In simple humility, let our gardener God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. James 1: ~21
This summer, I joined a group of 17 high school students and 6 church youth leaders on a mission’s trip. We went to an area that is statistically among the most spiritually impoverished places on earth. This city is not an African slum; it doesn’t share the obvious poverty or homelessness of South America. In fact, the residents all have homes with indoor plumbing and the children walk around without fear of crime. Most teens have an iPhone, complete with a Facebook and an Instagram account. There are gorgeous cathedrals every other block, and this city is in a country founded on strong Christian principles, much like our own. However, after the first day of leading a new Young Life camp in Wormit, Scotland, our team of 23 learned why God had chosen us to re-introduce Him to a nation in spiritual devastation.
Our exhausted team arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland after roughly 10 hours of travel. After an hour car ride, a brief lunch stop at a sandwich shop and three rounds of sing-alongs to every Disney song ever, we arrived in St. Andrews. This is a lovely city just south of Wormit, the town in which we would later call our “second home.” After touring the oldest golf course on earth and shopping around the city, the team had dinner at the home of “the best fish and chips in St. Andrews,” and discussed exactly what we were walking into. During our mealtime debriefing, we were told that we were going to be working across the River Tay from Dundee, the city with the highest teen pregnancy rate in all of Europe. We were told that fewer than 5% of people under the age of 30 went to church—ever. But I was nowhere near prepared, even with all the statistics in my head, for what God had in store for me.
After being introduced to our host families for the week, my roommate and I were welcomed into the home and Scottish hospitality of one of the kindest women I have ever met. Our host mom, a retired doctor, welcomed us with open arms and an open heart, excited for the work we were going to do. (She also happens to be the reason for my recent tea addiction.) After a much needed rest that evening at our new “homes,” we awoke refreshed and ready to serve God on our first Sunday in Wormit. The teams broke into six groups and visited eight churches in the morning.
God broke my heart that very Sunday. In the large cathedral my group of four visited, 20 people, all over the age of 60, made up the entire congregation. The one family with children in the church, seated two rows in front of us, left after the opening hymns before any of us had had a chance to speak with them and their two teenage boys. It was devastating to realize how few people (in such a large country) gathered to worship.
This, I realized, is why God sent us to Wormit. Our team was told what we needed to accomplish, e.g. opening a Young Life in the city, but it struck me hard that morning that this would be no simple task.
That evening, we hiked a local mountain and saw the ancient ruins of castles and churches and places of worship, and I wondered how anyone could live in such a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by such rich Christian history, and not believe there was a God. Our team found out shortly after dinner, while we played soccer—er—football with some local teens at a field near the church where we were based. To many of the young people in Scotland, (and surrounding countries), Christianity is as much of a living religion as Latin is a living language. Though useful for understanding history and the lives of some of the people around them, both are dead. “Religion” is only for the old folks who were too old-fashioned to know better. No one who knows anything about basic laws of nature could really believe some guy rose from the dead, right?
This was the view of a young man named Tom, who we found hiding in a hedge during our game that night. Tom was shy and curious, and after a bit of prodding, he joined in on the fun, and said he would love to visit the camp the next day. We were all thrilled! Monday morning the group went over plans for the day, responsibilities, and morning devotion, then set up all the games and activities we would have later on. The students arrived just after lunch, and we launched straight into intense games of ninja and three-legged lava races. Out of the 17 students there, I got to join in on a short bible study with five of the young girls. We had just heard Randy, the head of Young Life Scotland, talk about how we would be hearing about and discussing this guy named Jesus during the week, someone I had heard about time and time again, and had assumed everyone knew. However, during the study, a twelve-year-old girl, Amy, looked me in the eyes and asked me, “So, who is Jesus?”
I was shocked. I couldn’t think, or breathe, or even try to process her question. Who is Jesus? How do you not know Jesus? Haven’t you heard the stories of him healing the blind and walking on water? Don’t you know the Son of God? And in that moment of stunned silence, I heard the still small voice of God. No, she doesn’t. Tell her about me. Tell her? About you? I can’t tell her about you! I don’t even know you very well yet! I can’t tell her about someone I don’t understand! But I had to try. This was why God put me there.This is why I went to Scotland. So I prayed. I asked God to give me the words to speak that would change little Amy’s life. And He did.
I explained to Amy that Jesus was the most loving, compassionate, kind, forgiving person I know. I told her of his kindness to the sick and of his wonderful creativity. I told her that the same hands that made each of the stars, every blade of grass, the fragrant flowers and every grain of sand also made her. Those hands made Amy!
Those hands gave her bright, clear blue eyes, beautiful porcelain skin, a strong mind, and a great heart. And the more I talked about Jesus, the more I had to tell. I wanted to tell her everything, everything Jesus had done for me and for her and every little thing He had helped me through. I wanted to tell her every bible truth I knew and I wanted to explain to her what it is to be saved, because I wanted her to be saved too!
Throughout the rest of the week, amidst the bouncy houses, flour and shaving cream wars, Nerf battles, and crazy worker skits, I felt God at work. He had reignited a passion in me that I didn’t even know was burning out, and He had enabled me to share it with others. I shared it with the shy boy, Tom, who, by the end of the week, had his own Bible and wanted to accept Jesus as his Savior. I shared the spark the Lord had given me with Amy, who by Friday, was excited about going to church and youth group and to learn more about Jesus. God was kindling my fire by teaching me how to ignite the fire in others.
By the time we had to leave (3 am the following Monday morning), I knew I was leaving a piece of myself in Wormit. This small town in Scotland had captured my heart, and I knew that our team had accomplished our mission. We may have administratively started the first ever Young Life camp in Wormit, but God had done so much more than that. He had planted seeds in each of the students’ hearts, 25 by the end of the week, and he had cultivated the tree growing in my own heart.
Before leaving for Scotland, I had prayed for God to work in me, but I was unprepared for how much “gardening” he did. I hadn’t realized how lazy I had gotten about my faith, and I had forgotten how exciting God and the good news of the Gospel truly is. I had been slipping away from God, but He made me His mission, while I made the camp mine. I simply cannot wait to go back next summer, and I am so excited and truly amazed at the work the Lord is doing in Scotland, and I am so grateful he chose me to be a part of it.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58: 11 (NIV)
They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory! Isaiah 61:3b