Mount Nebo: July Update (and Goodbye from Riley)
Mount Nebo Partners:
To get straight to the point, this is my last partnership update before passing this along to Kara Dennis, our new regional director of Mount Nebo. She will be overseeing all of our programs and partners in the Austin area and has already been a gigantic blessing to this ministry. But, before I pass this along, I wanted to use this update to share a little bit of my heart for this ministry and perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned from doing this work.
Mount Nebo has so heavily impacted my life since we founded the organization in March 2016 (probably far more than any of the lives the Lord has allowed me to touch.) These kids we get to serve through Mount Nebo are some of the greatest kids I’ve ever known. They’re bold. They’re brave. They’re honest. They’re real. They’re full of potential. They’re characters. They’re hard. They fight back when you love them and make you feel like you’re not making a bit of difference sometimes. But they’re also ready to be known and bear hugged and danced alongside and taught about Jesus. They’re pictures of Jesus and of the gospel each and every day. They’re tough. They’re courageous. Statistics may say they’re bound to fail, but at the bottom of my heart I believe each and every one of them has vast potential. Many of them are excelling and growing in ways that make me grin just thinking about.
This work has given me so much joy, but it has also brought me a ton of pain. And therein lies on of the biggest things I’ve learned doing urban ministry: let it hurt. There are so many things I would have rather remained naive to. There’s really no better way to say it than this: sin sucks. Sin ends marriages and kills people and makes our bodies broken and means that some kids are bound to fail before their lives even get started. Sin leads young kids to attempt suicide and kids to know sexual abuse before they can talk. Sin takes innocence far too soon and sin creates fatherless homes and broken lives. I remember the first time this work really broke me. It was on a Thursday night after I found out that a five year old boy in the community I was serving in had tried to end his own life with a belt. Praise God he failed, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around that kind of hurt. I held it together and told my team I was just fine, that these sorts of things happened and we would just have to pray. But the second I got in my car, I sobbed…I mean ugly-cried for what felt like an eternity. I cursed God and cursed the world and cursed myself for getting involved in this work because this hurt deeper than I would’ve ever thought. Sitting in that parking lot, I resolved to quit. I didn’t want to hurt that bad and I didn’t think God could call someone weak like me to this kind of work. But, by the grace of God, I decided to give it one more week (and one more week turned into many years.) There have been many nights like that since — I’ve called the police 4–5 times, filed CPS reports, heard a child tell me about abusive foster homes, held a mom as she cried in my lap over the brokenness of her life, collected knives from a home to keep a child from self-harm, prayed over a woman whose son tried to kill her, heard kids fear for their lives and think such a thing is normal, cared for numerous other suicidal youth — I could go on. And it never gets easier. But here’s what I’ve learned. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The day this stuff hurts less is the day I quit. Sin should break us. None of those stories should roll off of us. Jesus entered into a broken world (and He knew the extent of it) and yet, He wept. Sin broke Him too. When this work hurts us, it makes us understand the urgency of the gospel more, lean on Jesus harder, and makes us more compassionate to the people we serve.
I am grateful for the way this ministry has shaped me. I am grateful for the stories that have haunted me because I’ve gained a whole lot of grace and compassion through them. Mount Nebo has taught me a ton, but more than anything, it has brought me about a dozens of big and small friends that I hope last a lifetime. I’ll never get tired at looking at their smiles and I’ll miss hugging their necks big-time. To be quite honest, this whole transition process has been incredibly bittersweet. I am so excited about my own future and about the future of this organization, but I have been so heavily shaped by Mount Nebo and the stories the Lord has given His people through it, that stepping away has been much more difficult than I ever imagined. I’m proud of what has been accomplished by my team over the past year and a half. Our budget has increased sevenfold in the past year with all of the new programs/people under our care. We went from about 7 volunteers two years ago to a projected 175 this Fall. I have story after story of progress in kids lives (I’ll share any of them with you if you want to open up those flood gates!) More than anything though, I’m proud to know the kids and volunteers who know the Lord better because of Mount Nebo. I had hoped to leave everything packaged with a little bow and ready to hand off, but as has always been the case with urban ministry, I am realizing that it will probably always be a little bit of a mess. So, thanks for bearing with us in this transition and please give us a little grace as I inevitably will not keep everything straight through this transition.
I’m not going far, and I am far from done with Mount Nebo. I am headed to Baylor Law in the fall to pursue a JD in hopes of continuing to impact the lives of under-resourced communities for the rest of my life. I will remain the President of the board of directors and hope to remain present for vision casting and the occasional Thursday night Base Camp. For logistical purposes, please reach out to Kara (firstname.lastname@example.org) for all questions regarding partnership, volunteering, and day-to-day activities with Mount Nebo. Feel free to continue to reach out to me when you feel it is appropriate. I would love to hear from you in the next few weeks as I transition out to learn from you and hear what we can continue to be doing better (or ways you’ve been impacted by Mount Nebo yourself.)