We walked out of the house and down the unfamiliar street with not much besides a pen and a piece of paper covered front and back with questions related to the town of Decatur, Georgia. No phones, no money, no maps. Just some basic directions and palpable excitement.
This was our first full day in Decatur, our new city of residence and the section of the ATL metro area where we’ll be laying the groundwork for a new church. That’s right. We’re actually getting to help plant a church. When our city coach first told us this, I beside myself with joy. What an opportunity. What a privilege. What a responsibility.
We’re working with Blueprint Church (located in the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta) to establish a new campus in Decatur. And I think I can speak for the rest of my team when I say that though we’ve been here only a little more than a week, we’re already falling in love with this place.
Our main task at this point is to learn about the community. Clearly, there is no better way to do that than to get out on the streets, observe it for ourselves, speak directly with the people who live here, and take notes from others who have already studied and lived in the area. So that’s what we’ve been doing.
We’ve ridden on buses and trains and we’ve crammed into cars. And we’ve walked. And walked. And walked. We’ve frequented coffee shops and explored college campuses and tried new restaurants and taken baked goods to our neighbors. The coolest thing about this part of the experience so far is that the best interactions have come in the midst of us just doing life with missional hearts. It’s not forced. When you make yourself available and take some risks, you naturally meet people. Amazing people.
In less than two weeks, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, heartbroken, and burdened by so many different people. Through Blueprint, we’ve gotten to know believers who are truly living for Christ– not just on Sundays or in their Bible Study groups, but in every aspect and moment of their lives. The gospel drives them, and it creates a beautiful trajectory.
In Clarkston, we met a refugee named Daniel who had only been in the United States for a few months. He is a believer and friends with one of our mentors here. Both of these men poured so much great wisdom into us in the short time we sat in Daniel’s home, encouraging us to listen for God’s voice and follow him. We had the great honor of praying for Daniel and his family, feeling so humbled and unworthy to come before God on behalf of a man of such great faith.
Walking through downtown Decatur one day, I heard a trumpet laying down some sweet jazz– a sound that is always like home for me, a former trumpet player. When I spotted the source, my teammate and I crossed the street to get closer. We talked to Sydney the street trumpeter for a while, him interrupting the conversation from time to time to play soul-refreshing jazz renditions of songs he thought we’d like– Amazing Grace, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, How Great Thou Art, and Star Wars. We talked about music, faith, and the community. When I told him I didn’t play anymore, he encouraged me to pick it back up.
We were taken on city tours by several awesome guys who are dedicating their lives to making Christ known in this place. Just a few hours with each of them taught me so much about the city, church planting, and ministry in general. Along the way, we were introduced to a pastor from Kentucky (represent!) who uprooted his family, left behind his church and stable pastoral role, bought a Kona Ice truck to support his family, and moved to downtown Atlanta to plant a church. The pure obedience I’ve seen since coming here has been both remarkable and convicting.
So we’ve encountered some great and inspiring people, that’s for sure. But we’ve also encountered broken, lost, and confused people. My team has come into conversation with several people who passionately state their faith as a conglomeration of different religions. They mix and match, pick and choose their philosophies from various belief systems and their own imaginations. They think they are taking a better, modern, simpler way, but really they are just blind to the truth and obstinate toward what will actually rescue them.
And then there are the indifferent. Those who are so caught up in their lives now– getting ahead, making money, upholding their reputation, indulging desires, facing problems alone, filling their days with busy triviality– that they don’t care what else is out there. Perhaps a voice deep down whispers that there is something more, but they ignore it, repress it, bury it. Sadly, I think many people in the Church today live the same way. But I digress.
Interacting with such a broad spectrum of beliefs, classes, needs, and ethnicities is invigorating, but also challenging. It’s easy to feel unworthy, unqualified, and undone. I think everyone on my team has experienced this. We’re basically just kids, some fresh out of college, others still in school. We don’t have degrees in urban ministry or experience planting churches. Are we truly able to make a difference here? What can we do that the amazing Christ-followers who already here can’t do? How can we ever live up to these expectations? How can we ever address these deep, eternally significant needs in effective ways?
These questions are constantly on my mind. But God consistently counters those doubts with reminders that I’m here for a reason. I’ve already seen specific connections and opportunities hurtling my way that make me recognize how I do fit here. Not that he necessarily needs me, but that he can use me. I may not be qualified, but I’m creatively designed for usefulness, ministry, and communicating the truth.
The first Sunday we were in Atlanta, some of the guys and I tagged along with a guy from Blueprint to play Ultimate Frisbee with some of his friends in a downtown park. The invitation sort of came out of nowhere, but Ultimate’s my game, so I said yes. We ended up playing some fun but sweltering Frisbee with a group of people who aren’t really plugged into any church. God even uses our favorite recreational pastimes to connect us with others.
And if I didn’t have a trumpet background, would I have had such a good conversation with Sydney? Would I even have stopped?
I’ve also had opportunities to minister to the kids at Blueprint, especially those of the wonderful couples who are investing in us. And I’m excited for the writing opportunities NAMB is giving me to share about Generation Send– not just what takes place in our city, but in Portland and NYC as well.
Frisbee, music, kids, writing. The things we enjoy and care about aren’t trivial to God. They’re part of his design for how we fit into his kingdom work.
COMMENT: When have you taken the time to learn about a specific people group or place? How has God used your gifts and passions for his purposes?
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