Where I come from
I’m the son of a Christian pastor, coming from a family that has faced some serious religious persecution in the Soviet Union, and so I have been surrounded by church and Christianity for longer than I can remember. However, that did not make following Christ come automatically or even naturally for me: Many things I learned from religion I then had to un-learn as a disciple (follower, student) of Christ.
What I did get out of my religious background was a deep sense of my inability to measure up to even my own standards – not to mention the standards of others or of a perfect God. Although this attitude has done its fair share of damage, I am thankful that it pushed me to recognize my need for Jesus Christ relatively early in life. I did not grasp all the implications or fully understand what it meant at the time, yet I personally accepted the forgiveness God offers in Jesus at the end of elementary school. This started the journey of following Jesus, a journey where I am freed from the oppressive weight of expectations (my own and others’) as I submit to the leading of the Son of God.
The path of following
My story is a story of God’s patient instruction. I made the initial small, sincere step towards God in elementary school, but then I took years to learn and relearn the fundamentals of what it means to now live out the identity God has given me as His adopted child in Christ. There was no lack of teaching in my church and no lack of opportunity to be involved, but the personal side of my relationship with God initially suffered from lack of consistency and lack of transparency. Even though I had accepted God’s gift of accepting me, something in me still felt like God’s love and favor had to be earned, and all my (failed) attempts at earning them got in the way of actually experiencing them.
Even in all my missteps, God taught me and guided me personally – that’s a mind-blowing thought, I know! He often taught me through serving other people: as I followed Jesus’ example in serving others, I learned more and more about what it means (in practical terms) to follow Jesus in all aspects of life. Continuing to serve others as a team leader at OME14 is one of the most exciting aspects of the summer. There is little more exciting in life than getting to pass on what God has been teaching me and seeing other people grow to experience His love and freedom more.
The other side of OME14 that I find exciting is that, while I am a leader there, I am also being taught and trained as well. I have been really privileged to have many people invest in me as a person, especially in my spiritual growth. Starting with my parents when I was young and including several men throughout my college years, having somebody to look out for my spiritual state, to listen to me, and to provide guidance when I need it has been pivotal in the development of my relationship with Jesus Christ (not to mention helpful for life as a whole). I get a heavy dose of that kind of support and personal training during OME14 as I also have the joy of being that kind of support to my team.
Participating in a Summer Training Program (STP) like OME14 also has a particular importance in my walk with Jesus because of my history: During my second year in college (2006-2007: yes, that was a while ago), I felt God strongly impress on my heart that I should go to an STP (a different one, but similar enough to OME14). I can give quite a few excuses for why I chose not to go then, but really it comes down to fear: I was afraid of the unknown, afraid to put myself in a position of such vulnerability, afraid of trying to explain to other people why I was going. This fear led me to deliberately ignore what I believed to be God’s guidance! God did still use that summer, showing me His power to redeem my disobedience. Since then I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to go to an STP, but every summer since God has led me to do something else or work requirements prevented me from going. Now it’s 2014 and this summer I can fit OME14 into my work requirements. Now I have prayed about going and have really felt God give me the freedom to go or not to go. I choose to use that freedom to take advantage of this opportunity for spiritual growth and for impact in Jesus’ Kingdom.
If that gets you fired up like it gets me fired up, then check out my previous post and definitely consider partnering with me for OME14!