"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." Romans 12:15
Two weeks ago I did my first worship service of the summer. Our director, Brandon, has been hitting the drum of laments for a few years and we've made some small steps in implementing times for our students to lament rather than celebrate. Not every student is happy every week, and while it is a joy to be able to be with our brothers and sisters, it doesn't always nullify the pain of life. So I planned a worship service that was what I consider "lament-lite", not a full night of lamenting, but a window of time set aside for those with laments to share and open up. I told them that it's OK to not be OK, that life has pain and God has not promised us an easy life, but He has promised that He will always be there. It's a refrain that I've repeated many different ways over the past few years, and yet many of us Christians, myself included, need to be reminded that it's OK to not be OK. After the service, I had a girl in our ministry come and give me a hug saying that that message had really helped her give up some burdensome thoughts that had no value but that she had insisted in wallowing in for some time. Another texted me the next day expressing appreciation for letting her not be OK. Many of our staff mentioned that students shared with them vulnerable stories and they were able to pray with them and minister to them. This is all to say, it is OK for you to not be OK as well. If there is ever anything that you need to talk about, I may not be the first on your list, but I want to be on your list. There have been times when I thought I had no one to talk to, and it is a difficult and lonely existence. As we enter our second-to-last Summer FOCUS meeting, we are planning an entire night to laments, to "mourn with those who mourn". Please pray for openness in our students, for revival in them, for deeper relationships with each other and with God.
One of my good friends from UNT, Ismael has a great testimony regarding the real relationships that occur in our ministry (he's also a great drummer!):
"Growing up, I knew there was a God, but I viewed church as a place for people who were “good”, and I did not fit the bill. As a result, I was guarded in my friendships and viewed vulnerability with people as a weakness. Entering college, I suffered from severe depression because of the college drinking culture and a very unhealthy relationship, which ultimately led me to taking a year off of school. During that year I decided to work at a penitentiary to make ends meet. In prison, you fight for respect daily and often look behind your back in case you’d stepped on someone's toes and forgot. This is true for both for the inmates and the officers. As an officer, I learned a lot about the harsh reality of life but I also learned about the consistent presence of God. Once I went into a dorm full of inmates and had to settle down an altercation. One of the inmates said to me, 'This is our home, and you only leave at the end of the day because we let you.' At nineteen years old I had seen and felt pain that most people my age would not experience for a long time, if ever. Those experiences only brought me closer to God. During that year one of my peers and friends from FOCUS, Kurt Doty, never lost touch with me and checked up on me regularly. I find it funny that when I had real questions to ask about faith and religion, God provided me a friend who could help me. God has always met me where I was, and although I could not see it until I started searching, I think the patience in the people God has blessed me with has truly exhibited what the Church is meant to be."
It's because of you that I get to have these stories and get to witness God's very real work in the lives of these students. It is a privilege to have your trust and to be working for our great God. Thank you so much for all your support!