Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Drive-thru Christianity

AN ALREADY FRENZIED ER JUST FLIPPED INTO OVERDRIVE. HAVING JUST celebrated her forty-sixth birthday two days earlier, Patricia Kane now lies motionless, attached to the racing, four-wheeled gurney.

Cardiac caregivers, such as registered nurse Sarah Mills, treat heart attacks daily. The process calls her to stay cool, disconnected, professional. Almost robotic, she weaves the gurney through the hall. The hard part comes when—if—she has to tell the family.

Speaking of the family, entrenched in the sterile, pallid waiting room, Philip Kane and his three teenagers fidget anxiously in the rigid, hard-backed chairs. As life and death joust for supremacy, they do the only thing they possibly can: they wait.

Back in the ER Dr. Charles Randall, a seasoned cardiologist, tears into room 5. Mask strapped tight, EKG results in hand, Randall takes one look at the ailing patient before slowly peeling off his mask.

“Mrs. Kane,” the doctor whispers in a surprisingly stern tone, “I’m going to have to ask you to remove your earrings before we can do anything about this heart attack.”

Absurd. Right?

I don’t know. You see, in church last week I saw a pregnant 16-year-old girl slide in the back door. She wasn’t dying of a heart attack, but her spirit needed some serious CPR. And what about the scraggily fellow who walks down the middle of the aisle halfway through 
each sermon? You know the guy I’m talking about. He hasn’t shaved for weeks; his clothes are stained and torn. As he passes, you’re overpowered by the stench of body odor and cigarettes. He’s come to church for more than food, but he always leaves just as hungry.

Battered people walk through our doors daily. They’re often searching for something, anything, that will breathe life into their dying souls. Only problem is, we often deem them unworthy of life-saving treatment.

Maybe if she wasn’t pregnant. Maybe if he had some decent clothes and used Old Spice 101.

I’m not saying we’re intentionally malicious. It’s just that in today’s world of instant gratification, we get what we want when we want it. Cell phones buzz from around the world, Internet shopping takes us all to Fifth Avenue, and drive-thru restaurants churn out chow like there’s a rush or something.

Unfortunately—and I’m as guilty as anyone—we want our Christians the same way: Instant. Faultless. Clean. Perfect. Whether we mean to or not, through our words, actions, or indifference this is the message we often send—a stark contrast to the model we’ve been given.

It was a beautiful Sabbath in Jerusalem. As the sun collided with the morning dew, it seemed to cast a radiant light on each of the disciples’ faces as they strolled through the city. Then again, thought Peter, it could just be the presence of the Master. Everything glows when He’s around.

Peter soon realized he was walking alone. Glancing back, he saw Jesus and the other disciples crowded around a beggar’s mat. Knowing he was about to witness something special, Peter dashed in their direction, just in time to hear Jesus’ powerful words: “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” Peter couldn’t help smiling—seeing new life never gets old.

Later that morning, the man who had been healed came running up to Jesus, beaming from ear to ear.

“My son,” Jesus said. “Now, you are well. Go home to your family, but leave your sin behind.”

The man’s shortcomings and failures were never cause for Jesus not to accept, love, and immediately care for the man’s most pressing needs. After seeing Jesus’ power tangibly manifested in his life, the man was open to Jesus’ message. As we encounter broken people, let’s adopt the Jesus model by taking healing action before we challenge people’s appearance, lifestyle, and theology.

As any doctor knows, when a person is dying it’s time to bring them back to life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Life is like a New Softball Bat...

The other day, while at the batting cages, I had one of those "life-is-a-lot-like-softball moments."

I grew up playing baseball, but as an old man, I've been relegated to softball. For the most part, the two games are quite similar--but there are a few differences.

Most notably, the bats.

Bigger ball, wider bat right? Not so. Baseball bats are short, with a barrel that widens toward the end. Softball bats on the other hand are long and skinny, designed to connect (ideally) the sweet part of the bat with the sweet part of the ball. Got it? Good.

Metal bats are made out of aluminum, a soft metal. In softball even more than in baseball, this means that the bat has to be broken in. Yep, that's right, the more you hit with it, the more effective it becomes.

A lot like us humans, actually.

Just like you, throughout my life, I've had some pretty rocky moments. But those breakups, losses and trials have refined me as a person and helped increase the effectiveness of my witness. They've given me perspective.

If pain doesn't come today, it'll be here tomorrow. Hardships are just a part of this sinful world. But don't put yourself away. Just like a well-worn bat, the more you experience and endure, the more home runs you're going to hit.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alternate Reality

SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE I LIVE A DOUBLE LIFE. TO YOU, FAITHFUL READERS OF the Adventist Review, I’m Jimmy Phillips, columnist. However, in my other (more 3-D) life, I’m Jimmy Phillips, marketing coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital.

Rarely do the two cross over. Today, I’m making an exception.

For me, a typical day is a bit of an oxymoron. However, whether for employees, general public, or media, most of my duties center on writing. Shocking, I know. As I work to put together articles and publications, I’m often forced to venture out of my quaint marketing bungalow into the “real” hospital.

A few months back I helped executives deliver employee-of-the-month honors to a nurse in the intensive care unit. As I snapped pictures of the recipient and her cheerful colleagues, I couldn’t help absorbing the images in my peripheral vision, the kinds of images you expect to see in an ICU.

Chatting blissfully with a registration clerk, I pause as the operator’s voice bellows over the PA: “Code Blue, NICU.” In other words, a newborn has stopped breathing. We pause, then resume our conversation.

Taking a short-cut through the emergency room to interview a nursing director, I’m met by an obstacle course of gurneys and beds inhabited by patients. I’d stop to ask each if they’re OK, but I already know the answer.

The everyday realities of a hospital stand in stark contrast to the reality of my world.

In my world, a “code blue” consists of ordering 1,500 hospital manuals to be printed, and then—despite meticulous proofing—discovering we had printed an incorrect phone number. It seems bad at the time, until I deliver a stack of manuals to the ICU and remember what true pain is all about.

But that’s my job. Manage the image of the hospital and try not to get weighed down by the devastation that perpetually surrounds me.

On June 10 San Joaquin Community Hospital officially opened The Aera Clinic—the outpatient section of the first full-treatment burn center in Bakersfield.

From the neatly packaged hors d’oeuvres to glass canisters of rainbow-colored gumballs, the celebratory mood was immediately evident upon my arrival to the north side of campus. Over the next couple hours the community joined with hospital leadership to dedicate this valuable new service line. As usual, I was in the midst of it all: taking pictures, herding media, and never really soaking it all in.

As the festivities began to die down I walked into the clinic with my colleagues to check out the newly christened interior. That’s when we met Judy (not her real name).

Less than two years ago Judy was cooking in her kitchen when her hair caught fire. Her husband quickly ran in, smothering her burning body as best he could. From the waist up, Judy’s body and head were covered with third-degree burns. After multiple surgeries, her thighs are now noticeably scarred too—victims of skin grafts used to repair her torso.

But the physical pain is dwarfed by the mental obstacles she faces on a daily basis. After the accident, her husband left her. In her words, “He couldn’t look at me anymore.”
Judy rarely goes out in public. After the accident, it took her months to look at herself in the mirror. Only through her 9-year-old grandson’s insistence that she was beautiful did she finally gather the strength.

Recently, she’d heard that Bakersfield would now have its very own burn center. No longer would she have to endure the lonely two-hour train rides to Fresno to receive the treatment she deserves. That was why she came today—to say thank you.

I had the fortunate privilege to pray with Judy. Tears streaming down her face, she gave me a hug I’ll never forget—the kind filled with unforgettable, newfound hope. She also helped me to remember that no matter what my “reality,” the real reality—the people around me—should never be ignored.

And that, that’s why I—we—are here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Continuing the Conversation

WHEN A WRITER SUBMITS A PIECE FOR PUBLICATION, MOST OFTEN THE dialogue ends there. If, by happenstance, he’s blessed enough to receive reader feedback, rarely does the exchange pass that point. And that’s exactly the reason for this month’s column: I’m adding another link to the chain by responding to a few of the thoughtful letters generated by my recent cover story, “Like Water Between Our Fingers” (Feb. 19, 2009). Let’s continue the conversation.

“Instead of forming [small] groups based on commonalities, we should become more deliberate and inclusive of a broader spectrum of the church population. Too often there are not enough ‘Jimmys’ to make a young adult group for themselves, and I question whether that is the right approach anyway. We need integration. The church needs to purposely design small groups that move beyond natural lines of demarcation if we want to include Phillips and others like him.”—Susan Zork, Michigan

As I read Ms. Zork’s letter, my head bobbed up and down involuntarily. A chain reaction to not having enough young adults in the church is that the problem builds on itself as those who are there become isolated and disengaged. But Zork takes it a step further, encouraging the older generations to learn about iPhones and Facebook, texting and Twitter. To underscore her point, young adults can’t be expected to be the only group changing and conforming. Older Adventists have to step into our world, too (trust me, texting isn’t as hard as it looks).

“For young adults who try one church then another to find one that meets their needs, why don’t they try meeting the needs of the older members in the first church visited? Churches large and small need volunteers. How about coming a bit early and opening the door for the members as they enter? . . . A willingness to serve others is the first step toward belonging and building a loving relationship with the worshippers.”—Charlotte Groff, Michigan

I couldn’t agree more that such acts of service would be beneficial. There’s just one problem: the cold hard truth is that right now, young adults aren’t coming to church—period. Those who are currently in the church must take the initiative toward us; because whether it’s fair or not, most of my generation aren’t willing or ready to take the first step. It’s not about responsibility; it’s about salvation.

“Our attendance had dwindled to about 20 or 30 attendees on Sabbath—counting kids, adults, and visitors. There was even discussion of disbanding and joining one of the other churches in the area. Then at a board meeting we discussed the lack of any Sabbath school teachers for children under 18. We had four adult teachers, but no leadership for the kids. . . . We decided to get radical. All the adult teachers agreed to become teachers in the kids’ classes. We now had teachers for kindergarten, primary, juniors, and earliteens, but no adult class teachers.”—Mark Kendall, North Carolina

Mr. Kendall goes on to say that when the kindergarten class outgrew its tiny room, the church moved it to the only place large enough to house it—the sanctuary. The congregation’s membership is now approaching 300, the once-deteriorating church is bursting at the seams with an expansion, and a new church plant is on the horizon.

Kendall’s church knew it had a problem. It didn’t know how to fix it, but it wasn’t afraid to abandon tradition in search of the answer. Now its radical approach has helped grow the congregation 10 times over. Kendall himself sums it up best: “I have to believe that it is God’s blessing on our efforts to focus on the family that is making this possible.”
Sounds a lot like those five loaves and two fish to me. Nobody could explain that either—but everyone sure wanted a taste.

Thanks to all who write letters to the Review. Keep it up; it’s a vital part of this great publication. If you’d like to continue the dialogue, I invite you to comment on my blog or e-mail me at jimmyphillips15@gmail.com.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Born Identity

THOUGH LIEUTENANT COLONEL MERVIN WILLETT GONIN HEATED HIS HANDS BY midnight’s crackling fire, the warmth was scarcely enough to counterbalance the horrors of death’s day.

It was 1945. A leader in the British military, Lieutenant Gonin had been charged with liberating Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp. When the order was handed down, Gonin reveled in the thought of rescuing those with one foot already in the grave. Yet after a few days his thoughts became nightmares that flashed images branding his mind forever.

Images of corpses piled high, faces indistinguishable. Images of men, women, and children collapsing as they walked—destined for the heap. Awake, these images fatigued him. As he slept, they exhausted him further.

The next day a large shipment of supplies arrived. Despite the need for the basics—food, clothes, and medicine—a large quantity of lipstick was crammed into one of the crates.

Momentarily furious, Gonin’s fuming quickly turned to elation. “We were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was . . . sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets . . . but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket . . . , but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm.”*

Finding It
Each year millions of dollars are spent trying to convince young people that this shirt, song, or style is the difference between being accepted or ostracized. They’re deluged with lies telling them that their identity is what they wear, instead of who they are. The problem is they don’t know who they are, and they often see the church as nothing more than a spiritual concentration camp.

It’s not that our intentions are bad. In fact, we want young people to grow and thrive. They just need to do it in our box, looking and behaving as we think they should to fit our tastes.
When Jesus first encountered the fishermen, He ignored their crudeness and vulgarity. He never told them to change; He simply showed them a better way to live.

As we work to retain and reclaim young adults, Jesus is a pretty good place to start.
  • Build a spiritual identity grounded in Jesus. By centering our sermons, Sabbath school lessons, and Bible studies on the life of Jesus, we showcase the practical outworking of God’s kingdom in young people’s lives. The foundation for their identity is built upon His love and sacrifice.
  • Form a social network of believers. The old adage of being Seven-day Adventists rings true: If church is the only time we interact, our community will crumble. If the church doesn’t meet that need, young adults will find a place that does. Start a softball team, host a cookie decorating night, or plan a midweek pizza outing. Connect the church to real life.
  • Emphasize practical service. Applying the principles and values of the kingdom of God means being actively involved in mission work. Whether locally or internationally focused, our church should be a community that strives to serve. Through this kind of frontline outreach, young adults grow by tangibly being Jesus to the world.
I, too, see images: I see a young man, hat backwards, stumble out of a bar in a nightly quest to fill the void. Then there’s the pretty blond, surrounded by her church family, yet totally alone in the crimson pew.

One has taken the gloves off; both are searching for an identity.

These images need to exhaust us, fatigue us, and drive us to action. We don’t need a crate of lipstick; we already have the Answer. 
*From the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin, DSO.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Like Water Between Our Fingers

This article was the cover story for the Feb. 19, 2009 issue of the Adventist Review.

Hi. I’m Jimmy. I’m a recent college grad with a new job, and I just moved 1,500 miles from everything I’ve ever known.

I grew up a Seventh-day Adventist. I pinned felts in Sabbath school and recited memory verses on Thirteenth Sabbath. I worked at summer camp and did literature evangelism. I led out in academy prayer conferences and spoke at my college graduation. For the past 22 years—whether chosen by my parents, preference, or proximity—church has been an integral part of my life. And both logic and tradition say it will continue to be.

But right now, logic and tradition are getting whipped by reality.

Reality says that as I search for a new sanctuary, I’ll only attend a given church three times before I decide whether or not it’s capable of meeting my needs.1 If it’s not, I’ll go elsewhere . . . or nowhere.

Reality says that one in every five Adventist churches in North America doesn’t have a single child or teenager—much less anyone my age. In fact, the median age in these churches is nearly 60—20 years older than the average American.2

Reality says that as a baptized Adventist since my midteens, there’s a 50 percent chance that I’ll drop out of the church completely by the time I’m 25.3

A quick interpretation of these devastating statistics yields this: today, our church is growing old. At the same time, through lack of cultivation, engagement, and meaningful relationships, tomorrow’s church is leaving . . . like water between our fingers.

Isolating the Issue
We can all agree there’s a problem. Now, the question begs: Why are young adults leaving the church at such an alarming rate?4

In the fall of 2008 a group of the sharpest Adventist minds from North America, Australia, and Europe descended upon Andrews University for the 2008 180˚ Symposium. The topic? Reclaiming and retaining young adults in today’s Adventist Church.

Out of the collective research and discussions emerged a synopsis containing the top five keys to keeping young adults passionate about their church:5

They must have a strong identity with which to shape their faith.

They must be intentionally engaged by church leadership.

They must be cultivated through authentic spirituality based on a connection with Jesus Christ.

They must be actively empowered in service through evangelism opportunities in both church and community.

The fifth key—tied unequivocally to the other four—is quite simple, yet remains the single most important factor in retaining young adults and reclaiming those who have drifted away: whether with a middle-aged couple or spirited pastor, energetic peer or elderly grandma, if they are going to stay, young adults must have genuine relationships inside their church family.

Notice something about these five points. Nowhere to be found are the often blamed “big issues”—music style and service structure—causing the constant clashing that often creates the generational divides in our church. Go ahead; try to find young adults connected to a church through healthy, spiritually fulfilling relationships arguing over stylistic worship preferences. You won’t.

Worship style is only an issue when meaningful relationships are lacking.

In an effort to understand the wishes of young adults, the Center for Youth Evangelism (CYE) conducted a study that asked respondents to rate the importance of 28 variables in determining their desire to attend a given church. Participants were given a scale of 1-3 with which to rate each category, with 1 meaning “Not Important” and 3 meaning “Very Important.” The top score, with an average of 2.88, was “accepting atmosphere,” while the third choice was simply “community.”

It’s all about relationships.

In his analysis of reasons why young Adventists drop out of church, Roger Dudley found that one “major theme shared by dropouts was that they felt unaccepted.”6 Further-more, a study by Rainer and Rainer of 1,000 young adults who left the church yielded the second highest motivation for leaving: “church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.”7

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Even Ellen White observed this in her day:
“Christian sociability is altogether too little cultivated by God’s people. . . . By social intercourse, acquaintances are formed and friendships contracted which result in a unity of heart and an atmosphere of love.”8 “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”9

Young adults want to be accepted as they are and unreservedly included in a community.

So how do we make it happen?

Supplying Sanctuary
As the Israelites neared the Promised Land, God knew that safety and security—especially for those least deserving—was of the utmost importance. So, He directed that six cities of refuge be established, where individuals who had accidentally killed another Israelite could escape revenge through the shelter of an intentional community.10

Another example of the Bible’s practicality, this Old Testament infrastructure has ignited a flame at the Center for Youth Evangelism—one that is starting to burn bright. It’s called Church of Refuge (COR).

The mission of COR is to “help churches provide meaningful and relevant young adult ministry with the goal of keeping Adventist young adults in the church while also reaching out to those who are not currently participating 
in an Adventist congregation.”11 This support ministry is dedicated to helping Adventist churches better meet the all-around needs of young adults.
“Churches of Refuge care about the spiritual needs of young adults,” said Ron Whitehead, executive director for the Center for Youth Evangelism. “But they also care about their physical and social well-being.”

In one church, a young man without health insurance was in desperate need of a root canal. Instead of simply praying for a solution, this church found a dentist in the congregation willing to perform the procedure for free. Like the old adage “Don’t give a hungry man a Bible,” this church understands that spiritual wholeness is connected to all facets of life. This is what being a COR is all about.

In order to become a COR, a church must go through the certification process by first registering on the COR Network (www.churchofrefuge.org). The next step is for the given church to provide a written description of how they are performing in nine key areas instrumental to engaging young adults.12 Once the certification team is convinced that the church is “truly a safe, supportive, and engaging community” for young adults, it will receive COR certification and be listed on the Web site. To ensure constant credibility, churches must submit an updated annual recertification report.

“Imagine if upon college graduation or a move, young professionals had access to a site where they could see a list of churches geared to take care of their needs,” Whitehead said. “This won’t solve all problems, but at least it gives young adults a place to start.”

The new Web site (launching in early spring 2009) provides more than a reference for young adults and a marketing tool for churches. With forums, blogs, and updated news, the COR site is a vital asset in providing pertinent information and connecting local churches to the parent organization, pastoral leadership, and each other.13

“Churches cannot presume that college students and young professionals will choose to spend their free time at church simply because it’s the right thing to do,” Whitehead said. “I love evangelism—but somebody has to start talking about the back door.”

Luckily, the Center for Youth Evangelism is doing a lot more than talking.14

Just Accept
As she approached the young pastor, her heart raced to warp speed. And why not? After all, she was nothing more than a worthless prostitute. Walking toward Him through the church foyer, she felt the cold stares and raised eyebrows.

I don’t belong here.

Then He saw her. With a kindness in His voice she’d never known, He asked her name.


“It’s nice to meet you, Mary. I’m Jesus,” He replied. “Are you hungry? We’re having potluck today and you’re more than welcome to join us.”

* * *

Did Jesus agree with Mary Magdalene’s life of harlotry? Absolutely not. But for Jesus, agreement was not, and is not, a prerequisite for acceptance.

It doesn’t have to be for us either.

For too long we’ve allowed differences in age, dress, diet, music, and vocabulary to trick us into thinking we can’t exist as a cohesive community. Struggling over these petty preferences has shattered relationships, lessening our effectiveness where it really matters.

Losing half our young adults might seem like an uphill battle.

It is.

But this isn’t about statistics; it’s about salvation.

Just like the little boy throwing starfish one by one back into the sea; accept unconditionally, love enthusiastically, and your impact will be felt—one life at a time.
Oh, and free food never hurts either. 
1According to Ron Whitehead at the Center for Youth Evangelism.
2As cited by A. Allan Martin, Ministry International Journal for Pastors, July 2008.
3Roger Dudley, Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church (2000).
4Young adult defined as ages 18-35.
5A book containing all the papers presented at the symposium will be available this spring from AdventSource.
6Dudley, op. cit.
7See note 4 above.
8Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 172.
9White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 189.
10Numbers 35:9-15; see also Deuteronomy 19:1-10.
11Ron Whitehead and Jeff Boyd, Church of Refuge: A Support Ministry for Youth and Young Adults (2008).
12As supported by biblical teaching, pastoral experience, writings of Ellen White, and CYE original research. See www.churchofrefuge.org for a list of the nine areas.
13Whitehead and Boyd, op. cit.
14For more information on becoming a Church of Refuge, go to www.churchofrefuge.org or call the CYE at (269) 471-8380.

Snail Mail From Jail

This article appeared in the Jan. 22, 2009 issue of the Adventist Review.

IT’D BEEN A NO GOOD, REALLY BAD DAY. AS I LAZILY SLOGGED MY WAY through two weeks’ worth of mail—bills, coupons, bills, and, well, more bills—I saw little chance for a change in the weather.
But stuck between the routine junk, a lone piece of mail caught my eye. Postmarked from a California state prison?
* * *
One of the toughest things about being a writer is rarely seeing the results of your work. When I open a copy of the latest Review, the first thing I do is flip to the page showcasing readers’ letters to see if any of my columns generated a response. Upon seeing my name mentioned, I feel like an athlete amid the roar of the crowd. And whether the audience is booing or cheering, I’m always satisfied, because God used my words to make somebody think.

On this day, however, I received more than a paragraph of faceless feedback.
As I began reading the four-page letter, the writer identified himself as, sure enough, an inmate in a California penitentiary, a loyal reader of the Adventist Review.

The man, I’ll call him Ryan, had grown up in the church and attended Adventist schools. But during his young-adult years, he’d fallen away from God and been sentenced to a term in prison. It’s a set of circumstances that would make most anyone bitter—but not Ryan.

There he discovered hope. He met a group of Christian brothers who supported one another through worship, prayer, and Bible study. In hitting rock bottom, Ryan had found the Rock of Ages. And the light radiated through his every word.

In less than a year Ryan would be out of prison. And though excitement for that day was apparent, there was another emotion present: fear. Fear that no church would open its doors and hearts to an ex-convict, even a reformed one. In prison the nonjudgmental fellowship of Christian friends who’d been where he had been was comfortable and safe.
Would he have that same support out there?

It was a similar sentiment I wrote in my column “The Post-Graduation Exodus” (Aug. 14, 2008). Half a year ago, upon graduating from Union College, I immediately took a job in Bakersfield, California. And I’d experienced the same apprehension. Would I be accepted? Will I find a church family to support me?

Church family, it’s not just college grads with these kinds of fears.
After three pages, I understood completely why Ryan had written me. But he wasn’t done yet. And neither was God.

As I mentioned, it’d been a tough day. Actually, a tough couple of days. I’d acclimated well to Bakersfield, both personally and professionally. But it all still seemed so random. I’d left everything and everyone I’d ever known to come here. And lately I’d been asking the “Why, God?” question quite a bit. As Ryan closed his letter, he flipped the script.

“Jimmy,” he wrote, “God has sent you to Bakersfield for a reason. You may not know what it is yet, but you don’t need to know right now. When it is time, you’ll know.”

As I read his words, tears caused the letter’s ink to bleed and I trembled in awe at God’s timing.
For two weeks I’d been house-sitting for a friend across town and hadn’t been able to retrieve my mail. I hadn’t needed that letter a week ago when it had arrived. But God knew I needed it now.

Writing for the Review is my ministry. I write to make people think and grasp new concepts about their relationships with God and each other. I never thought it would open the door for me to be tangibly ministered to, just when I needed it.

“Ryan,” I know I’ve said this before, but I want to say it again: Thank you for letting God use you. I speak for my church when I say there’s more than enough room for you out here. But be prepared, because we need you just as much as you need us.

And, oh yeah, I’m beginning to understand why I’m here.