Saturday, May 28, 2011

Time in Sweet Caroline (South, that is...)

Hello friends!  After a couple of weeks in Charleston, I decided it was time to write about it and give you a peek at some of what I've been doing, the sights I've been seeing, the people who are quickly becoming my family while I'm here, and the FUN we've been having! 

I really like Charleston.  I love old, historic areas in general, and Charleston definitely exceeds my hopes and expectations.  One of my faovrite things about the city is that people bike all the time.  I brought my bicycle and have been exploring the city - bouncing down cobblestone streets, making note of all of the quaint locally owned coffee shops, enjoying parks, and taking in the scenery along the river.  I have also found a great running route right along the river, complete with great views and a nice breeze the whole way!
Don't you wish you could look a this on your morning run? 

The first week here was spent with just the staff team (which is pretty much an all-star team, if I can just make that quick judgment - we seriously have an amazing staff team and I'm so blessed to work with such great people!)  We had lots of meetings, spent lots of really good intentional time getting to know each other deeply, and also just hung out and had fun together.  A strongly bonded staff team is a really important aspect of a healthy and great summer project. 
One day, we went on a historic boat tour! We learned all sorts of things about the history of Charleston, got to be out on the water, and just enjoyed the river together.  This photo of the famous Cooper River Bridge was taken from the boat.  Charlestonians are really proud of this bridge for some reason.

One thing I have really appreciated about working for Cru is that the organization as a whole really values the overall health of its staff.  We are encouraged to take time for ourselves, take care of our bodies, and do what we need to do to stay healthy in all areas of life - physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  One way that they really care for our spiritual health is by scheduling a "Day with the Lord" once a month in which we take a whole day to just be alone with God.  No phone calls, students aren't allowed to call us unless there's an emergency, and we just rest and delight in the Lord.  On project we also have time scheduled into our week - both for the staff and the students - for time alone with the Lord. 
Sunday afternoon I spent my time with the Lord in this park.  It was lovely.

My new favorite park.  Next time I'm bringing my hammock!
My favorite term is "on the project."  Translated - something fun that was planned for and budgeted into our project cost from the beginning; a.k.a. - we get to do it for free!  One of these lovely events was a minor league baseball game that we went to as a staff team.  Much fun was had by all!

Some of my coworkers - Aaron, Pete, and Sarah - at the baseball game. Sarah is also my roommate for the summer.  She is great.  
In case you though Cru staff people are past their prime and are really boring and no fun at all, I have proof that we can be as crazy as our students!  Once the students arrived, we planned a scavenger hunt for them in downtown Charleston so that they could become familiar with the city.  They got bonus points for finding staff members at some key locations.  I don't think they expected us to disguise ourselves quite as well as some staff did...

Pete and Chad's attempt at thwarting students from finding them.  It worked pretty well.  Also, Chad (on the right) is our project director, a.k.a. - my boss.  Don't you wish he was your boss too?

We really like working together!
So now that students are here, we've been doing a lot of orientation and training for them this week, but in the next few days they'll get into their work schedules and routines, and project will begin to get a steady pace, which we're all pretty excited about.  Today is a day packed full.  We just finished evangelism training, and we're about to head to the beach this afternoon to put that training to use as the students do some initiative evangelism.  Then we have a smoothie night this evening.  It should be a great day.  I'll let you know how the outreach went in the next couple of days! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Looking Back, Building Altars

I read the blog of a friend a few weeks ago who spoke about altars, and it has been resonating with me ever since.  The Old Testament is full of God commanding His people to build altars.  We usually just read those parts quickly, thinking it was some weird Ancient Near Eastern cultural thing that isn't really relevant to us anymore. But this friend pointed out how the Lord isn't really interested in a pile of rocks; the reason He commanded His people to build altars was so that they would remember. The word "memorial" is even often used in these altar-building commands of His.  He knows us initmaely.  He knows how limited our vision is, how we forget so easily the ways He has cared for us, providing for our every need; and go straight into panic mode every time an obstacle comes across our path. 

So He tells His people to build altars - physical monuments to what He has done, how He has worked, the truth that He is for us, not against us.

As the students are taking exams, and the our time on campus is wrapping up until August, I want to take a moment and build some altars - worshipping the Lord for what He has done this year, and remembering the ways that He has worked.  This will in no way be a comprehensive list (He's done a lot this year!), but there are certain sweet moments that I have kept coming back to this week, and I want to share them with you. 

The spring semester has been a really incredible time of watching my Bible Study girls grow in their understanding of the gospel. I literally watched them grow in new ways every week.  Most of them grew up in Christian families, but they began to learn how the truth of the gospel - that we are saved by grace alone through Jesus's sacrifice - is more than the moment they decided to follow Christ, but the thing that defines their acceptance, their righteousness, their position before the Father each and every day.  They learned to plead the blood of Christ as their righteousness regardless of how "good" they thought they were being as Christians.  They began to really walk in the freedom that the gospel brings, and it is a beautiful sight. 

In February, I was struggling with how to confront one of the girls that I disciple about a sinful attitude that I saw in her.  I wanted to speak truth, but gently, because it was tied up in her own view of herself as less than who she really is in the eyes of our Father.  But before I had a talk with her, she came to me, asked to talk, and said that the Lord had convicted her of the very thing that I was going to confront her about.  And He gave her much more insight into the issue than I would have been able to!  Praise Him for working in hearts and preparing the way before me.  And I am so thankful for girls who are listening to the Holy Spirit as He reveals truth, and are willing to submit to His discipline!  What a blessing. 

I was training some of my girls to use one of Campus Crusade's evangelism tools on campus a couple of weeks ago, when we ran across a student organization that was hosting an event outside in the amphitheatre. It was a progressive students movement, representing different causes ranging from how to live in a more communal, socialist type society, feminism, a woman's right to choose, etc. They were holding a "Really Free Market," which basically means that everyone showed up with something to offer for free.  Some people brought clothing, some gave free manicures, some offered baked goods, some gave information about certain causes, etc. The girl that I was with said, "well, we have something to offer that is free!"  So we sat down, made a sign that said "Free Conversation," and proceeded to discuss questions like, "What would you like your life to be like right now?"  "What best describes your view of God?"  "What does your spiritual journey look like, and where do you want it to be headed?" In a group of people who were mostly agnostic and atheist, and generally had very negative views of Christianity, we were able to engage in honest and open conversation about God and life and spirituality.  They appreciated our time and the conversation, genuinely thanking us, and inviting us to come back to the next "Really Free Market," even making sure we knew the time and place!  I pray that the Lord uses that positive interaction to make them a little more open to Him and hearing the gospel in the future.

One of my girls admitted that she was terrified the whole time she was doing evangelism for the first time, and knows that she will be again, but still asked me to give her materials before the semester ends so that she can use them to share with people at the pool this summer.  This is the attitude toward and heart for evangelism that we have been praying for our students to have (and it is what I continue to pray for myself as well - she's right, it can be scary!) 

These are only a few of the ways He has been working this year, but it just amazes me every time I think about it.  He is working in the lives of our students.  He is instilling in them a heart for evangelism, and building them up as gospel-centered believers, rooted and grounded in His love, knowledgeable in the Word, and walking in His Spirit.  He is showing me that He is bigger than my successes or failures as a campus minister, and delights to use me in spite of me.  It has been an incredible year, and I can't wait to see how He works in the lives of students in Charleston this summer!