I spent this past weekend in Columbus at the Rosedale International Center welcoming the REACH teams home from their six months of outreach all over the world. There is something incredibly beautiful about a body of believers coming together after serving and sharing their experiences; the grand and not so grand; the overwhelmingly joyful and painfully disappointing. I was in their shoes two years ago and even I am still in the thick of processing and healing from my outreach.
The joy of my past year of internship at the RIC came to its crescendo as the work of the Lord revealed itself so evidently through each team and individual. True, they saw and did marvelous and wonderful things, but more marvelous than that is how they became more dependent and in love with the Father's heart. A small display of that growth is found in a blog by team leader Julie from the Zambia team:
"The theme for my week was dance. Lately I’ve been living out of perseverance, and out of my narrow view of what it means to be content. As more time passes and my heart longs for home, after being away for almost two years, I go into survival mode, simply going through the motions, forgetting to embrace every aspect of life as God intended. Satan whispers lies, “don’t get too close, you’re just going to leave,” and “you can’t speak the language or understand the culture, what’s the point in trying,” even, “don’t get emotionally attached.” God reminded me that these words are lies and he showed me truth. He said, “Julie I want you to dance with me this week.” I know this sounds cheesy but it’s a good metaphor. As we drove through the villages on Tuesday, I could see Jesus running alongside the children, sitting with the men and women, talking and laughing, dancing his way through life, delighting in the people of Zambia, showing them his great love. This sparked the motivation in me to live out of that same joy, delighting in the people that I meet. I wanted to see life as a dance with Jesus, connected to emotion, not a solo performance with Jesus in the audience deciding what my score is. As we danced through the week, the thoughts of simply surviving life began to slide off.
Tuesday and Wednesday, I moved with joy in my soles and in my soul, remembering that I’m dancing with Jesus in every moment. Nothing out of the ordinary happened but the ordinary didn’t seem mundane, I saw the beauty in the smiles of my neighbors as God continued to tell me his love for those around me.
Thursday, I began processing some harder emotions and situations, asking God what it looks like to dance in disappointment. He simply said, “follow my lead,” we danced slower as we navigated heavier emotions and thoughts.
Friday, we actually danced. Sarah and I went to visit some women from our Bible study in the village, taking snacks to share. After some time of eating and exchanging what few greetings we knew in each other’s languages, they said, “let’s dance.” The speakers were brought out and we had ourselves a party at 3 in the afternoon. We celebrated each other, laughed, and danced.
…And you may not need to see life as a dance with Jesus if that’s not your style, but intentionality in our thought life is important. Are we simply going through the motions, simply doing the things we think we “should” be doing? Are we living out of obligation and rules or out of our love for Jesus, out of the joy he sets in our hearts? As my high school English teacher would say, let’s metacognate (metacognition), let’s think about our thinking. Are we conscious of the thoughts that come into our minds or are we simply checking things off a to-do list, walking through life unaffected?
Life is so much more when our eyes are open to what God wants to show us – to who God wants us to connect with. Sometimes it will break our hearts but I’m learning that it will also make us feel alive, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take. So here I am, allowing myself to feel the highs and lows of life and choosing to believe the truth that God is good, constant, and loving."
I'm the kind of person that is deeply moved by the image of dancing with God through life, although I know not everyone connects to that as easily. But I share this story because the truth is that everyone needs God's help navigating events and emotions that accompany our lives.
We may not be traveling through dusty village roads of Zambia, but we are walking among people who God loves and delights in, and He is at work. Our neighbors and coworkers and servers are treasures of the Lord.
We all experience the disappointment of a broken world and shoving that hurt down or trying to overcome it on our own may bring a temporary fix, but we won't receive the redeeming and freeing grace of God without letting Him into our pain.
Joy is for every person, every day, despite circumstances. We would do well to have it punctuate our interactions, our relationships, and our worship. The Father invites us into unconditional, abundant joy.
Please keep the REACH teams in your prayers as they finish up a time of re-entry and transition back home with family and friends. I am so thankful that no matter how they're feeling about their time on outreach, God doesn't just say "it is what it is", but He continues to reveal deeper and deeper into His purposes and uses it all to prepare them for whatever may come next. He cares about their feelings coming home, the highs and lows, and wants to lead them in a dance of trusting and clinging to Him.
Let's welcome Him into our every day as we live in celebration of life with such a gracious and kind Friend.
- Paige Sommers