I believe that one of the best ways to get to know someone, is to hear them tell life stories. A life story is unique- because no one lives it the same way as the person who is telling it. Hearing someone tell a story can give you insight on where they are from, how they grew up, what the word “struggle” means for them, or what they believe their purpose is on this earth. This concept dawned on me years ago and if I had the chance to sit and hear everyone’s story, my heart would be full. That would explain why I am pursuing social work.
My name is Carli and I hope that from my experiences and stories that I tell, you can learn and maybe even question. Questioning is good because it gives you the ability to expand your knowledge about life and the world around you. To question too much- that can be dangerous, but that’s a whole other conversation to have. I hope that if anything, you can see God as a molder and shaper in my story. That is one of the biggest attributes that He has made so evident in my life and I hope that people know He can do the same for them. I wanted to start by telling the story of what molded me, and ultimately took me to an unlikely place which ended up being a beacon in my life- all because of hope and a random address in my GPS.
My freshman year of college was a whirlwind. I attended Cairn University and was a part of a 15 student cohort in an Urban Ministry first year program. I honestly had no clue what Urban Ministry meant when I got to school but I felt that God was pulling me towards it. He was right as usual. I spent a year learning about the complex systems of cities- what makes its communities flourish or crumble, why people live there and what the dynamics are like. It is a lot to take in, for sure. My walls were broken down and I was able to see life and human beings in a whole new way, a way that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t stepped out of what I was so used to and comfortable with. Comfort is nice, right? It’s familiar and it’s what we know best. It’s that instance when we don’t have to feel as threatened when people ask us questions about content that we know so well. But our skin starts to crawl when someone asks us a question that we don’t initially agree with and on top of that- know nothing about. We go into defense mode and start rattling off the things we do know in the hopes of coming out on top in a conversation, or being right. This realization hit me so hard through this program, and it made me reflect. I am stubborn and I doubt, and I don’t want to be stuck in that state. I realized I had a choice: I could remain in my ways of oblivion or go out. I wasn’t sure where exactly but I just needed to go places. And when I say places, I mean the ones that aren’t so pretty and comforting. This is exactly how God called me to Living Hope Church exactly one year later.
In my first year program, we visited a lot of churches in Philadelphia. Tiny churches, big ones, some that barely spoke English, and some that took place in people’s living rooms. I noticed that there was something about them that made them more than a place to meet on Sunday mornings. They were meeting points, communities, and in some cases a beacon in the middle of the darkest places. Ever since I visited those churches I have felt so drawn to the Christian communities in inner city areas. In the areas that are tough and raw, and where you have no choice but to come together or fall apart, you see what living off of pure faith really looks like. For some reason this past fall, God had placed Trenton, New Jersey on my heart. For a while, I fought it. I fought it because it was the unknown and I didn’t understand why (the stubborn attitude comes into play here). But I had been spending week after week researching a new church in the city to visit- and the church hopping was making me weary.
Here’s the deal- I don’t believe that a church exists to accommodate me. It should be a community that I can partake in and contribute to. But I became so frustrated that I wasn’t finding a church where I felt that. So I looked up churches in Trenton and I came across one that I thought seemed good. I had been doing this for weeks- research, put the address in the GPS and then move onto a new church. So part of me felt that this was going to be the same thing as usual, but it was far from it. I was welcomed by so many people – resulting in a feeling that I can barely explain. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to laugh and I wanted to say thank you to everyone over and over. I can say that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so welcomed and accepted by strangers in my entire life. This is interesting because Trenton is not exactly the best place to roam around in alone, especially if you don’t know the area. I guess it would be unsettling to know that a 5’3” girl was driving around random neighborhoods and walking the streets alone every Sunday in the first place, but it led me to the place that I needed to be. Living Hope Church is a bilingual church- translated into Spanish. It is rich in diversity, hope and love. I have seen so much happen in this church that would blow your mind- so much so that I have sat in those seats and cried just because of the presence of God in that building and among those people. They carry God with them in what they say, their perspectives, and how they serve their entire community. They are a beacon, and that is why I was led there.
I am not just telling you this story because I want to go on and on about my church- although I could do that easily. I’m telling you this story so that you can get to know me- because like I said, stories can tell a lot about a person. I am hoping that maybe these points can start conversation among those who hear them. But I am mainly hoping that my words and thoughts help you to reflect on what it means to listen to God to the point of banishing fear from your mind. To put a random destination in your GPS and drive there just because God told you to- even after weeks of wearily searching. To not be afraid to tackle things just because you feel small and this world is big and terrifying sometimes. To realize this: sometimes the places that you would assume should make you feel the most uneasy, are the ones that make you feel the most welcomed and at peace. You only have to be brave enough to venture there and find out. This could end up taking us to the beacon we have been searching for. Because of this, I have found a place that lives out my life’s mission spoken in Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Listening to God’s direction and letting him mold and shape me to be filled with bravery is where my story began, and I am glad that I can share that with you all. Be encouraged.
…sometimes the places that you would assume should make you feel the most uneasy, are the ones that make you feel the most welcomed and at peace.