Unfortunately, this will be the last Dream Center post reflecting on this year’s mission trip with the Hope Fellowship Youth group. Gosh, I have to tell you that this week has been the most challenging God Gold’s of my life. By challenge I mean in the best way possible. God continued to pour out so much of His gold into the lives of our students, our leaders and the community around us. I found myself in the best problem I’ve ever had because God gave me SO MUCH of His awesomeness to share with you!!!
I remember waking up Sunday morning before we headed out on the trip and after having the privilege of going on international and mission trips in the states, I literally said out loud before I left that morning, “Lives are going to be changed this week!” And I just grinned at the thought of what God would do! Fast forward to Sunday morning, our last day at the Dream Center after a week of serving in the Lakeland community. My thought I had a week before seemed so small compared to the literal life-changing moments that God brought together throughout the week. I was jaw-dropped and in awe of all God did in the lives of the students and my own. After going on mission trips before and always leaving with my life-changed, I have never experienced anything like this.
Sunday morning we spent a time in the morning before the Dream Center’s church service in reflection with each student and leader sharing their big moments from the week. It started with just sharing their big moments then after a few students also shared moments where other students impacted or encouraged them, the reflection guidelines changed to sharing biggest moments and the people that had impacted you the most. That in itself just shows a glimpse at the heart changes that took place in the students lives and how this group built a sense of togetherness throughout the week. Hearing the students affirming and encouraging one another brought an even bigger element to what God has done in their lives this week. They were exemplifying what putting others before self looked like and striving together for the same purpose as the church is called to do in this mission for Christ. Honestly, going through this time and hearing the things that the students learned this week, I was blown away! I began taking notes like I usually did during this time but more so because I was learning so much from them.
One of our students in particular made some big time moves in His relationship with the Lord this week. A guy who is usually more introverted and stand-offish when it comes to worshiping out loud, praying out loud, or sharing Jesus with others, a couple days into the trip he had some HUGE moments of opening up about things that had been weighing him down. After those struggles were surrendered to the Lord, you could literally see him moving quicker and more boldly in everything he did. Doing the canvasing, going from house to house, he was getting after it. He had a drive to give out all of the flyers he could as well as being intentional about conversations with others. He began to take this same passion into praying for people, as we gave out hot dogs one of the nights he would give someone a hotdog and ask to pray over whatever need they had. Not just one or two people but he laid hands and prayed over every person that was open to it. Then, as we practiced sharing the Gospel in more public settings, the dude was chasing people down to tell them the Good News about Jesus. In reflection time he shared with us his secret to how he got so bold; “I prayed every morning asking God to give me more and more boldness.” And as he prayed in faith to be bold, he moved in faith to be obedient to God as He opened up doors to serve others. It was obvious how God was faithful to answer his prayers time and time again. What’s even wilder is watching how his example of surrender and serving boldly served as an inspiration to the other students to do the same.
That story is one of so many stories from how God moved students out of their comfort zones into an uncomfortable place of service. And as the students moved they were stretched more and more. They continued to experience God in bigger and bigger ways as they simply MOVED! So many of our students showed time and time again, whether they had a more introverted personality or just in those uncomfortable moments, they showed by their example that we have no excuses not to share Jesus with others.
I was trying to think back about all the huge God moments that happened this week and as I tried to find a pattern of how all of these life-changing moments happened I kept coming back to the same conclusion.
Everything we did started with prayer and was empowered, driven by prayer. I have to give a shoutout to our fearless leader Pastor Matt because his leadership this week, like always was absolutely incredible. He continuously challenged the students in different areas of their faith, with the main areas being “surrender to God and the power of the Holy Spirit”, and starting every day and everything we did with prayer. Early in the week he made a challenge that he repeated many times after that, during our students devotional time, he would lead all of us in hitting our knees in surrender to God and pray specifically for opportunities to serve others, whether that was by loving them, praying for them or sharing the gospel. These moments of surrender, prayer and being fueled by spending time in God’s Word, these spiritual disciplines lived out by the students and leaders led to the big time work God was able to do throughout the week. It’s not even like you have to do these things in some kind of religious way of “if I do a then b then God will give me c.” It’s actually an act of doing less, surrendering our lives and bodies to God for Him to use us in whatever way He sees fit. I want to give a big shoutout to Matt for not only challenging us in this way but also modeling those principles day in and day out for us to see what “living surrendered to God and living on mission looks like.” BIG thanks to Pastor Matt for constantly serving us and impacting our lives with the truest and purest form of servant leadership.
During reflection time, it was so cool to see how God continued to move and hear how God had moved them forward in their lives. Hearing how students started the week carrying so much fear, doubt, and worry on their shoulders and how after a lot of prayer and a lot of movement with God by their side. The fear and all the other things that weighed them down just seven days earlier were long gone with no plans of returning. Also, getting to hear the joy that the students now had in doing things that used to terrify them such as sharing the gospel and praying for others. After spending time stepping out of their comfort zones and experiencing what God can do, then seeing just how big of an impact it can have on people’s lives. They realized how “living with God on mission”, brings more joy and satisfaction than anything they could ever imagine. Living in the fullness of what God has for us, what could be better?
Also, I want to share how awesome it was to experience and see students praying for one another as they faced a time of need after opening up about different struggles they have. I can’t help but to continue hitting on this togetherness that they built with the love of Christ as the foundation. In reflection time, over and over again they shared how different people in the group impacted them by their example and reaching out to affirm those people. That was a big lesson for me this week just realizing how crucial it is to have brothers and sisters in your life that speak it to you real and affirm you in the growth moments you have. There is nothing more encouraging than somebody affirming you for who you are and how your example of serving has impacted them. That affirmation builds confidence that opens you up to serving God more and more.
Another lesson from the students that was also rooted from the moments of surrendering and prayer, having their eyes opened to seeing the way the Lord moves in even the smallest of things. In each moment, seeing how God is working things together to open up doors of opportunity to serve others with the love that He so graciously gives us. On top of that lesson, another student shared how they learned just how powerful prayer is not only in their own life but in the lives of others. Learning and experiencing the power of interceding on others behalf, praying for the Lord to wrap His protection giving, provision bringing love around them during their time of need. I was just going to share a few of the reflections shared from students but they are just too powerful so I’m going to keep going. Another student, who is also on more of the quieter side majority of the time, went through an enormous amount of growth as each day progressed. After breaking through in sharing his heart to the group, praying out loud with the group, and then God moving him to pray over a stranger met while serving on the street. He said, “praying out loud is something I never do, but God was telling me to do it, and the thought of ‘wow this may change this person’s life came up, and God gave me the confidence to just do it.” The last reflection from one of our leaders just catches the main theme of the week as God didn’t just bring impact to the people we served but an internal impact in our hearts that will forever change us. He said, “How many things can you learn in a week?? God did so much it’s overwhelming!”
We wrapped up the week with a church service at the Dream Center. The Dream Center does this every week, they set up tables and chairs, serve a nice pancake breakfast for all who attend and by meeting a physical need, they then bring them the truth of God’s Word and meets their biggest need, which is the need for Jesus. Pastor Steve, who was heading up all we got to do at the Dream Center while Pastor Mike is recovering from an illness, spoke on the purpose of the Dream Center. After seeing all the different, unique and creative ways they serve the people in the Lakeland community, hearing their purpose just made sense to what we witnessed all week. “We want to meet tangible needs that provide for people temporarily so we can meet their need for Jesus which sets them up for the long term.”
The Dream Center in Lakeland, Florida truly is one of a kind. How they attack the mission Christ has given us by following the example Christ set which is meeting a person’s physical need first then serving their spiritual needs by sharing the Good News with them. It was cool seeing the people that showed up also, with the free breakfast, it brought in people from the streets of Lakeland that may never find themselves attending a church service. Physical need then their need for Jesus. It’s such a beautiful and Christ-like way of ministering to a community that some would rule out as “impossible.’ For the last 30-40 years, their Christ-like approach and faithfulness has completely changed the landscape of that community and set up so many with LIFE in the fullest of ways through Jesus Christ.
The service was truly amazing, our worship leader Matt Howard led in worship along with two of our other students, Trinity and Savannah. God’s Spirit was so thick in the room as they proclaimed and praised the name of Jesus in such a beautiful and awesome way. Then, three of our students were able to step up to the podium and share their testimonies to the congregation. It was extremely powerful as they all shared their stories, their hardships, and their experience of how Jesus has came into their life and turned their world upside down. All three did such a great job sharing and continuing to move boldly in their faith stepping into a situation that none of them had much experience with, speaking in front of others. As all three of them crushed it, and as much as I wish I could just share the complete videos with you so you could witness this amazing work by God, there’s one student I want to highlight real quick. One of students name Paige, who recently came to know Christ just months before at summer camp, she mentioned how she’s always struggled with anxiety, especially in moments of speaking in front of others. But she also shared what was so obvious in that moment to see, that despite her fear, God spoke through her. What was awesome seeing to as most would just share the personal side of their testimony, she left the people there with some huge encouragement to what God can do and how awesome God is. A girl who is so young in her faith stepping up to do that. Once again, my mind is blown and I’m completely in awe at God for working in such a huge way this week.
The other students also served in helping prepare and hand out the pancake breakfast’s to people, we had some in the Sunday School area with the kids, and all of them continued moving forward in service as we cleaned up and got set to hit the road.
To wrap up Dream Center week, I’m just so thankful to have been able to share these awesome, real-life, life-changing moments that God brought forth this week. I’m just so thankful to get to be apart of this with this awesome group of students and leaders. My life will never be the same after this week. I’ve never experienced God in this way and I can’t wait to see how He continues to work and use the experiences of growth this week in the lives of our students and so many others. I ask that you pray for the Dream Center ministry and the faithful men and women that serve there. Please also pray for the students and leaders as we are back to our lives now that we would continue to practice the spiritual disciplines learned of surrendering and praying, that we would continue to step out of our comfort zones to take the love of God into the lives around us and continue living our lives on mission no matter where we are or who we’re around. Thank you in advance for your prayers and I’ll be praying for you also that these lessons shared in these messages bring you closer to Christ and challenges you to leave the comfortable and move on mission for Christ.
It’s those moments when you surrender your life and body to the Lord, step out of your comfort zone to serve others around you and share the loves of Christ that sparks growth like never before and opens you up to experience God in ways you never imagined. Don’t pass these moments up, MOVE in them!!!!
‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’