to graduate on time!)
2.READ! Especially after I finish May classes, I’ll have more time to read things other than textbooks. I’m currently taking suggestions :)
3.Learn to quilt! There is a group of ladies who meet once a week here in Marion and quilt together. I think I’m going to start joining them once my summer internship with Sowing Seeds of Hope begins on the first of June. I can’t think of a better way to get to know some new community members.
4.Breathe,reflect,and be. Throughout June and July I’ll be living in Marion, but not as a Judson student. I’ll be working by helping with kids’ camps and assisting mission groups that come to serve in the area, but I remember having at least a few free evenings last summer. Hopefully I’ll be wise enough to use these free moments to my advantage this summer by spending some time alone with God. Not to sound “super-spiritual,” but I really am looking forward to some quiet afternoons of journaling and just thinking.
So far the possibilities of the summer are exciting, and I really can’t wait until my internship begins! Please be in prayer for Sowing Seeds of Hope, the incoming mission groups, the people of Perry County, and for me as plans are made and the Kingdom work continues. I hope to share reflections on a season of growth and renewed hope very soon.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens…
I have always heard that the best writers of the past and present are night owls. I’m usually in bed every night by 10 or 11, but now at 12:45am I just can’t seem to fall asleep. I don’t know if my body is entering some sort of automatic “end of the semester setting,” or maybe I just have too much on my mind, or maybe I’m finally joining the ranks of all those famous “after midnight” authors we find in our literature books (Ha! Yeah, right!)
Whatever the cause may be, my mind has taken me back to a random encounter with an old man I had in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, about three weeks ago. My friend, Ryan, and I were attending the second course of Community Development Academy thorough the University of Missouri Extension Center.
The opportunity for this amazing week of community development training sort of fell in our laps at the end of last summer, while we were working for a local community service organization, Sowing Seeds of Hope.
Ryan and I were in the midst of our fourth day of this particular course on community development, and information dealing with diversity, recognizing and finding solutions to community issues, collaboration, and communication (not to mention very detail-oriented session on how to start a non-profit organization) had been filling our minds all day.
After class was over, we decided to take a walk to the local antique store/restaurant/coffee shop our instructor had taken the community development class to for lunch the day before. The plan was to poke around, stroll through the store, and maybe find some unique handmade souvenirs to bring back to Alabama.
Oddly enough, just after I’d made my purchases and was waiting on Ryan to make her selections and head to the cash register, a sweet old man in a wheel chair with a bit of a funny accent struck up a conversation with me.
I wasn’t too surprised, the town we were visiting, Excelsior Springs, is a relatively small place.
And as a girl from the grand cities of Thomasville and Marion, coffee shop small talk is something that I completely understand (in fact if Judson had a major for such an important area of life, my GPA would probably be a lot more impressive).
I was surprised, though, when the old man’s “small talk” led to some “big talk.”
He began asking me deeply personal questions about my family relationships, religious views, passion for teaching, disappointments, hopes, and fears, and even my “love life,” as he called it. But what startled me even more than his questions were my answers.
Being a deeply private and somewhat timid lady, I couldn’t believe that I was sitting in a coffee shop in a foreign place…literally sharing my heart with a complete stranger.
As our conversation continued, the first impressions and prejudices I’d developed concerning this man melted away. I was no longer wondering where his legs were or how he ended up in wheel chair, and I stopped trying to guess his IQ based on the slur of his speech.
I think it’s safe to say that his initial assumptions about me faded, as well. He even seemed to genuinely complement me when he noted how “charming” my southern accent is…the type of comment that is usually countered with a roll of the eyes and a quick “Excuse me while I go to the ladies room,” escape from a conversation.
While a meeting such as this one would seem odd and exciting during any time of my life, I thought it was especially strange that I had the privilege of meeting this man during community development training. Just after I’d been enduring lectures on accepting differences and appreciating diversity, I spent at least half an hour in deep conversation with an elderly handicapped man. And after participating in what I thought to be way too many communication and collaboration exercises, I was given the opportunity to sit down and communicate and collaborate with someone I’d initially believed to have nothing in common with.
I regret that I don’t remember this man’s name, but I’ll never forget the lessons he taught me.
I hope that someday, after many more sessions of community development training, college courses, random conversations, and wisdom-evoking life experiences, I will be able to sit down with at least one other human soul and create a meaningful connection. I hope that I learn to listen, to respond, and to ask the right questions...the questions that people are just burning to answer. And I hope that I do this with no particular agenda or community action plan in mind. No matter where this interest in community development, classroom community, and school community takes me…
I know that I will always be reminded of this coffee shop character any time that I use these newly-discovered skills of accepting differences, appreciating diversity, communication, and collaboration.