OCSP Update 4: Firsts.

Greetings, folks!

Sorry it’s taken so long to update you again. So many things have happened–these last few weeks are completely packed full of activities. I’m currently two days away from finishing project, and so the updates you receive after this one will be reflections on my last few weeks on project, written from my comfy bed at home. It’s weird that these are my last days here, but while I’ve been here in Ocean City, I’ve also experienced a lot of new things for the first time, so today, I’m going to talk about some of them.

Amy and I praying before I get baptized in the ocean!
Amy and I praying before I get baptized in the ocean!

1. Baptism. On Sunday, July 21st, 2013 at 1:30 p.m., my parents, fellow project students and I walked to the 13th Street beach. All of them laid hands on me and prayed for me and my walk with the Lord. Then my discipler, Amy, walked me into the freezing-cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, praying for me again, saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and dipping me backwards into the water. I was baptized!! Okay…now I realize that technically this isn’t my first time being baptized. I was baptized at Ward Church when I was a baby. But I would say that this was the first one that actually meant what it was supposed to mean. Let me explain for those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular Christian tradition—baptism is the public and symbolic declaration of the inward transformation that occurs after you put your faith in Christ. In the Protestant tradition, usually what this looks like is someone being submerged in a body of water, which symbolizes the washing away of our sins that occurred when Christ died on the cross. It is an act that says “I publically and openly identify as a Christian and as a member of the Church,” (and by “Church” I mean the body of believers). Baptizing does not cause faith or heart change or eternal salvation. Instead it is an act of obedience that occurs after heart change has already taken place, which is why I don’t think my infant baptism counts. No heart change had occurred because of Christ. I hadn’t even made a decision to put faith in Him yet. But this time, it was definitely real, and I’m so glad my parents and friends, the people who have influenced me in my walk with God most, were there to witness it. Yay God :)

2. Trips to the city. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to go to New York once and Philly twice. First I went to Philly with my parents right after my baptism.

Me and my mom and stepdad in Philly.
Me and my mom and stepdad in Philly.

That was a really fun trip—I missed them a lot and we got to do some really fun touristy stuff while we were there. I think the highlight of the day was seeing this gorgeous church called the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul—it was so elaborate and beautiful inside—and also going to dinner at a restaurant called The City Tavern, a tavern that’s been around since 1773. It was frequented by George Washington when it first started up. Talk about historical heritage! All the wait-staff inside wore 18th-century garb and the menu was from that era, too! It was so campy and awesome.

While I was in New York on July 23rd, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful half-hour breakfast with my best friend from home, Harleen, who is interning there with the Sikh Coalition. She is such a blessing to me and I pray for her often. I hadn’t seen her in months, so even though our time together was short, it was wonderful seeing her. That day, I got to ride on the Staten Island Ferry, go into Trinity Church, navigate the subway system by myself into Chinatown, eat New York-style pizza, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and sign my name on it, have quiet time in Central Park, explore the American Museum of Natural History, and talk for hours with my friends on the car ride home, in which we almost got lost twice and took twice as long as it should have. I think I definitely realized a lot of my struggles with desiring control that day–getting lost makes me really stressed out, and often I take out my stress on others in the form of being short with people and getting frustrated instead of bringing my anxieties to the Lord. But they showed me a lot of grace, for which I am thankful.

The second time I went to Philly was August 5th. I went with a group of seemingly random people, my friends Tedd and Greta. None of us knew each other too well, but the trip was definitely one of the highlights of project for me! We got to tour Independence Hall, see the Liberty Bell, eat Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, see the National Liberty Museum, explore Chinatown, and take lots and lots of pictures with our pet foil ball, Leonardo. But best of all, we got to talk a lot to each other and get to know each other really well, talking about how God has worked in us on project and how we’re going to take what we’ve learned back to campus. I think God definitely blessed me with some much-needed close fellowship that day. That brings me to my next point.

3. Loneliness and exhaustion. They say that project is an extrovert’s heaven. For the first few weeks, it was really fun hanging out with everyone all the time. Talking to people and being around them normally gives me energy and helps me to experience and learn about God. I was especially excited for the deep relationships that I would get to create as a Middle Action Group leader. But during Keeping the Pace week (this sixth week refocused on evangelism and maintaining our growth from previous weeks) was when I began to feel an intense, inexplicable sense of loneliness. Maybe it was because I hadn’t found my best friend on project like I had expected. Maybe it was because I wasn’t getting as close to my roommates as I wanted. Maybe it was because I had tried to get to know everyone, and as a result had only surface relationships with a lot of people instead of close relationships with a few. I couldn’t figure it out. I hadn’t really felt that way before, especially around my fellow believers, who are so welcoming and the kindest, most genuine and loving people I’ve ever met. This loneliness combined with my intense new schedule of Bible studies and discipleship and work and meetings made me feel extremely exhausted. I felt I was constantly pouring into people and being vulnerable with them, but didn’t feel like I was being poured into or pursued for real friendship. I felt a lot of anxiety, comparison, envy of others’ close friendships, and an insatiable desire for affection from others. During this time, my quiet times and prayer life became spiritually dry and dropped to a minimum. I did not enjoy being around God or seek Him out because I was so afraid I would miss out on relationships with people here. I did not feel loved by God, and even though I knew we’re not supposed to rely on our feelings when it comes to knowing who God is, I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t experiencing His love.  It was a really tough period, and I ended up having my first Project emotional breakdown in the middle of the week, wondering what was the point of knowing He loved me if I couldn’t feel it?

Finally, I had an epiphany. What I wanted was to feel love. I wanted people to pursue me, to talk to me, to care about me, to want to spend time with me. But what about my relationship with God? Had I talked to Him lately, or pursued Him? Had I cared about Him, wanted to spend time with Him? No! I was a hypocrite for desiring these things from others and from God when I couldn’t even give these things to the One who deserves my attention and affection most. I constantly desire love from God, but refuse to give it. No wonder I didn’t feel intimate with Him–relational intimacy is a choice! It requires the participation of both parties for it to work. Because I had not been loving God as He deserves, I didn’t spend time with Him, and because I didn’t spend time with Him, I felt burnt out and lonely, so I sought satisfaction in other people. But other people can’t give me what Christ can give me–they can’t satisfy my desire for love. So I would feel lonely, and retreat further. It’s a vicious cycle. So, then, the root question became why don’t I love or desire God above everything else as He deserves? It’s because in my heart, I don’t have a right view of God or myself. I believe that I am great and God is not. I idolize my relationships with others, forgetting that I cannot have good relationships if I neglect the most important relationship in my life–the one with my Father. So what am I to do? I must correct my view of God.  As the Apostle John wrote, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV). I learned that when I love God the way He deserves, the more I realize His love for me through others and the more I am able to love other people well.

4. Meeting a missionary. The week after Keeping the Pace Week was called “Rescued Rescuers.” This week focused on world missions again, and it was a lot of fun. We practiced different cultural traditions every day, including not wearing shoes inside the Inn, using no silverware, sitting on the ground to eat, going without power for a day, bowing to each other when we passed. While we did this, we prayed that laborers would be sent to evangelize to the people groups who practice these traditions. We also had Christmas in July that week, which was a lot of fun. But by far my favorite part of the week was a talk given by a guest speaker on Friday night. This man, Mike, and his wife, Su, worked with college ministries well into their 50s, when in 2009 Mike suddenly felt convicted by the Lord to go to northern India and spread the Gospel there. So they packed up and sold literally everything they had, and moved across the world to start their own mission organization, R.U.N. Global. And not only that, but Mike was persecuted for his faith–he was thrown into a jail for two months. While he was there, he continued to minister to his prison inmates and guards, leading many to Christ. Though he was kicked out of the country, he continues to use other means to minister to the people there. And his words about it to us? “It’s nothing, ladies and gents. It’s not a big deal. Christ is so much bigger than any trial I’ll ever face.”  I asked them what was the hardest part about their work there, and they said the heat. Not jail. Not persecution. The weather. They really do count everything as loss for Christ. Today their organization has seen thousands not only led to Christ, but these people are going out and making disciples of their own! This video below, called “Tears of the Saints,”  just explains a little bit of God’s heart and their heart for the world.

When I saw this video, I was floored. My heart just broke for the conditions in which these men, women and children lived, the fact that most of them have never even heard of Jesus. Their smiling, eager faces made me tear up, and I felt a conviction in my heart to hop on a plane to India right then and there. Mike and Su were so sweet and loved talking to me about what’s been happening there and how hungry the people are to hear the Gospel. I think I grew up thinking that people of other religions or viewpoints didn’t really want to hear what I believed, but sharing on the boardwalk and talking to missionaries this summer has shown me just how false that is.  Whether they realize it or not, people want to know who Jesus is. Often, especially in America, people will say they already know who Jesus is and don’t desire to know more, but what I’ve seen is that most of time, these people’s ideas of Jesus are so tragically thwarted. The real, authentic Jesus who isn’t poisoned by the bigotry of legalistic, judgmental church members or watered down by the seduction of the lukewarm Christian-American Dream is someone whom the people want and someone whom the people desperately need.

This is a photo from one of the missionary's email updates of children hearing Bible stories for the first time. How could you not want to hop on a plane. Look at those adorable faces!
This is a photo from one of Mike’s email updates of children hearing Bible stories for the first time. How could you not want to hop on a plane. Look at those adorable faces, each made in His image!

But in other places, like in Northern India, many people don’t have these misconceptions because they don’t have conceptions in the first place. They’ve never heard of Jesus. But people like Mike and Su are changing that, and in doing so, bringing glory to God (see http://www.run-global.org/default.html for more info). It’s so exciting, and definitely something in which I want to participate in the future. In fact, I got so excited that I started talking to my friend Amy (in my outside-voice, of course. Or maybe that’s my regular voice…whoops) about how cool world missions to India were and didn’t stop talking to her for twenty minutes, all the way from the church through the McDonald’s drive-through and back to the Inn. Good thing I don’t have a passport or I would have found myself on a plane. Someday. Someday…

So, as I wrap project up and send out my last one or two updates, here are some ways you can be praying for me:

–Pray that God will give me courage and boldness to talk to family and friends about what God has done in me this summer

–Pray that my growth will not stagnate once I come home, that I will cling to the Lord more than ever

–Pray that I will not feel lonely, especially since my Christian community will be minimal

–Pray that I will not let the things of this world (a.k.a. money, school, relationships, free time, reputation, etc.) make me too busy to make God a priority

–Pray for my friend Cierra (more about her later–so many great things happening in her), that she would seek after the Lord in hard times and find her worth solely in Christ

–Pray that all the other students who have left Project will continue to seek after the Lord, grow in Him, and share Him on their campuses and in their hometowns

I love you all.

In His Name,

Erin

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