When the alarm went off on day 6, we all felt pretty rested when we woke up. We didn’t have to be up too early, which was super nice. We gathered all our shower stuff and headed to the YMCA to workout and shower and get ready for church. Bogle and I ran down to a golf course and it was nothing short of beautiful in the warm California weather! Once showered, we headed back to the church. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the service! The mission trip I had been on before started on a Saturday, so we attended church early in the trip.
However, with getting to San Diego on a Tuesday, we didn’t have that as our start to the week. It was unique that we had done work for and with the church all week, and didn’t get to experience a church service until the end. I believe this was all God’s timing because it was the perfect wrap up of our week. When we first sat down, we were greeted by friendly faces of all different shapes, sizes, colors, and age. The church congregation was so diverse, but felt like the most close knit family I have ever felt upon entering a church. The church service started off with a welcome period. This is a time to go around and say hi to those around you and introduce yourself. However, New Vision does it a little differently… their welcome time lasts around 10 minutes, and you immediately just saw everyone getting up out of their seats and instead of staying where they were, they all started to move around the whole church and begin to say hi to everyone in the congregation.
This is so unique because I had never been to a church that takes such time and dedication when it comes to relationships within the church. It was so welcoming to go around and share a hug or handshake and just see the joy in people’s eyes as they welcomed you. When we sat back down, the band started to worship and we all joined in. It was so cool to see the hunger that these people had for the Lord. How a community worships says a lot about a church… it is a reflection of the hope and joy that the pastors instill in the community, and it shows the testimony of the congregation. Every single person is welcome and loved on when they enter into New Vision church. To know that some of these people don’t come from much, slept out on the street last night, or lost everything they once had, and to see them worship the way they do really helped me grasp the essence of God a little more. He is a God of joy, hope and peace and not because He fixes all our situations and gives us everything we ask for, but because He is peace, He gives hope, and He is joy. The struggles given to us, when looked at from a worldly perspective, might knock us down and look like we are in a dark hole. But when looked upon these situations as God tells us to, we see struggle that produces perseverance and maturity in our faith so that we can grow closer to the one who made us.
The sermon itself was all so moving to each of us. It’s funny how God uses those around us to let us know that He sees us and sent us here for a reason. Most of the points that the pastor preached related back to our week in a significant way. One of the things he talked about was using fearful moments to draw us near to him. He draws us out of comfortability because that’s when we rely fully on Him. We all experienced this one way or another this week – weather it was a situation when we felt unsafe while serving in the city, or sharing our testimonies in front of the group, we all saw how God uses us when we fully submit to Him and relying on Him is what brings us comfort, and not staying in a safe space. Another prominent message I gathered through the week is that Jesus came for the marginalized and the outcasts, and he was born into poverty. He loved these people and showed them a better life and lived out that message so that we could have an example of how to take care of those who are in need. After the sermon, we all took communion as a church.
When service was over, we went to the room next door and shared lunch with those who stayed. Chase and I sat next to a lady and her husband, and I barley touched my food because I was so immersed in her story. As she was talking I felt like I was witnessing a real life story that plays out in Mark 12:41-44. Jesus witnessed this lady giving out of poverty, and giving her last cent. He took notice of this and how she gave everything she had. This woman’s story was so inspiring because she had survived so much sickness and struggle during her lifetime. However, she explained all the ways that the Lord showed to her His goodness and His promises over her life. She has such a generous heart that gave to those around her in the same struggle of homelessness.
After lunch, we were able able to meet another lady that was part of the church who had an redemptive story. This lady’s name was Anna, and you would have never known that she came from a life of living on the street and drug use. She was so beautiful and was dressed in such fashionable clothes. She started telling her story, and we soon learned the difficulties that she has faced thus far in her life. She ended up on one of the most crime ridden streets in America, selling drugs and using them. She didn’t have an easy childhood since she came from Ethiopia and had to fit and figure out American culture. She started looking to drugs to help some of this pain, and eventually ended up leaving her children because she felt they were better off without her.
One day when she was outside on the street, a white van came up and everyone fled the scene because they thought it was the police. Anna stayed. It was people from a local congregation going around and talking and praying with these people on Skid Row. This was one of the first callings to the Lord that she experienced. They prayed with her and talked with her and left. She was intrigued, but not changed yet. The next week, the same van showed up and the same thing happened. She was so excited to see these people and knew there was something special about them. The third or fourth time they showed up, they did the same thing, and got to know each other a little bit more. A 13 year old part of the church asked her if she had any kids, and she said yes. The little girl said, “don’t you think they miss you? If I knew my mom was out here I would be sad.” This completely broke Anna and was the turning point in her story. That day, she accepted Jesus into her life as Lord and Savior, and checked herself into a rehab facility. She felt the weight on her shoulders all of a sudden be lifted off, and knew her kids needed her. She ended the story encouraging us that our work this week was shifting things in people’s hearts weather we could see the fruition or not- mostly not. The seeds planted have a great Gardner and His name is Jesus and He has the power to change lives.
After church, we headed out to Balboa Park, which is where the San Diego Zoo is located. We, unfortunately, did not have time to go to the zoo, but we did have time to play some water bottle football. It was really refreshing to be able to get some free time and just spend time with one another. We walked around this area afterwards and birded around like the cool cats we are. After, we went back and had a devotion and then walked to get ice cream near the church.
Some of us had a late night this night immersed in conversation about God and His nature and questions that we have. This was such a life-giving conversation and it is so comforting to know that we serve a God who encourages us to ask these questions so that when we seek with our whole hearts, we will find him.