Growing up in church, I had always known Jesus loved me and I knew that I should go to church and help people and be “good”. But it wasn’t until freshman year of high school that I became utterly aware of the love and the calling God has placed on my life. The summer before freshman year was tough. I had been taken out of school to be homeschooled, I had been to Guatemala and saw pain and suffering of people loved by God. And I HAD FELT EMBOLDENED TO LOVE THOSE HURTING PEOPLE WITH THE LOVE OF Jesus. And coming back, while I knew I was supposed to help people, I was confused about how I was supposed to do that. I felt alone, left behind and, honestly, kind of frustrated that God would show me the love he had for the people of Guatemala for a week and then take me all the way back to St. Louis where I couldn’t even contact the people I had met.
That Fall, my friend Kevin invited me to help out with a Homeless Ministry he was running. My task was to go and make one friend. To get them some food, some hygiene products and spend some time building a relationship, and then praying for them. The thought was that if we were able to meet not just physical needs but relational needs, we could change the lives of those we were meeting. One Friend. One Relationship. One life changed.
So I stepped up. I leaped. I trusted. I poured my heart into this ministry and this relationship. I poured my heart into Carl. And then Stanley. And then Francis. And I would begin to look forward to each Wednesday when we got to go see my friends. I would look forward to when I could grab them food and we could sit and talk and catch up… and then something strange began to happen. I realized that while my goal was to change their world, they were changing mine too.
See relationships do that. They change lives.
By the end of that year I was caught. I was stuck. I was in love with building relationships and making sure people who were outsiders felt like insiders. My life was not about being called to some distant, far off place, but to my back yard. To my driveway. To my neighborhood. There were, after all, people who felt like outsiders there too, right?
After a few years of homeless ministry, we were invited to host a mission trip — a group of people who had a desire to change a city. People Who wanted to come and serve. So we brought them in. We showed them the relationships we were building. We showed them the Work that God was doing in changing our City.
God did two things during that trip.
1. God developed in me a longing to teach others how to love their own cities.
2. God developed a longing in the Mission Team’s heart to build relationships in their communities.
More Mission Teams Came. More people caught the love of making an outsider feel like an insider.
We began to hear stories of God changing hearts, changing community centers, changing lives and worlds. Not because of anything we did, but because God awakened in people’s lives the desire and the ability to build relationships. We heard of trip participants going home and building thriving ministries focused on changing the world. One Friend. One Relationship. One Life at a time.
They Stepped up. They Leaped In. They Trusted. These teams poured their hearts into their communities. They poured their heart into Knox, Indiana. Into Madison, Missouri. Into Austin Texas. And Charlotte, North Carolina. Into St. Petersburg, Florida.
I’ve seen hundreds of middle schoolers, high schoolers, families, fall in love with their hometown, through trips at Extreme Faith. I’ve seen churches, who loved their towns, leave Extreme Faith Mission trips with a concrete plan in place of how they can love their city well.
Church, I tell you this because, well, I LOVE Decatur. And I worship a God who loves the people of Decatur enough that He died for each of them. He loved Decatur so much that He has placed an Extension of His Body In Decatur.
And I wonder. In this city where so many people find fault. Where population growth is in decline and where people seem to be leaving left and right. I wonder what it would look like to be a church that is in Love with Decatur. A church that has Stepped up, that has Leapt in, that has trusted. What would a church look like that pours their heart out for Decatur, IL. Not just the easy to love parts either. What would our City look like if the Congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church sought to make every outsider feel like an insider? Homes would be Built. Our City of Decatur would be changed.
This summer we have an opportunity to take 100 people to St. Louis. Not just to help serve the people of St. Louis, but to catch the fire. To seek out a God-given Desire and a well thought out plan to love Decatur, and to love it well. So my request — this June 21st to 26th — step up, leap in, trust. Join us on this trip so that we too can pour our hearts into this city that God has called us to love. It’s time for Mission: St. Louis.
Special thanks to Pastor Bill Grueninger for sharing his story. If you’d like to learn more about Mission: St. Louis, Extreme Faith, or learning to love the City of Decatur or your community well, you can connect with Pastor Bill at 217-423-6955.