Tuesday, December 29, 2009

29 Heaven in the Real World

It was around this time that I really became centered in on the concept of ministering outside the church. I still gave sermons on occasions but that became something less central to my life and I began looking for somewhere to place my energy that was hands-on and worked with more “real people” as I called them then. I began to work with two ministries, Lighthouse at PUC and one at another campus, the University of California in Berkeley.

The one at Berkeley was run by two very passionate but rather different people. The main leader was Will Sutton, clearly a brilliant mind with much zeal for what he was trying to do for the Lord. He had led a group of believers at the university for a while but wanted to take this upstart ministry to be more of a force to be reckoned with both on his campus and elsewhere. I think Will found that calling of a voice in the wilderness to be lonely but didn’t recognize that loneliness was part of the call. He was a married guy with a kid on the way and appeared to take on this responsibility with more vigor and focus than he did his family. At the time at age 19, this seemed to me like a better way. I even argued with a friend back then, Julia, about how the ministry was more important marriage or family because it had more lasting consequences. Because of this, while I didn’t look up what Will was doing necessarily, I saw it as expedient. I had even stated to Shannon that I fully intended to have my family come second to my calling.

His helper was Nicole Chao, also a very sharp girl who seemed to be more attached to the idea of helping Will than the idea of the ministry. She was a girl who struggled to find what to do with all that talent and intelligence and was still trying to replicate other belief’s systems, whether it was her mentors’ religious views or her Asian parents cultural values. She was at that stage the definition of a discipline, a disciplined follower but it was clear she hadn’t absorbed all or maybe any of it completely into herself.

The two of them wanted to cast a big net around the Berkeley campus and bring in more people into the Christian and Adventist fold. Berkeley is the definition of a fringe place; California is already full of all type of strange people and Berkeley embraces the perimeter of the peripheral. There really appears to be no counter culture there because all of the counter culture can be seen on every other corner. To bring Christianity as a force here would be truly a miracle, a true act of God.

They connected with me through a mutual acquaintance and originally there were more PUC contacts trying to help out their cause. An Adventist campus was within 90 miles and Will was smart enough to try to tap into the vast amount of resources that were there but the salt of the earth was still happy to stay in its salt shaker. The people who I tried to encourage to be part of the cause were not interested in doing that type of commute on any kind of regular basis. It was an idea that appealed to them but was never actually held.

In due time, they were able to organize a weekend conference which was attended by people from all over the US and a few people from other countries. Classes were taught, seminars were offered, and prayers were lifted all with the goal of increasing a network of fellowship of Christians at secular campuses. We had hoped for several hundred people but ended up with roughly 200 people throughout the weekend. The weekend itself was success but the follow through from everyone’s parts from us PUC students to the general conference left much to be desired. It became obvious at that point that Christians are very good about what we call retreats and strategies but seem to put more effort into that than we do into attacks and organization. Will tried to continue this energy after the conference but it appeared that the event itself had drained everyone and that it may all have been a little weaker afterwards. His continued efforts to single handedly kept pushing may well have pushed people away and in time it was a great memory but little more.

I went back to my own campus from this and was still trying to figure out how much of my own effort I wanted to put into this when a young man named Jorge Gurrola came along. He was one of these characters that is always smiling and seems genuinely happy but the constant smile itself also makes you question its sincerity while drawing you in at the same time. He was ready to take a ministry he’d inherited, Lighthouse Ministries, and take it to places it had never been and he infused an energy that beamed all over campus and elsewhere. All of the rest of the ministries on campus were very narrowly focused, going to prison, going to feed the homeless, Lighthouse had no such cage and so was free to go anywhere. Jorge found a kid in me who was trying to find his way in the place and we worked together endlessly.

Through some drama that I never understood, Jorge had to leave campus in the middle of the school year and so it was handed to me to be the director. We took that same energy and kept it growing. Shannon was an invaluable amount of help as we worked on it together. What did we do? Everything you could imagine. On any given day, we were likely to be visiting at a hospital, at a hospice, at a nursing home, at a mental facility, at a drug rehab. There were times we worked with kids who were going through therapy at a farm more through horses and being active than they were at talking. We helped rebuild homes, paint up homeless shelters, gave free carwashes (absolutely free), fed the homeless, sang Christmas carols. Once a year, we held an event where we hosted a Kids Day where over 100 kids from Headstart got to have a carnival at our campus. This is what I remember ten years later but it was a very busy, very big organization. Trying to follow Christ’s advice that we don’t go bragging about our good deeds, I refused two or three interviews by the school newspaper and the public relations office much to their chagrin (they snuck one in about kids day). Most of these activities were covertly religious for example if anyone asked why we would wash cars for free we would explain that it was God’s grace (people really struggled with an absolutely free carwash; one man even shoving a $20 out his window and speeding off). However, generally speaking, they were all things that were also helpful in themselves. I referred to them back then as putting a band aid on cancer because if you only help the temporal needs, forever is denied and it may all well be a waste of time.

The frantic pace that it took to keep track of it all fit me well. I’ve always been cursed/blessed with an unusually high level of energy and thrive on less sleep than most people could get by with. While others have tried to diagnose that and one counselor at PUC consistently tried to get me medicated, I have used the energy to get more done than some believe to be realistic (to the lady who tried to get me medicated, I responded that I already had a 4.0, what could she do for me? She jokingly suggested that it was my teachers and everyone else she was trying to help me). We did so much good with that ministry and there may not be anything that I’ve ever done that I’m more proud of.

I went back and forth on whether I wanted to be working more in the wilderness like Will and Nicole had trying to convince the world they needed an oncologist or whether I wanted to be more hands on and put on bandaids and then break the news to patients that I knew one. I am not sure that I ever consciously made a decision but my time ended up focused on Lighthouse that year. It was well suited to me and it really made God and his followers practical to me. I once stated that an atheist who helped work towards humanity was closer to the heart of God than a believer who didn’t do it.

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