It’s a bit of a curious practice to reflect on my summer QuadW experience in Portland now that I’m three months removed and over 5,000 miles away in Vienna, Austria where I’m currently studying abroad. I say curious because I find myself asking many of the same questions I learned to ask this summer as I entered an unfamiliar place with new people and fresh experiences before me. Chief among these questions were (and continue to be), “What is God up to here?” and “How am I being called to be part of it?”
During this summer in Portland, an answer to the first of these questions came very early on as we jumped into a robust street ministry that challenged us on every level. God was already at work on the streets of Portland, empowering Christ-like, servant-leaders who were actively engaged in the almost impossibly complex issues of homelessness. Entering into this we needed to ask something like the second question and work to answer it by our actions: “How might we best participate in this work?” In many cases we best participated just by observing, listening, and learning, which required a lot of humility to confess that we did not always know what to do. But participation also looked like simple acts of service such as offering coffee and pop-tarts to people living in tents or playing hacky sack with people who had gathered for a free meal. In this way, we experienced how service-leadership involves acknowledging our limits of what we know and are able to do, but also offering ourselves to work with competence and excellence in accordance with the gifts God has given us. I never thought my hours of playing hacky sack in high-school would provide just the skills I needed to connect with a person without a house.
Moving forward, I have returned again and again to these questions that stoke my imagination for service-ministry. Importantly, many of the life-patterns cultivated this summer which accompanied asking these questions have remained essential: take time to commune with God and to discern God’s will, make the most of every opportunity, reach out to people, read scripture. In Vienna, many of the same needs can be found which are common to most cities: homelessness, addiction, and a general discontent. However, some great needs I’ve seen in this city in particular are those of migrants and refugees. I’ve been part of a course that studies the religious dimensions of immigration, asylum-seeking, and integration in Europe today. This has given me a fuller vision for the many ways God is unifying people in and through Christ across distance and difference. It has also provided opportunities to engage, befriend, and learn from foreigners seeking a new home in Europe. Continuing to consider these imaginative questions while in a new place has deepened my knowledge of God as One who draws near to us. This has provided me a greater vision for God’s kingdom on earth as we are invited to participate in this holy activity of redemption.
Amidst the difficulties of life and the uncertainty over the future, asking these questions has helped me remain grounded and focused on the concrete, daily ways I can best love God and my neighbor. I’ve found that seeking answers to these questions requires a lot of faith and patience because the answers are not always clear or immediate (in my experience they’re usually not). Yet, earnestly taking these requests to God has helped me remain centered on the person of Jesus Christ, engaged in service in the places and with people right in front of me, and reminded about what is true of God and myself. In all of this, we can remain grateful for all that God has done and reliant on God as the source of our strength as we seek to serve our world. In this vein, I hope that the Lord’s words that formed Paul in his ministry may serve as a challenge and encouragement to us all, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”