As you probably know I never really wanted to go to college. After a rough beginning to high school, all I wanted to do was love people. In my mind if the point of life is to love people, then why would I waste my time writing papers or reading stuffy overly expensive textbooks? However, as I graduated, and my parent-approved college alternatives all fell through, I quickly find myself unexpectedly college bound.
If you take a moment and imagine combining the image of horses exploding from their gates down at the race track, dirt flying, people yelling, muscles pounding, and expectations risings, with the image of an ADD social butterfly, flitting from here and there, not fully remembering where exactly its supposed to go but still trying, that might be a close approximation of my first semester in college. It was a blur. As the weeks went progressed, I quickly realized several important things about myself: 1) I had no clue how to write research papers. 2) It is much harder to follow Jesus with chronic sleep deprivation. 3) Girls had somehow once again become scary, mysterious beings around which I was clueless.
The weeks of classes quickly turned into months and a feeling of restless grew within me. I wanted to get out and love people and have some adventures, not just sit here and learn. Then, one day a chapel speaker spoke about the need for missionaries all around the world, and something within me snapped. What was I doing here??? I ran back to my room and started throwing whatever I could into my duffel bag. My roommate came in and asked what was going on. After listening, he told me to chill out, not to do anything brash, and go take a walk. Frustrated, antsy, but excited about the idea of dropping out, I took his advice. I figured I’d take a walk and then drive away. As I walked, however, I eventually ran into a familiar upperclassman who asked me what was going on. Our conversation continued like this:
Me: … so that’s why I’m leaving.
Him: Because you want to go love people?
Me: Yeah, and I just can’t do it here the way I’m supposed to. Classes and all that stuff just drags me down and is a distraction you know?
Him: So you’re taking every single opportunity to love people that you can, and you just run out of time because you have to go to class right? You’re taking every opportunity Drew?
Me: Well…no, but…
Him: I think you should be faithful where you are first. It sounds like your running.
Boom! His piercing comment found its home in my heart. I think He was right. I was romanticizing an idealistic life of ministry, while I wasn’t even being faithful where I was. Still, I had to do something. I felt like a bird who had an untried set of wings, and so I devised a plan. If I took a semester abroad, I wouldn’t be quitting this whole college thing, my parents would still be happy, and I could get out and do something.
I hugged my mom and dad for the fourth time, and went through the airport security. My friend Josh Weed and were doing it. We had tickets to a great adventure: a month backpacking across Europe and then three months studying in Uganda. This was it! Giddy and scared, but walking tall, we left.
How could I ever describe the next fourth months? I can’t capture the beautiful people we met and with whom we shared lives. Nor am I capable of communicating the joy of paragliding in the Swiss Alps, seeing the sun set behind the Coliseum, walking across London Bridge, hearing fellow travelers’ stories, living with a Uganda family, learning how to sit still, or coming over a hill in the early morning light to see a family of Giraffes walk all around our car. I am also unable to express the torment I felt when juxtaposing my European travels with meeting people who couldn’t afford shoes, the horror of holding the gaze of someone while they spoke of watching their loved ones be butchered by machetes, or what its like standing in a room that is piled high with broken skulls, remnants of a genocide. The intense contrast of beauty and joy as well as brokenness was unlike anything I had ever encountered in the sterile world of South Tulsa.
Halfway through that semester I knew I wanted to return to JBU. God had worked on my heart, and I was excited to come back and live differently. Plus, getting a degree seemed like a good idea, and I knew I had much to learn. In many ways I never understood my situation at JBU until I left, but I returned hopeful. I laughed a little when my professors in Uganda warned that Reverse Culture Shock could be more jarring than the initial adaptation to a second culture. I shouldn’t have though.
To put it gently, spring semester of my sophomore year was the worst of college. I came back to everything being the same, except for the vacancy of where I used to belong. The excitement and hope I had concerning my return were replaced by loneliness and a pervasive feeling that I didn’t belong (and never knew if I would.) To cope with these feelings I threw myself into my schoolwork. I found it to be something I could control, and soon receiving A’s became a major source of comfort. As the semester continued, the disconnection with God and friends continued and depression began seeping into my life. Our Lord is faithful though, and he heard my prayers. Through counseling, getting involved in a local church plant, and the Holy Spirit, He turned my hopeless into joy and the feeling of social homelessness as an opportunity to start again. Our God is so good!
Towards the end of my sophomore year, I decided I wouldn’t drop out of school, but instead I would finish it. I had a problem: I still had not declared a major. So what did I do? I copied and pasted all the classes offered at JBU into a word document, highlighted the interesting sounding ones, deleted the rest, and then figured out to which major I was the closest. A week before summer I declared Family and Human Services with an Intercultural minor, then headed off to work at New Life as a Nehi Leadership Counselor.
Following a summer at New Life Ranch I was exhausted, and quickly found myself in the busiest time of my life. Whenever I decided to stay in school, I suppose my mind also decided that I would do it 110%. So returning in the fall, I became an RA, a member of the men’s ministry core team on campus, and the worship leader for the church plant I had joined. On top of these responsibilities, I guess I thought it would be fun to take 17 hours. It was insane. I worked harder in those semester than I every have in my life. Looking back though, and at the risk of sounding cliché for utilizing an overused literary reference, “It was the best of time, it was the worst of times.”
Right from the get go, the guys in my suite and I decided to create an atmosphere that would encourage us to follow Jesus more. So what did we do? We threw most of the beds into one room. We created a study room and a room reserved solely for spiritual disciplines and the occasional movie night (christened the “Prayer room”). We then created a common library and, to the chagrin of some, a community pantry. Furthermore, we committed ourselves to keeping each other to a higher standard, as well as praying together every morning and every night. It really was an incredible time. We saw God move in some crazy ways, and I was stretched as a leader and an individual through unwanted opportunities that always seemed to come at the worst of times. I wouldn’t have changed any of it though. Even the fighting and occasional tension was somehow good. Throughout the year as my crazy schedule pushed me to the brink of burnout, my suitemates supported me and the Lord breathed strength into my weary heart. There’s no way I could have survived without His grace!
Before I move on I’d love to share a story with you. The summer before my Junior year I saw a video titled, “Validation” and I loved it! (If you haven’t seen it, you should stop reading this and look it up on youtube. The picture related to the video should be a black and white shot of a guy with curly hair.) So, when the J. Alvin (the all-male dorm where I’ve lived the last four years) threw a Christmas party I knew what I wanted to do with my suitemates. We decorated our main living room nice and festive and scheduled a jazz band to play Christmas songs for the duration of the party. What made our suite special was that we would invite guest one by one back into the “secret room!” Once an individual would walk in through the sheet tunnel he or she would be instructed to sit in a comfy chair across from a panel of 4-5 guys. As soon as they felt led, one of my suitemates would start affirming the person. We would tell people everything beautiful we saw in them. We would talk about the things we appreciate about the way they each lived his or her life, or how we saw the specific ways he or she shined Jesus. (Remember that our campus isn’t huge, so at least one of us would usually know the person pretty, and if we didn’t we would just affirm their identity in the Lord.) Our goal for the night was to listen to the Holy Spirit and simply be open for God to use us to affirm his children, both in their spiritual identity and individual uniqueness. Soon the line for the secret room went out of our suite, down the hall, across the way, and down the next hall! It was crazy seeing people’s reactions to simple truth being spoken over them. Some laughed, some cried, and other people, who came in with snarky attitudes, left befuddled. What a beautiful night!
After Junior year I knew I wanted to switch things up. So I went and lived on a farm with people from all over the world and studied community development. Then after that program was over I traveled out to take an Internship in Fresno, CA working with gang members. While in Fresno, I also took classes from InterVarsity on racial reconciliation. The entire time I was in California I was being stretched. As a part of the program I shared a two-bedroom apartment with six guys (and one guy, who lived there his whole year, had his own room) and I was paid $35 a week. Like I said, it was challenging, but in a really good way. The Lord humbled me a lot in so many different ways and I was able to experience a life so different than the one in which I had been raised.
The program ended, and later, while driving back from California, I had one of the most impactful experiences of my life. My friend and I had been driving through Colorado for a couple of hours when he fell asleep. While I continued to drive, my mind drifted to wondering about the upcoming year: my senior year in college. What would I do? How could I make a difference? What kind of legacy would I leave? What would my suite be like? How could I lead even though I wasn’t an RA again? If I received an opportunity to speak in the student led chapel what would I say? All of these questions buzzed around my head, when all of the sudden a dense silence entered the car. The air seemed thicker and the noises from the engine grew quiet. My brain calmed down and stopped racing (which almost never happens). Slowly, the peace that comes with the Spirit of the Lord washed over me and I felt God ask a question in my heart:
Drew, if you never became who you wanted to be, or accomplished anything great, if no wanted to be like you, or even remembered your name, would I still be enough?
Adrenaline shot through my heart, and my soul leapt. “Yes!” I wanted to cry. Then stunned, I thought “Did I just say that? I can’t say that. I’ve never felt that way.” But I had said it. Unknown to me the Lord had been doing some major work on my heart all summer. Other questions started pouring into my head. What if the Christian life wasn’t all about making a difference? What if I had let loving people become more important that loving God? What if Jesus not only loved me, but He also liked me, celebrating who I was regardless of my attempts to please Him? Grace. A word that had lost meaning became beautiful once again. Relationship. Not one based on the fear of being unworthy, but on the trust that when He says He will never let go, He means it.
Coming back to school, that question God asked me in the car never left my head. As I spoke in the gathering, mentored freshmen, completed my senior thesis, represented my school at conferences, it was always there: “Will He be enough?” When the church I helped lead didn’t have enough money to pay the rent and had to shut down, when I struggled with loneliness in a sea of “friends”, when I was rejected for opportunity after opportunity, or when I had no clue about what I should do with my life, the question was still there: “Will He be enough?”
This year has been crazy, and it is crazy that the end is so near. The Lord has blessed me with an incredible community here at JBU. Looking back, I can see the ways He pushed me through my experience here. The ways He humbled me, as well as the extraordinary ways He gave His blessings. The Lord has been so faithful, and in two weeks I’ll hopefully get to experience the joy of that faithfulness bringing this season of my life to fruition.
So what’s next? Great question. I found out earlier this year that I could earn another bachelor’s degree if I added just one more semester. At first I thought to myself, nah. However, I discovered that my last semester could be taken in Ecuador, learning Spanish and doing an internship. Needless to say, I thought that was a swell deal, especially since I have been feeling led to learn Spanish. So I decided to go to Ecuador. Then, in preparation for the semester I joked with my dad about flying down to South America with me and hiking the Inca Trail in Peru (it’s a rigorous four day hike that ends at Machu Picchu). A couple of weeks later he called me back and said he was in. “Excuse me?” I said, not understanding to what he was referring. “I’m in for the Inca Trail, let’s do it!” So now, I’m hoping to travel with my dad on August 24th to Ecuador and Peru to hike the Inca trail. After hiking, he’ll return and I’ll remain in Quito, Ecuador for the next 3 months! Crazy huh?
Once I return, I have no clue what I’m going to do. Go to graduate school and earn a Masters of Social Work? Maybe. Just buckle down and get some work experience? Possibly. Join some sort of innercity missions? That’s a possibility as well. Whatever I do though I want to do it with that question in mind, “Will God be enough?” Will He be my joy and my peace, or will I be like the seed that falls among thorns and let my anxiety or desire for accomplishments consume me (Matthew 13:22)?
I’m sorry this was so long. I care about you guys a lot and wanted to give you a brief overview of what’s been going on the last couple of years. Obviously, I couldn’t include all the details, so just know that if you have further interest concerning anything I mentioned, I’d love to talk to you more about it. As I wrote this, I have felt like I have been writing a missions update letter. I recognize though that this is probably a fitting feeling, as regardless our occupation or place in life we are all missionaries fighting for the further establishment of the Kingdom of God.
So thank you. Thank you for caring about me. Thank you for reading this letter. Thank you for the difference you’ve made in my life. In big ways and small ways I would not be who I am today without you being apart of my life. To conclude this letter, I’d like to share two quotes:
The best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing. -Theodore Roosevelt
Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God. -Jim Elliot