Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Seminary Reflections

I recently graduated from Golden Gate Seminary with a Masters of Missiology. I had the opportunity to share my story at the graduation ceremony and wanted to share it with all of you. I'm so very thankful for the time I spent at seminary, the friendships I made, and the many lessons I learned. Here's my story:

Two years ago, I packed all of my belongings into my car and began the 3,000 mile journey from North Carolina to San Francisco. Going to seminary had always been a dream of mine, but when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge a week later, my dream became a reality. I was finally here, a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I was nervous and excited, all at the same time. I knew God had called me here, but I had no idea what to expect.

At the new student orientation that week, I found myself in a room full of students just like myself who had answered God’s call to full-time ministry and decided to come to seminary to be properly trained and equipped.  Dr. Iorg stood in front of us and spoke about the significance of our years at seminary. At that moment, I remember looking across the room and getting goose bumps. It was amazing to think that each person in the room had received a specific calling from God and one day we would be scattered across the world, proclaiming the name of Jesus to those who need Him. And yet, God had brought us together for this season of our lives, to learn and grow and become the people that He designed us to be. I felt completely humbled and unworthy to be a part of such a great mission. I remember going up to the top of Chapel hill that night and looking out at the city of San Francisco. I cried out to God to use my short two years of seminary to draw me closer to Him and to be well-equipped for whatever He had in store for me.

Two years later, I can now stand before you and testify that God answered those prayers. God has used my experience at Golden Gate to draw me closer to Himself and to equip me for ministry. I’d like to share with you how I have grown academically and spiritually, and how I have been prepared for ministry.
The classes I have taken at Golden Gate have stretched my mind and taught me practical truths that I will carry with me as I enter into full-time ministry. Academics don’t necessarily come naturally for me, so when I started my first semester, I was anxious…to say the least. I still remember the utter fear I had when I was assigned my very first exegesis paper in Dr. Watson’s Old Testament class. I didn’t know what the word “exegesis” even meant and suddenly I felt very overwhelmed.  I had no idea what I had gotten myself into and wondered if I was really cut out for this whole seminary thing. I stood outside of my professor’s office, nearly in tears, when I ran into Dr. Iorg in the hallway. He encouraged me not to stress over every assignment, but to just enjoy the process of learning. Once I cut myself some slack, I began to learn some valuable lessons in my classes. I enjoyed diving into the Bible in my Old and New Testament classes and then discovering the core of my beliefs in my Theology classes. My missions and evangelism classes were some of the most practical for me as I studied different people groups and how to most effectively share God’s love with them.

But perhaps just as valuable as the education I received in the classroom were the things I learned through relationships with my professors and fellow students. There were many evenings that I would sit in Dr. Prosperly and Patsy’s home, hearing stories from the mission field in India while sipping on chai tea. I was captivated by their stories and encouraged by their experiences. I spent my J-terms traveling with world with Dr. Pate and other professors and students. My eyes were opened to see the ways God is working in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. These hands-on experiences taught me more than I ever could have learned through reading a textbook. God blessed me with supportive professors and deep friendships on campus. I am so thankful for the community that I have found here at Golden Gate.

As I reflect on the spiritual journey I’ve been through in seminary, two main lessons come to mind. The first lesson God taught me in seminary is to be deeply invested in the present. It’s easy to look ahead and dream about what the next phase of life will be like. But God has placed you HERE for this time. The missionary Jim Elliot once said, “wherever you are, be all there!” As a planner and a visionary, I often find myself missing out on the present because I am so future focused. But as I went through seminary, I felt like God was constantly reminding me to live in the here and now, always aware of how He is working around me and how I can join Him. When I finally stopped trying to plan my whole future, God showed me how He could use me here in Mill Valley, even as I prepared for ministry. I got connected with international students in the area through Tiburon Baptist Church and loved serving God in that way.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in seminary is to love God more than anything. In my very first class in seminary, my professor said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “Often times it’s easy in ministry to love serving God more than you love Him.” Over the course of the next year, I found myself falling into that trap. I found satisfaction from doing service projects and telling other people about Jesus. But I realized that I talked about Him more than I talked to Him. I began to feel very superficial, like I was preaching something I didn’t actually practice. God brought me to a breaking point where I was stripped of all of my ministry titles and everything else that I had used to be my identity. He showed me that my identity could only be found in HIM. Though this was a painful process, I am so thankful that I learned this now. I would not be prepared to go into full-time ministry if God was not the core of my being.

These spiritual lessons, along with the theological knowledge I’ve gained, have prepared me for the next step in my journey. This summer, I will move to Hawaii where I will share Christ with international students at the University of Hawaii. God gave me a passion for international students many years ago, and He used my experience at Golden Gate to confirm that call. I am so excited to see what He has in store!

When we leave this place today, we will embark on a new phase of our lives. Some of you will be pastors, some will be missionaries, some will stay in America, others will take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Let’s commit today to being fully present, and to loving Jesus more than anything else. Our seminary experience has prepared and equipped us for ministry. Now let’s go be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and fulfill the great commission together.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


“Some of the women you will encounter today have never been touched in a positive, loving way.” said Ruthie, the founder of Because Justice Matters.

“Many of them have been trafficked into the sex industry, they have been raped, beaten, and they have no self-worth. Today isn’t just about giving make-overs…it could be life-changing for them.”

It was a Saturday and I was sitting in the basement of YWAM San Francisco, getting trained on how to minister to the women of the Tenderloin District. Because Justice Matters (BJM) works to end injustice by taking a stand against modern-day slavery, domestic violence, discrimination against immigrants and economic inequality.

They reach out to women on the streets, in strip clubs and massage parlors. They share Christ with them and seek to show them that they are beautiful and have value in Christ. On this particular day, BJM was hosting a Spa Day.

“You will see all sorts of women today,” Ruthie continued, “Some are prostitutes, some are mentally ill or on drugs, and we have a transvestite population that frequently comes as well. If you see a transvestite, refer to them as a woman, because that is the way they want to be seen.”

As uncomfortable as I felt, I couldn’t wait for the day to begin. This was a brand new experience for me and I was about to have the opportunity to share Jesus with some of the most cast-out people in our society.

We made our way upstairs to get ready for the women to arrive. The room was beautifully decorated with colorful balloons, relaxing spa music, and a table overflowing with every imaginable kind of muffin. This day was all about making those sweet women feel special and pampered.

I was assigned to the facial/make-over team. As a girl who has trouble putting on her own makeup, I was a little worried when I realized I would have to put it on someone else! But thankfully, we had a cosmetologist who trained us in how to apply the four facial creams and then apply the makeup.

The doors opened and women of all shapes and sizes filed in. Some young, some old; some black, white or Hispanic. Some in great physical shape, others in wheel chairs. For a little while, I didn’t have anyone to give a makeover to, so I just watched as the women got pampered. I felt my eyes well up with tears as I realized that this was perhaps the first time these women had ever had a chance to go to a spa and feel beautiful.

My first “client” was a loud, curious woman named Karen*. She wanted to know the ingredients of every single cream I put on her face. I neglected to tell her that she was actually the first person I had ever given a facial to. When I asked her where she lived, her response was, “Oh, you know…here and there.”

That’s when I realized that most of these women hopped from shelter to shelter with no place to call home.

Karen and I had a great conversation, and her makeup actually ended up looking pretty good!  A little while after she left the doors opened again and in walked Harmony*.

Harmony was wearing black tights, tall black boots, a mini-skirt, a pink top, and had colorful hair extensions. But even from far away, I could tell that Harmony was most definitely a man. (But I will refer to her as a “her” throughout the rest of this story).

For some reason, I immediately knew that she was going to come to my chair. She walked back to the facial and makeup station. There were about 10 of us giving facials, and they told her she could choose where she wanted to sit. She slowly scanned the room until she finally pointed directly at me and said, “YOU.”

Gulp. “Okay, I can do this!” I thought to myself.

As I massaged the cream into her whiskery face, I asked Harmony about her life. She said that she had been living in San Francisco for a few months, and didn’t really have any friends here.

“No friends, just acquaintances,” she said in her deep voice. “You’re one of my best friends here now.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt so guilty and ashamed of the way I had judged people like Harmony in the past. And here she was, telling me that I was one of her best friends.

I’ve seen plenty of transvestites since I’ve lived in San Francisco, but in the past, my reaction has generally been one of shock and disapproval. I am ashamed to say that I never really felt compassion on them before.

But that changed in the twenty minutes that I spent with Harmony. I realized that behind the makeup and the fake boobs, there is a hurting, lonely person who has never experienced God’s love.

How can I condemn her sin when Harmony doesn’t know the Savior?

I wish I could tell you that I led Harmony to the Lord and that her life was radically changed. I don’t know if those twenty minutes impacted her at all. But for me, it changed my perspective.

I feel like I got a glimpse of how Jesus views people. I was broken for her and wanted nothing more than to show her love in every way that I could- even if it was just by putting bright blue eye shadow on her sad eyes.

You see, people don’t come to know Jesus by Christians pointing our fingers at them and telling them all the things they shouldn’t do. While I may not approve of their lifestyle, I choose to see the sinner rather than the sin.

I think Jesus would have been right there with us, loving those women. In Scripture, we never see Jesus hatefully judging others. Instead, he goes to their homes, he eats with them, he touches them, and he shows that he truly cares about them before he addresses the sin.

I’m reminded of the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees wanted to stone her. But Jesus stooped down and drew on the ground. Then he said, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I imagine it got very silent as his words sunk in and they realized that this woman’s sins were no greater than their own. One by one, they walked away until only the woman was left.

Jesus then said, “I do not condemn you, go, and sin no more.”

Jesus did not approve of her sin, but he loved the woman. He loved her so much that he stood up for her in front of a crowd of religious leaders.

I think Jesus and Harmony would be good friends. They would probably go out for coffee, and one day, when she was ready, I think Harmony would choose to follow Him.

My hope is that we will choose to be the hands and feet of Jesus and reach out to people like Harmony with compassion, rather than condemnation.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of these women