It is often difficult to truly understand the significance of something until it can be seen as a whole, observed from without. Rosa Parks could never have anticipated that her refusal to comply with the arbitrary command of Jame’s Blake, her bus driver, to give up her seat for a white passenger would maker her an international icon for the greatest movement in American history. Or imagine if the the barely teenage Anne Frank, who merely scribbled in her diary reflections about her family’s courageous attempts to offer refuge for Jews during the German occupation of the Netherlands, could have known that this diary would eventually be published and find its way into the houses of over 31 million people across the world. Or consider the twelve guys sitting around the dinner table, who, while passing around bread and wine that their leader enigmatically declared was his own body and blood, were unwittingly enacting the most reenacted event in the history of the world. In each case we read stories of people who are not plotting to change the course of history; they are simply exhibiting a choice to be courageous in the moment, to have faith in the moment, to trust and obey in the moment. However, it is the case in God’s world that courage, faith, obedience and trust in the moment can truly change the course of history.
Perhaps on a smaller scale–perhaps not–it has taken a few days of being removed from our time at the camp to begin to see its significance. There were indeed moments of great significance that were readily identifiable when they happened–over 3/4 of our kids going to the altar for prayer on Wednesday night, two of our kids spontaneously sharing their testimonies in front of 400 people of what God had done in their lives over the week, and one of our kids who comes from another religious background share that she was “beginning to believe in Jesus”–but God seemed to be working in other ways, more subtle ways, as well.
One of the girls who shared a testimony the last night said that over the course of the camp she really believed she discovered a new family. This was a sweet thing to say, but it wasn’t necessarily profound. It wasn’t one of those dramatic conversion or deliverance or healing stories we love to hear. And yet, as I reflected on the week, I was continually taken back to what she said. Looking at the week through this lens, I noticed how peculiar it was that a group of 21 high schoolers, usually very partisaned in their friendships, met together at the same place during every free moment just to hang out…and to do so with their ‘old’ youth pastor and his wife and baby. This was neither planned nor mandatory. It was the kind of thing that happens only when people actually enjoy one another, especially when there was so many other things to do, people to see. I also reflected on the way in which the kids had gone up for prayer on Weds. night–they had done so in groups, arms around each other’s necks, kneeling with and praying for one another. And the ones who didn’t go to the altar took the same posture in their seats, praying for, hugging, crying with one another. This theme–the theme of unity, of oneness, of family–now seemed to bind together the week with new meaning. A week of otherwise good but disjointed events began to look quite different, quite intentional, especially when I began to consider what God may have been up to, what God’s plans had been for our time there.
Surely the girl who shared wasn’t aware of how deeply theological her experience was, how it indicated a fulfillment of the majority of the New Testament’s applicational material, how it indicated the answer to Jesus’ final prayer uttered in the presence of his disciples: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn. 17:21). Surely she wasn’t aware of how our group’s willingness to operate in love, to be gathered together as a family, to become one in Christ was, in fact, the handiwork of the same One who gathered together the seas, raised the mountains, and raises the dead.
Could it be that our group’s willingness to love in the moment could change the course of history? The Church, generally speaking, rightly has an enormous emphasis on global evangelism, on the Great Commission. This [hopefully!] informs everything we do. In fact, one of the core values of the C&MA is that “Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple.” And with that, I wholeheartedly agree. But isn’t it interesting that in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, he connects the unity of believers (that they may all be one) with evangelism (so that the world may believe that you have sent me). What does unity have to do with witness? It was while preparing for this past Sunday’s sermon on Philippians, on a text where Paul prays that the Church’s love may abound more and more until the day of Christ, that everything began to come together. It finally dawned on me that the good work God had begun in our kids during the camp was not just a fleeting and insignificant experience. It was, rather, a central part of God’s plan for his Church and its age-old mission, to bind us all together as a family, as one, yes for our sake but also for the sake of the world, because there is nothing more attractive to people in search for belonging than to see a community bound together in love. Evangelism requires us to be mobilized as a community who bears witness to Christ, but this can only be done successfully as a community established in love. None of us want our children to be invited into a dysfunctional family’s household, a household characterized by broken relationships and broken hearts; how much more is our Father concerned that his household be a place of restored relationship and healed hearts, a place where the world would observe the oneness of the Church family and thereby come to believe in the One who was sent to establish that family?
What began as a lot of tedious planning, which turned into a nice experience at a camp, which turned into one girl’s testimony, which turned into one guy’s reflection, is now turning into a defining prayer for the FAC Youth. It is heavy on my heart to pray for our kids that they may be one, bound together in Christ to the Father on the basis of love, so that they may become a great witness to the teenage community in central Kentucky; and that every teenager who comes in contact with our group would experience the healing and restorative presence of the One around whom we gather, and so be attracted to Him and to his family. Our week at Doe River Gorge showed me that God has already begun to answer this prayer in and among our group, which should be no surprise since John 17 reveals that he was the One who prayed it for us in the first place, indeed, for the entire the family of God. And if it’s God answering God’s own prayer, should we not expect that it will change the course of history?