My parents told me about a three-month program focusing on Bible study and outreach. When I heard about this opportunity, I was a bit skeptical. The program would lead me on a different path than anyone I knew, to a place where I knew few people. But after much prayer and deliberation, I made up my mind to go.
Making this choice didn’t take away my nervousness about how this would play out. I arrived at the small campus near Portland in mid-August. Some staff members picked me up at the airport and welcomed me as though they really cared about me. That turned out to be truly special; I almost felt like I was coming home and discovering a new family and community I hadn’t known about. At this point, I became more excited about the experience ahead of me.
When I arrived at the dorm, my roommate had not arrived yet. Some local church members came to welcome me (and the other students) to the area, so I had some company. After arriving, we started classes, but it wasn’t until later in the week at a prayer meeting that I really started to feel a special bond with some of my classmates. There were 32 of us. At the prayer meeting, I shared some requests, and it was special to have a community of people I barely knew caring about what happened in my life and to my family they’d never met.
Building a Strong Community
Vulnerability became an important part of my experience. We had worships where we shared prayer requests and our own experiences in life. We were required to present a short worship, and we also gave a short Scripture-based speech with judges. These experiences drew me out of my comfort zone and required vulnerability. However, the most vulnerable experience was when I got the stomach flu, and my roommate stayed up with me all night. If you’ve seen someone like that, it develops a bond like no other. In conversations, I was also sharing parts of myself. In a small living space with 30-some other people, you can’t get away from everyone all the time. It is a close-knit community. I was uncomfortable sometimes, but there were also moments of great blessing.
One of the writers at a local magazine started reading one of the books in Chronicles of Narnia to us, which was special because I enjoy listening to someone read to me; it’s something I’ve done with my family since I was young. I hung out with my roommate and two other girls my age, and some of the guys. We went for walks around the campus during the week, pizza outings, and shopping in town, and on weekends we went to nearby beaches or hiking trails. We had outreach partners who we went out with into the community. These experiences helped foster vulnerability and build community. We became like family, and it was the best experience of my life.
We also went door-to-door connecting with people, and we did a few community projects showing others about God. Also, we invited them to an evangelistic series, helped out with a community health clinic, and connected with some university students about their relationship with the church. All of these experiences were rewarding and shifted my idea of what service truly should be.
I had never felt so connected to God before or had such a sense of community. The only thing we focused on was God and each other and our community. I learned that there are so many ways to live a life of service. You don’t have to be a nurse, doctor, pastor, or foreign missionary. You can develop an attitude where you look for ways to bless others every day, regardless of your job or what you do in life.
Sadly, the program came to an end just before Thanksgiving. We had to leave the new friends we had made. We graduated, and we moved on. Except my heart didn’t move on. The biggest thing I felt from my time in the program is a little piece of heaven. That sense of community is so special to have felt, and I will always treasure it in my heart.
Sara Downs writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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