I was raised in a Christian home surrounded by many church-going family and friends. When I was 3, I attended an Episcopal preschool. It was there that I had my ‘spiritual awakening.’ I loved God and wanted to be as close to him as I could. When I was 12, I was baptized and at 13 confirmed. I served as an acolyte for a couple of years. I sensed a ‘call’ to full time ministry. In my mind, I wanted to to spend my life at the church, conducting services, and comforting the distressed. Yet, when I shared my dream with my parents and priest, we prayerfully discerned that I had a different calling on my life. I was indeed called to full time ministry, but not in the pulpit, but in the trenches. I was disappointed because I liked the controlled, meditative, and sacred atmosphere of the church and was repulsed by the profane, cruel, and messy world outside. Yet, this is where Jesus, the Apostles, prophets, and many saints after them spent their lives.
Now, after over a half century of living and working in the trenches, I can see that my engineering degree was my golden passport to get me where pastors could not go. It allowed me to walk beside those who would not enter a church building, share much-needed words of life in a times of crisis, and love those who were very different from myself. When you spend 40 or more hours a week around someone, you get to know them pretty well. You can see what is superficial and what is real. It is a lot harder to ‘play church’ in front of the same people who saw you lose you temper a few minutes ago and heard you utter hurtful words or betray a friend. It is this crucible of daily living that God uses to grow his people.
Along the way, I had to deal with peer pressure. When I was a teen, my friends were getting into all sorts of mischief. Sometimes I went along with them. When my mom found out she would ask me why I did what I did. I would say, ‘All my friends were doing it.’ She would always respond, ‘If all your friends were jumping off of a cliff, would you jump, too?.’ So, I tried to prevent my friends from ‘jumping off the cliff,’ but they shoved me aside and jumped anyway. Looking back, I can see that God had a different plan for me. He led me through a narrow path safely down the cliff level ground below bottom. Along the way, he trained and equipped me as a spiritual medic to care for my wounded friends. And there, at the bottom of the cliff, I have been able to catch and care for my friends as they come crashing down around me.
This reminds me of Isaiah 61:1-3, which is what Jesus started reading at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4:18-19. This passage has become a life verse for me as I continue serving in the Ministry of the Trenches.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)