As the son of a United Methodist pastor, I grew up in church. From the time I was teething, I was there every time the doors were open. At the age of seven, I repeated a prayer inviting Jesus to come into my heart and be my personal Lord and Savior. I also did so at 9, and at 10, then once again at 13 just to be extra sure I wouldn't spend eternity burning in Hell. From what I had heard, Hell sounded pretty lame. I was born in Pensacola, FL but moved around a bit. The summer before my freshman year in high school, my family moved to Clanton, AL. It was later that summer while on a youth retreat that I heard the Gospel explained in a new way. I had always known and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and had risen from the dead so that I could have eternal life. What I hadn't always understood was that the eternal life he died and rose to grant me wasn't just about Heaven and Hell. Though I had prayed to accept Jesus, that prayer alone hadn't resulted in me looking or acting a whole lot more like Jesus than I did before. I certainly believed in the work Jesus had done on my behalf, but in truth, could hardly say that I was actively following him, or that I understood what it meant to allow the Holy Spirit to make me a new creation. After that retreat, God had my attention. Not only did I profess him with my lips, but I began to seek his face, to listen for his voice, and to act on what I heard. No longer was my life compartmentalized. I didn't have a “spiritual life” and a school/social/academic/family life anymore. I just had a life, one that was given by Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit, and that sought to bring glory to my heavenly Father. Throughout high school, my faith continued to grow.
During my freshman year at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL while on a beach retreat with our campus ministry, I heard Rev. Don Woolley talk about what it meant to be the church. He spoke of being Jesus' hands and feet in the world, and about how the church was created by Jesus to accomplish his mission in the world. He said that he would be starting an internship for college students the upcoming summer in which they would get to study what it means to be the church while carrying out Jesus' mission in the world, living in community with one another and serving in areas of extreme poverty. Something within me came alive as he talked, and I knew that Quad W was where I wanted to be.
For the next three summers I had the pleasure of living and serving in the Whistler neighborhood of Prichard, AL, one of the poorest areas in Alabama, and one that is marked by crime and drugs. Along with a few others on my team, I helped run a day camp for kids and another for youth, in which young people were encouraged, loved, taught scripture, fed, tutored, given self-esteem, equipped with life skills, and mentored. The children and youth we served each had a story, and many of them faced hardships on a daily basis that most don't face in a lifetime. We used our day camp as a home base from which to integrate ourselves into the community in which we lived, and as a tool to help the United Methodist Church we were serving reconnect with their neighborhood.
When asked to describe my time at Quad W, I can only say that it scarred me.
The relationships I built with those whom I served and served alongside, as well as with my mentors, the intense study of God's Word, the late nights and early mornings, the tears, the hard conversations, the moments of elation and great joy, the revelation of who I was created to be, the community, the accountability, and the communion with God's Spirit all served to leave an indelible mark on my soul that will never go away.
It is because of my time at Quad W that I understand what it looks like to live in a fallen world as a member of God's holy church. It's because of Quad W that I have such a clear image of who Jesus is, and of what it means to participate with him in carrying out his mission in the world. It's because of Quad W that I have a holy discontent for a church who has become self-centered and forgotten the very reason that she was created, and it's because of Quad W that I've made my life about partnering with folks who share this in common and trying to inspire others to come awake to this beautiful reality. When I returned to school after my first summer at the internship, I did so a different man. I felt as though I was returning from war as, for me everything had changed, but few around me saw what I now saw or understood what I had experienced.
Quad W without a doubt changed my life, and I have never been the same.