Next Step Summer: Round 2

In trying to unwrap my experiences over the past 3 months, I look back and simply realize one thing — the Gospel of Jesus Christ was seen throughout.

I spent those 3 months serving as a Next Step Intern leading youth mission trips. I was placed in the community of Los Angeles where we partnered with local organizations and ministries such as Union Rescue Mission, Hope Gardens, and Enrich LA. We dwelt at Hope Gardens the entire summer which houses women and children who are transitioning out of homelessness. Each day we would serve the community relationally and also worked to serve meals in downtown LA and build gardens at local schools. That’s the very basic jist of it!

As I write this I am driving through the barren, beautiful landscape of Wyoming trying to unravel all I just experienced in the busy crowded landscape of Los Angeles. It is quite the turnaround, but it is indicative of the lessons Jesus has taught me in my summer.

Discontinuous. If there was one word to label my summer it would be discontinuous. Everyday was met with an unexpected turn that would usually invoke a bit of frustration. At the beginning of the summer, understanding my role with Next Step was difficult because I did not have some of the responsibilities I was expecting to have. I had to quickly gain my footing and slowly began to see that Jesus was pointing me in different directions.

As with any Next Step team or any team in general there are bumps in the road at first. We had to get to know and understand each other quickly as we prepared to grow as a body to serve students and a community. Conflict of course is inevitable and came and went, but the conflict had us suffering to be fully loving and present at times. I began to see how Jesus binds groups together through His grace and mercy.

Finally, the community was in flux during the 10 weeks we spent in Los Angeles. Staff members and residents were entering in and out of their situations towards new jobs or new homes. Despite being difficult at times to balance, it was encouraging to see people in the community moving on to bigger and better things.

Overall, I found myself, along with my team, caught in a wave of discontinuity the entire summer. However, I was completely blown away by the steadfastness of Jesus amidst this all. He presented himself in ways that I was not expecting. The unexpected turns were in fact incredible blessings in which He proved to me time and time again that despite this discontinuity, we are met by His faithfulness.

Each week I was pointed to John 16:33 — “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (ESV).

I would not be quick to define the turns of my summer to be that of “tribulation”. That would be silly. But they were things that threw me away from “peace” at times. I found myself pushing for the rest and the sanctuary of a smooth time in Los Angeles, but was quickly met with a different will. A will that I did not want to occur, that I often held animosity towards. The Gospel was played out the most at these times and I was drawn to this piece of Scripture because the Gospel plays itself out so simply! Jesus did overcome the world and I am caught in His net of grace as I try to swim crazily away from His will. Because His will is to simply capture our hearts in that net of grace, to help us know that He is God and whatever situations that are set before us that may be frustrating — He remains the same.

I was beginning to understand this message in small pieces, but I was wondering how I would play into His will for the summer rather than my own. Simply being a part of His story and not my own.

We attended a local church called Reality LA for a good portion of the summer. The sermon series they dove into while we went each week was centered on God’s Kingdom plan. One week the pastor was in the Word in Acts 1. It says in verses 7 and 8 “…’It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…’” (ESV).

It has not always been easy for me to submit — to trust God’s will for my life instead of my own. Seeing the consistency of God amidst my broken perspective was really humbling. The thing is that we are told in this Scripture that “it is not for you to know” the will of God that He has “fixed by his own authority”. This is not to say that God’s call in our lives is nonexistent. He tells us that the “power” to know these things will be sent by His Spirit. As I meandered through these twists and turns I began to realize that the way to be led and guided was not by my own will, but by His in the Spirit! Once I began to play into this narrative I could see the ways God wanted to use me. I let the Spirit reign in the moments.

The Kingdom vision of God is not one that lives in the focus of the discontinuous. It lives within the assurance of Jesus and the guidance of the Spirit, knowing that the Father has created the Kingdom so that He can catch His people in that net of grace.

I hope and pray that Jesus speaks to anyone reading this. I look forward to speaking to people about the LA community in the coming weeks.

Peace and blessings!