I craned my neck from my middle aisle seat to gaze out the window of the 767. I couldn’t get enough of what I saw. Mountains. Of the snow-capped, Rocky variety. It had been a long time since I’d seen mountains like this. In more than one way.
I knew this would be another great adventure, but I couldn’t really figure out why I was there, flying into what seemed a random western city for the orientation of an internship for a bunch of Southern Baptist young adults who would be spending their summers in three cities far away and far different from this one. I had no idea how badly I needed this preparation now, in this city.
We might waste opportunities, but God doesn’t.
After only four days in the view of these mountains, I was seeing so much clearer. Clear enough to see the dryness of my own soul and the repressed longing for a deeper purpose and mission in my life. Clear enough to embrace the challenge to shuffle out of my comfort zones and be willing to be broken. Clear enough to remember why all this truly matters.
The gospel is always there, bold and beautiful, but sometimes I turn my back and refuse to remember fully what it looks like.
So many of us live in the light of a foggy, backwards gospel. People especially think my generation doesn’t even acknowledge that one truth could exist– or that we even care. But at almost every moment I looked around last week, I saw a group of people my age intentionally, radically, beautifully, and practically living, embracing, discussing, or sharing the gospel. There was no fog.
No spiritual fog in our hearts and certainly not much physical fog in the city we encountered. On Thursday, we were dropped off in small groups in the heart of clean, beautiful, mountain-surrounded Salt Lake City. Our mission was to find specific types of places, observe the city, talk to people, and ask certain questions. It was a trial run for our work for the rest of the summer.
When we started off down the wide, immaculate sidewalks, I had visions of the Amazing Race darting through my head. And while we had a blast finding certain places and learning the city, it became so much more than that. Even more than a project or training exercise. It became real.
It was real when we walked into a state-of-the-art-looking LDS business college and saw their overwhelming dress code regulations and a display that read “What GOOD have you done?” and I thought of the stark lack of grace.
It was real when we spoke to two young, pot-smoking cyclists with Mormon backgrounds who now lean toward atheism and indifference. They told us how they disagreed with many of Mormonism’s political beliefs, but appreciated how the Mormon church ran community programs and took care of the city. They wanted the benefits of the religion, but not the religion itself.
It was extremely real when my group sat waiting for the bus and a homeless Native American woman from New Mexico came up to us and asked for a dollar (we gave her a gift card instead). After telling us how buzzed she was, she started talking to us about her life and her problems– men, alcohol, her children being left in New Mexico, being homeless, and wanting to get sober and get back to her job as a nurse’s assistant. In the middle of our conversation, she brought a giant bottle of vodka out her purse and took a swig. But she was clearly dying for the love and attention. She said, “If I just had friends like you, I’d be ok.” Then, when she learned we were only there for the day, she began crying and tightly hugged each of us. We were able to pray for her before she left, but I was broken when she walked away.
The things I learned last week– about myself, about the city of Salt Lake, Mormonism, my team, my role in the Church, my mission– would take forever to list. But (I think) it prepared me well for the rest of this summer. It certainly prepared me to be malleable and willing for God to shape and use me as he pleases. That is my prayer for myself and my team this summer, and for you, wherever you are, in whatever you’re doing.
When we were debriefing our time in the city, we discussed how clearly we could see the LDS influence of good works, community conscientiousness, and social programs. A fellow intern said, “We [Christians] don’t have a monopoly on morality and generosity.”
And it’s so true. As much as we want to, we can’t just rely on our good deeds and loving actions to make people ask us about what’s different– especially in places like Salt Lake City. Good works will be a result of a true relationship with Jesus and are an extremely important aspect of evangelism, but they can’t be our only witness– in Utah or anywhere. We have to be intentional about sharing Christ himself.
How do we do that best in the context of relationships and loving actions? I think that’s the challenge… and the invitation for the Spirit of God to come and use us to make Christ known in ways that allow people to clearly see HIM– not the white-washed tombs or clean streets of a dark, empty, human-contrived morality, but the supernatural creativity of a living, glorious, overwhelming Savior.
COMMENT: What has God used to give you a clearer vision or purpose in your life?