Confession: I started writing this post almost nine months ago, during my third week in Vegas, but I essentially left it alone until this past week.
It’s crazy to think it’s been a year since I found out that the missions committee at my church, Morrison Heights in Clinton, had placed me in Vegas to serve with Tropicana Christian Fellowship and Safely Home Refugee Ministry as a summer missionary, over 9 months since I flew to Vegas, and over 7 months since I returned home.
Everything I experienced through “the path through Las Vegas” hit me like a fire hose… An overwhelming, strong blast. And right after my return home, so did the weight of the responsibilities I had from the days following my return until the end of the fall semester.
For months following my return, I honestly couldn’t wrap my mind (or my heart) around my experiences well enough to answer the question I was asked by many encouraging people: “What’s God taught you through Vegas?” I’ll be honest… As I was basically thrown into everything that serving as a Vice President / pledging chair of my social tribe would involve, I put off processing my experiences.
How God worked in my life through this pledging process is a different story, but I’m acknowledging that I definitely should’ve processed first. It’s much easier to shake everything off (well, at least attempt to do so), especially in the midst of hectic times, than to deal with the emotions thrusted upon us by the world, both around us and in us. However, there’s seriously no other way to realize that this world is not our home, so here we go…
I learned so much about so much… like the details of how someone becomes forcibly displaced and bears that status as an IDP, a refugee, or an asylum-seeker. The crises forcing people from countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and DR Congo to flee. The ins and outs of refugee ministry, like teaching ESL and citizenship classes, helping refugees with basics like insurance and credit cards, etc. The overwhelming process of being resettled here as well as all the issues when resettlement agencies don’t do what they’re supposed. The background on and impact of various non-Western cultures. The background on religions like Buddhism and Islam and how they impact people’s lives and views on Christianity and Christians. The absence of husbands for so many women and of fathers for so many women, girls and boys, including those in the Church. How consistently loving people who are different from you like Christ does can and does change lives, even when it takes a lot of time, patience and faith.
Right before my trip started, I also learned about the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) and found out that I’d be able to travel with Cynthia, the founder/director of Safely Home, to the RHP’s annual North American Refugee Roundtable conference, this time in Toronto, during my stay. While I was there, I realized my new God-given passion and extensively researched it… serving refugees with disabilities as an occupational therapist! My heart still leaps when I think about it. Also, after spending time praying and receiving wise counsel, I even decided to change my major from biology to international studies… yes, as a junior. (But hey, I’m always excited to go to my classes, and I’ll thankfully still graduate on time!)
So yes, to put it briefly, God used’s this trip in countless ways to completely change my life.
In addition to my experiences concerning ministry in Vegas as well as refugee ministry in general, the reality of this post’s title, a line from a song by Red, one of my favorite bands, called “Pieces” struck me during my trip. It hit me hard then and is still hitting me now… Over the years, I’ve experienced disappointment, confusion, hurt, and grief from acquaintances, strangers, friends, family, and even the Church. I also realized the extent to which anxiety has impacted me, especially last semester.
In both Vegas and Toronto, I witnessed broken lives to an extent I’d heard of in statistics and in the news, but never with names and face-to-face conversations… Absolute horrors. Broken families. Broken relationships. Broken stories. Broken souls.
With all of this, out West, up North, and at home, I’ve further witnessed the brokenness in my own life… Pain caused by broken relationships, misunderstandings from myself and others, others’ sin, and certainly my own sin. I’m realizing how deeply my emotions, my suppression of these emotions, and former addictions have impacted me long-term.
One step at a time, I’m taking in the beauty of God’s decision to give us emotions… He gave them to us so they could help us experience life to the fullest, not to destroy it.
Also, I hope this encourages you and challenges you like it has me… Not long before I left for Vegas, my pastor did a sermon series on biblical book I’d never read or learned about before: Ecclesiastes. Y’all, it’s striking. The “preacher,” believed by many to be Solomon, solemnly conveys to the audience that everything “under the sun,” that is, without God, is completely worthless; it’s vanity. Without God, everything we live for is a complete waste. Our story, our background, our circumstances, and our future. Like every other book of the Bible, this book points us, you and me both, to the truth: Christ is the only reason for any of us to live. He made the ultimate sacrifice for every one of us, and He’s called us to devote our lives to Him.
Friends, He has a purpose for you. He knows your heart. He’s worth it all.
“I’ve come undone, but You make sense of who I am, like puzzle pieces in Your eye… Then I’ll see Your face; I know I’m finally Yours. I find everything I thought I lost before. You call my name; I come to You in pieces so You can make me whole.” — Red, ‘Pieces’