Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons from Toronto

It seems like just yesterday I arrived in Toronto as a bright-eyed, innocent North Carolinian ready to serve the inner-city as a CSM city host. Time is flying by, and now I have less than a month before I get back on that jet plane to fly home. I've only hosted four groups so far with CSM Toronto, but I've learned more about God and the way God moves within me and within those around me than I have in the past 4 years of university. This summer is quickly becoming much more than I expected it to be. Sure, I'm meeting some amazing people from various places and churches who come to serve God's people here in the heart of Toronto. Sure, I'm meeting some interesting people who are homeless, poor, downtrodden, and outcast by society because of their unfortunate socioeconomic situations. And sure, I'm continuing to learn about God and God's plan for the urban jungle that is Toronto.

But, I'm learning so much more...

Before I came to Toronto, I told myself that I really wanted this summer as a city host to confirm the fact that I am truly called into full-time ministry (I'm starting seminary in the fall to work on a Master of Divinity in Urban and Social Ministry) or confirm the fact that I am not called into full-time ministry. I prayed openly and honestly that God would guide me this summer as I make important decisions that will affect the rest of my adult life. As I got to Toronto, and as I started serving the people of the downtown core, all I saw around me was poverty, despair, brokenness, judgment, prejudice, and unlove. My heart constantly broke for the people that the police, fire department, and emergency personnel ignored because of their circumstance as homeless. I fell to my knees in pain for those who hungered or thirst outside of restaurants where people with money dined on fancy china and eat exquisite meals. As a host, I constantly talked about my groups becoming the light that could cast out the shadows that plagued the city, but personally all I could see was the darkness. I started to think that this experience was showing me that I could not be a minister. What could a minister do? How is a minister supposed to effect real, tangible change for the people whom society ignores? I slowly began to run away from my calling.

I soon realized though - through the groups I hosted, people I talked to at my anchor site, and situations back home and at school - that no matter how hard and fast I tried to run away from God and God's calling for me, God continued to run faster and chase harder after me. People were put in my path at perfect times in order to inspire and encourage me. Groups came at the perfect time to teach me once again to laugh amidst the tears. Stories were shared at the perfect time to remind me of the importance of prayer, faith, and dancing with God. People advocated on my behalf at the perfect time to show me that God is moving and working in my life to prepare the way for me. Scholarships were given to me at the perfect time to show me that God is providing for me at seminary and beyond. Things began to add up. God was beginning to show me the way - clearly and confidently. The initial prayer that I had (that this summer would show me the true direction of my life) was beginning to be answered.

I have described my faith journey as a boat lost in the fog. The boat is out to sea, but is trying to return to shore. There's a lighthouse out there guiding vessels back to land, but the fog is obstructing the view of the light. The water is rough at times and calm at others. The boat floats by day and rocks by night.

I'm the boat. The lighthouse is God. The shore is certainty, calling, faith, dance, prayer, affirmation, love, hope. The ocean is my life, my dreams, my fears, my family, my friends, my paths. The day is all things good - laughter, joy, etc. The night is all things not so good - poverty, hunger, pain, suffering. The fog is my doubt, my concerns, my inhibitions, my rationality, my intellectual curiosity.

At times, the fog is thick and doesn't allow the light from the lighthouse to be seen at all. The waves crash back and forth against me, and I move closer to shore, further away from shore, closer to shore, back out again, so on and so on. For most of my life, I've only caught glimpses of the shoreline, but I've never been able to see it clearly nor reach it fully. Now - through the experiences I'm having in Toronto, the people I'm meeting, and the things God is putting into my life - the fog is beginning to lift. I'm starting to see the lighthouse. The shore is still not completely visible, but I'm beginning to be confident in the direction I should go. I'm getting closer. And, that's exciting.

So, all that's to say that God is working in powerful ways this summer - in me, in the city, in the groups I host, and in the people I meet. CSM is truly a blessing on my life, and the people who come through CSM are a part of that blessing. All I can say is thank you.

- Jason, CSM Toronto 2008 Summer City Host

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