Life is full of difficult and seemingly impossible tasks. Sometimes such tasks require hard work to complete, and sometimes I just never get motivated enough to do difficult things. But every once in a while, everything I need to accomplish something difficult just falls into my lap, leaving me to just take the final step.
I had just spent five days away from home at Outreach Camp, the retreat for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship where we plan for the upcoming school year. I did not go straight home to Jeromeville after that, though, because I had another retreat for the weekend, this one with student ministries for Jeromeville Covenant Church. This encompassed youth groups for preteens, junior high school, and high school, as well as the college group. I was a leader with The Edge, the junior high group. The leaders for the preteen youth group were high school students, and almost all of the leaders for all of the other groups were University of Jeromeville students, like me.
Outreach Camp ended at 1:00, and the other retreat started at 6:00, and it did not take five hours to drive between them, even on curvy mountain highways, so I was the first one to arrive other than the paid church staff. I mingled and helped them set up as others began arriving.
“Greg!” Taylor Santiago said when he saw me. He and Pete Green, who played guitar for the college group, arrived together. I had known them the longest of anyone on this retreat; we were all in the same dorm freshman year. Taylor gave me a hug.
“Good to see you again,” I said. “How was the rest of your time in Chicago?”
“Tiring, but really good. It’s pretty intense, seeing what some of those people are going through. It’s a world away from our kids at The Edge.”
“I’m sure it is.”
Josh, my housemate back in Jeromeville, and his girlfriend Abby showed up shortly afterward. They pulled me aside as if they wanted to talk to me about something. “You should know this, because you’re my housemate. We’re gonna announce it to everyone later tonight,” Josh said. “Last night, I asked Abby to marry me.” Abby held up her left hand, showing off her new engagement ring.
“Wow,” I said. “Congratulations! Does that mean you’ll be moving out and we’ll need a new roommate?”
“No,” Josh explained. “The wedding won’t be until summer. So you won’t need to find someone in the middle of the school year.”
“Good,” I said. “I don’t know if you heard, but Scott and Amelia just got engaged too, during Outreach Camp.”
“They did?” Abby said. “Good for them!”
We all went into the main building of this retreat center to eat after everyone arrived. After dinner, Pete and a few others led us in a time of worship music, then we had free time to hang out until it was time for bed. “Do you know how to play poker?” Taylor asked me.
“I’m not great at it, but I know the basics.”
“I brought a poker set. We aren’t playing for real money, of course. Are you in?”
Taylor, Abby, Josh, and I sat in a circle, along with Noah Snyder, the junior high group intern and Taylor’s best friend from high school; Adam White, the youth pastor; and Nick Hunter, a sixteen-year-old leader with the preteen youth group whose younger brother Ted was one of the junior high students I knew well. A few hands in, I was dealt a full house, and I managed to bet big enough to get a big return but not so big that everyone else dropped out. It did not take long for me to lose the rest of that money, though.
Most of the serious work of the retreat, specifically the things related to running the youth groups, happened on Saturday. The leaders met in groups separated by which group we worked with, so that I was with The Edge leaders: Noah, Taylor, Abby and Josh, Martin Rhodes, and Courtney Kohl and Brody Parker, a sophomore couple who first met as Edge leaders last year. Adam, as the youth pastor, was in charge of three of the four groups meeting here this weekend, but he met with us tonight. Before he had a paid position at the church, he had been a volunteer with The Edge, and he had something specific to our group to talk about.
“This is it so far this year,” Adam said. “James and Kate are going to be doing high school. Charlotte isn’t going to J-Cov anymore. And everyone else was either busy or too involved in other things.”
“What about Erica?” I asked. I had noticed that Erica Foster was not here this weekend. I wondered if this meant that she was no longer a leader with The Edge this year, or if she just had other commitments. She had been in Turkey this summer living with a family of missionaries that J-Cov supported, but I thought she must be back by now, especially with school starting soon. I did not want to ask earlier, I did not want anyone to think it was weird that I was asking about Erica, but this time I just blurted it out without thinking.
“Oh, you’re right,” Adam replied. “Erica is still doing The Edge. But still, we lost six leaders this year. Considering how many kids show up each week, we definitely don’t have enough leaders as we should have. So, I’m proposing a challenge for all of you. I want you to prayerfully consider, at some point this year, recruiting someone to join the Edge team of leaders. If you know someone around church, someone in the college group, whoever, who might make a good Edge leader, invite them to come check it out.”
My heart sank. Being a leader with The Edge was supposed to be fun. I got to hang out with fun, energetic young teenagers, playing games with them and teaching them about Jesus. It was not supposed to involve me having to awkwardly ask my friends to make a commitment. I knew in my head that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for my sins, and that my own good works were not what got me into Heaven. But I often felt pressure to be a better Christian because I was not constantly out there doing things. Taylor’s mission trip to Chicago, Erica’s mission trip to Turkey, I had never done anything big like that. And I also felt the constant pressure to reach out and invite others to church, to Bible study, and the like. I was not good at inviting anyone to anything. The frequent reminders at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship to invite all of our non-Christian friends just made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I did not have many close non-Christian friends, since I had little to nothing in common with most non-Christians. I understood well the value of inviting non-Christians to Christian events; I first got involved with JCF when my friends from freshman year invited me, and this led to me making my faith my own. But I hated that pressure, especially since inviting people to stuff did not come naturally to me.
Of course, recruiting friends to work as leaders with The Edge was a little different. I was looking for people who were already Christians, looking for somewhere to serve; they would not interpret my invitation as asking them to change their religion. Still, though, any sort of conversation where I had to ask someone to do something always felt forced and unnatural to me. It always felt like I was only talking to the other person because I wanted something. However, I knew plenty of Christians, and I talked enough about being a youth group leader that it was certainly possible for it to come up naturally in conversation.
I woke up fairly early Sunday morning. I put on a sweatshirt, since it was cold outside, and brought my Bible to a bench where I could sit and read Scripture and enjoy the view of God’s creation. When I went back to the cabin, Noah was awake. “How’s it goin’, Greg,” he said quietly.
“Okay, I guess,” I replied. “I’m just stressing about having to recruit another leader. I’m not good at inviting people to things.”
“Don’t feel any pressure. Nothing’s gonna happen if you don’t. Just think of it this way. Keep it in mind in case it ever comes up in conversation. If you know someone who might be interested, tell them.”
“Don’t let this get you down.”
The drive down Highway 52 to Capital City was full of mountains and rocks and pine trees. The first fifty miles went relatively slowly, with only one lane in each direction and lots of traffic from people who came up to the mountains for the weekend. As the road gradually widened approaching Capital City, traffic began moving faster. It took close to two and a half hours to get down the mountain, across Capital City, and back to my house in Jeromeville.
Despite the usual dread about having to get up early again for classes, the beginning of a new school year always felt hopeful. I would have new friends to make, new professors to meet, new things to learn. For all I knew, maybe one of those new friends I made would be my future wife.
I spent Monday running errands around campus. I stood in a long line to buy my books. I had told the Learning Skills Center that I was available to work ten hours per week this quarter as a tutor, so I also checked to see when I would be scheduled to work this quarter. While I was there, the woman at the check-in desk mentioned that they needed proctors for the mathematics placement test they would be giving the next morning, so I returned to campus on Tuesday morning and got paid to work a couple hours by standing and walking around a room as incoming students took this test.
Tuesday night I went back to campus for Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s Welcome Mixer. This year it was held in the Arboretum Lodge. The Arboretum was possibly my favorite part of the University of Jeromeville campus, a park-like collection of plants from around the world running a mile and a half along a long, skinny lake made from a formerly dry creek bed. Near the west end of the Arboretum was a grassy field surrounded by tall oaks, pines, and redwoods, with an event room called the Lodge at one end of the field. I had only been inside The Lodge once, three years ago this week, for a similar beginning-of-year party for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program that I was part of freshman year.
I was working a shift for the first hour of the night at the welcome table, filling out name tags and directing students to leave their contact information so that JCF could be in touch with them. I was proud of myself for knowing many students’ names, but of course there were many new students to meet. JCF had used all of their usual outreach techniques during the last few days: students lingering around freshman dorms randomly helping people move in, a table on the Quad during busy times with information about our group, and lots of signs and flyers around campus. Last week at Outreach Camp, when they asked for volunteers to sign up for those events, this one hour shift at the name tag table was all I signed up for, since I knew I would be gone on the youth leaders’ retreat while everyone was moving in.
It would take me a while to learn all of the new people’s names, but by the time my shift was over, a few already stood out to me. Being the secretly girl-crazy guy I was, cute girls stood out in my mind the most. I remembered in particular an attractive, bubbly girl named Brianna with curly blonde hair, and a short girl named Chelsea with light brown hair and bright blue eyes. I looked around the room, but I did not see Brianna or Chelsea. Among the guys, the one who stood out to me most was named Tim; he had brown hair, black Buddy Holly glasses, and a t-shirt that said “Nobody knows I’m Elvis.” I had no idea what that meant, but this Tim guy surely was quirky, in a fun kind of way. I saw Tim and another new guy talking to Scott and Amelia.
“Hey, Greg,” Scott said as I approached. “Have you met Tim and Blake? They live in the Forest Drive dorms, so they’ll be in my Bible study this year.”
“I saw you guys come in,” I said. “I was at the name tag table.”
“Oh, yeah,” Tim said. “Nice to meet you, Greg.”
“You too. Where are you guys from?”
“I’m from Sullivan,” Blake said. I knew Sullivan; it was on the drive from Jeromeville to my parents’ house in Plumdale, about halfway.
“I’m from Seger Ranch,” Tim said. “I bet you don’t know where that is.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Scott explained. “Greg has a reputation for knowing his way around really well.”
“This time, Tim wins, though,” I said. “I don’t remember where Seger Ranch is.”
“Ha! I have stumped the master!” Tim exclaimed. “It’s down the Valley a few hours, about half an hour outside of Ashwood.”
“Oh, okay. I bet you don’t know where Plumdale is.”
“Nope. Is that where you’re from?”
“Yeah. Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”
“I know Santa Lucia.”
I made small talk with Scott, Tim, and Blake for a few minutes. When they dispersed, I continued walking around the room, next introducing myself to a girl with short brown hair whose name tag said “Hannah,” in handwriting that was not mine. John Harvey had been working the name tag table at the same time as me; he must have filled out Hannah’s name tag. I would have remembered, because it would have stuck out in my mind that the name Hannah is a palindrome, reading the same forward and backward.
“Hi,” Hannah said, noticing me approaching. “I’m Hannah.”
“I’m Greg,” I replied. “Are you a freshman?”
“Yeah! What about you?”
“I’m a senior.”
“Cool! Have you always been part of JCF? Since you were a freshman?”
“I started at UJ as a freshman, but I didn’t get involved with JCF until sophomore year.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
I paused. “It’s kind of a long story. Do you want to hear it? I can try to make it short.”
“I grew up Catholic. My mom’s family has always been Catholic, but it didn’t really mean a lot to me personally. So I was going to Catholic Mass at the Newman Center.”
“It’s like the Catholic student club at secular schools. I lived alone sophomore year, and I had some friends from freshman year who went to JCF, so I started going just to stay close to my friends. And the more I started meeting people at JCF, the more I realized I didn’t really know Jesus personally. So I made a decision for Jesus that year. I still went to Mass for a while, because I didn’t want to turn my back on my family heritage. But eventually I felt like I needed to find a church where people were serious about learning about the Bible and not just going because that’s what you do. So I stopped going to Mass about a year ago.”
“That’s cool, how God found you through your friends,” Hannah said. “My story isn’t that complicated. I grew up in a Christian family. We’ve always been involved in church.”
“That’s good too. You got to experience church life as a kid in ways that I didn’t.”
“I’m looking for a church in Jeromeville too. I think someone said JCF isn’t connected to one church, right? Is there a church where a lot of people here go?”
“I go to Jeromeville Covenant Church now,” I said. “There’s a lot of JCF people who go to J-Cov, including the McAllens, the couple who are the head staff of JCF. And I know some people here also go to First Baptist Church of Jeromeville, and some go to Jeromeville Assembly of God.”
“I’ll try those out,” Hannah replied. “You like Jeromeville Covenant?”
“Yeah. They’ve got a good college group. I like the way the college pastor teaches. And I got involved as a junior high group leader toward the end of last year. That’s been a lot of fun, getting to work with younger kids, and getting to know their families. It makes me feel more like part of the community.”
“That does sound like fun! I taught little kids’ Sunday school back home, and I was thinking it would be nice to get involved with something like that.”
I felt like pieces were suddenly starting to come together in my head. Before I could pause and overthink and talk myself out of it, I asked, “Do you want to come to junior high group sometime and see if you’d be interested in being a leader? The youth pastor was just talking about how we needed more leaders.”
“Sure! When is it?”
“We meet on Wednesdays, so tomorrow night would be the next time. But really, any Wednesday.”
“Yeah! I think I’m free tomorrow night. How far is it?”
“About a mile past campus, on Andrews Road.”
“Can you give me directions?”
“Sure,” I said. I wrote directions from campus to church on the back of a flyer; I also wrote the church phone number and Adam and Noah’s names, so that she could ask someone who actually worked at the church if she had any questions.
“Thanks! I’ll see you tomorrow night, then! It was nice meeting you!”
“Yeah! Good luck with everything this week,” I said. Could it really be that easy? I just possibly recruited a new leader, the thing I had been scared of just three days earlier. Now, hopefully, Hannah would actually show up and stick with it.
“We have two possible new leaders tonight,” Adam said on Wednesday night as the leaders for The Edge met to discuss the night. “Why don’t you introduce yourselves. Hannah, you go first.”
“I’m Hannah, and I’m a freshman. I grew up in a Christian family, I taught Sunday school when I was in high school, and I just got to Jeromeville on Sunday, so I’m looking for a church.”
“Welcome,” Adam said. “And how’d you find out about The Edge?”
“Last night, at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s welcome thing. Greg told me about it.”
I looked up and noticed that Noah was smiling at me. He must have been remembering when I was feeling uneasy about having to recruit a new leader. And today, I had recruited a new leader. Mission accomplished.
“I’m Cambria,” the other new leader said. “I was talking to someone at church last week about wanting to get more involved, and working with junior high kids was one of the options, so I’m checking it out. I’m a sophomore. I recognize some of you from JCF. Like I know Greg.” I waved at Cambria when she said my name. I did not know that she would be coming to The Edge tonight.
“Welcome,” Noah said.
“I hope you enjoy the night,” Adam added.
Both Hannah and Cambria stayed with The Edge for the entire school year. Hannah volunteered with the youth groups at J-Cov for the entire four years she was in Jeromeville, two years with The Edge, then two years with the high school group after her small group moved on to high school. I had been afraid of recruiting a new leader, and Hannah was the only new leader that I ever directly invited in four and a half years of working with The Edge, but I still did what I was afraid of, and that is important. No one I met that year became my future wife, but with classes starting tomorrow, I still had a good feeling about this year. And it did end up being a memorable year.
By the way, two of my friends did end up meeting their future wives in this story, but I’ll get to that another time.
Readers: Has there ever been a time you had to do something scary to you that wasn’t as hard as you ended up thinking it would be? Tell me about it in the comments.