GROWTH BY STORY
“Walking into Forefront that first Sunday was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I found a seat on the side in an empty row and didn’t talk to anyone. When the service started, I started crying - it felt like I had just come home after being away for a long time. And when the pastor started his sermon with “I don’t really get into the Advent season” I decided I would come back the next week.
I kept going to Forefront week after week, sitting alone and not talking to anyone - I was convinced that Christianity was ok but it was Christians who gave it a bad rap so I was definitely going to stay away from them. I would come home and lie to my roommates that I was taking a Sunday morning yoga class.
It got harder to go every week because I had no one keeping me accountable and it’s not like I was seeking out any sort of friendships at Church. I heard an announcement about Forefront’s youth group and decided I would be a leader. I figured that I always really liked youth group growing up and that christian kids couldn’t be that bad - considering I was one.
And these kids inspired me to keep coming back every week - I still kept to myself but I was there. Then I slowly started to jump in with the help of the other student impact leaders - I started the movement guild, joined a small group for a bit, and got to know some people in my community. Next thing I knew I was receiving an email about Forefront’s Leadership Retreat. I was kind of confused as to why they asked me to go. I definitely didn’t feel like a leader in the church but I guess on paper I was pretty involved - so I signed up. I was really surprised by the other leaders and how approachable they were and easy to talk to. I was like “hey these people aren’t that bad” and I actually started making some new friends.
After one night of heavy praying at retreat I was talking to two other leaders. They were asking about my job and for the first time in a long time I opened up and gave a real answer to people I didn’t really know. I told them that work had been impossibly hard and that I was going through a really bad time. One of them asked to pray for me - now just to give you some back story, prayer is not my favorite thing by far. When I first started going back to church I referred to it as “shouting into the void”. I would sit alone in church after communion and just think a sentence over and over again because when it came to talking to God I didn’t know what to say. That first service at Forefront and for a few months after I asked God repeatedly to “help me be a light”. And that was the first thing that I said to God after being silent for so long.
So when this leader asked to pray for me I said sure! - thinking he would do it later during his own private chat time with God. But no, he wanted to do right then and this was something I almost always tried to avoid. He prayed for me, my workplace, and dealing with change. And then he said “God, help Wynn be a light.” And then I knew that God was trying to tell me something and that it was time to make a change.
I have been putting off this baptism for a long time. I thought I had to be 100% certain and sure that this was a life I was ready to commit to. But while I’ve been trying to “figure things out” I’ve already committed my life to Christ. I don’t think that immediately after my dunking I’m going to have some sort of euphoric clarity or know my purpose in life. But I do know that my relationship with God is one that I have to work on everyday, it will have it’s ups and downs, it is not something that I’m going to hide or compartmentalize into an area of my life that is “just for me” - I guess you could say that I’m finally “coming out” as a Christian. And this baptism is my way of saying - “hey God I hear ya' and I’m coming home for good - thanks for taking me back.”
- Wynn Harrison
This is a portion of a story from one of our leaders, Wynn Harrison, who was just baptized a few weeks ago. Maybe you identify with Wynn’s story. It may be similar to the “how’s” and “why’s” of when you came back to church, or started the “church thing” for the first time.
Stories are powerful things. They give us a peek into someone else’s life. They speak of history, and the present, and the future. We see ourselves in them.
As Christians, we go to the Bible to learn and to grow. I think we often forget, though what the Bible really is. The Bible is not a book about science. It’s not a book about law. It’s not a book about metaphysics or epistemology. It’s not even... and give me some rope here... a book about theology. Of course, those things are in there, but they are only there because they a part of someone’s story. The Bible is a collection of stories about people and their struggles with God.
These stories live on in us- in our minds and in our hearts- and they merge with our own stories. We all come to a place of belief because of these stories- what they have done in us- and are doing in us. We are also living out stories that others are “reading.”
It’s why the Apostle Paul can write in 2 Corinthians -
“Does it sound like we’re patting ourselves on the back, insisting on our credentials, asserting our authority? Well, we’re not. Neither do we need letters of endorsement, either to you or from you. You yourselves are all the endorsement we need. Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it.”
- 2 Corinthians 3:1-3
In other words, Paul is saying, “If you want to see Jesus, look into someone’s life. Get to know their story. It is an outer representation of what Christ has “written” into someone’s life.”
This is one of the main ways that we grow spiritually. Not by learning facts or figures. Not by memorization or grammar. Not by our eloquence. We grow as we are impacted by stories that make us see the world differently, and as those stories shape our own story.
There’s a man named David that has attended our church for the past two years. He is homeless. He lives on the streets in midtown. About six months ago, he collapsed from a heart attack in Penn Station. David is a former addict who got clean, but in the process became addicted to methadone which was making his life unmanageable.
His body had literally begun to fall apart from malnutrition, old age, and a history of hard living. Right before he had the heart attack, David had lost so much weight he looked almost like a skeleton when I would see him every week at church.
David is an older man, and he has been recovering and repairing over the past six months in the hospital. I’m fully convinced that he would not be alive today were it not for two people in our community who decided to take David under their wing and care for him. Kim and Heshan Fernando have watched over David for the past two years. When he went missing, they spent weeks looking for him. When they found out he was hospitalized far out in the Rockaways, they went to visit him on more than one occasion.
He called me the other day. We laughed, and shared stories. He told me that he had been off of methadone for four months, that he had gained all of his weight back, and that he was heading in the right direction with his life again.
But the real reason he called me was to ask me to tell Kim and Heshan, “Thank You” for all they’d done for him when I saw them next.
If you talked to Kim and Heshan, I’m sure they’d tell you that they were just doing what anyone would do were they to hear David’s story. That may be the case, but the problem is people don’t often make the effort or take the time to listen to another’s story. The tendency in human life can be to live lives of small talk for weeks, months, or even years at a time.
This is common and expected. I fall into this rut, too. Life is busy and intense and yet, everyone has a story to tell if we can just slow down for a minute, ask better questions, and be better listeners.
My prayer for our community is that we would learn to “feed” on these kinds of things. That we would have holy “lust” for storyhearing (and storytelling) because when we hear stories like Wynn’s and David’s there’s a sort of “sacred vacuum” that turns on inside of us. We zoom in, we zone in, we tune in, and we want to hear more. For in these stories we hear the voice of Jesus speaking, and we see his writing all over people.