Agape Week

Hello everyone!

"Agape" may be a familiar word to you. I knew that it meant "love," but I didn't know that it was one of three words for love used in the Bible. One word is for a romantic, passionate love, one is for a brotherly love, but Agape is for love that isn't an emotion or necessarily a feeling, but a choice. We as a project, but especially we as a Bible Study, deeply experienced this kind of love this week.

Our Bible Study Leader
Sunday night's message was about God's Agape love for us. It's amazing to think that God doesn't love us because of who we are, but in spite of who we are. "He doesn't love us for our accomplishments, but in spite of our failures. He doesn't love us because we have it all together, but he loves us in spite of our brokeness." Those were the phrases that really stuck with me, along with the statement that God's love has nothing to do with us, how deserving or undeserving we are, but it has everything to do with his character.

On Monday night, my apartment threw a surprise Bacheloreatte party for our discipler, which was neat because it happened to be the anniversary of when she and her fiance started dating. We all dressed up and took her to a very nice restaurant, had a candlelit dinner and took a ton of pictures, before heading to the beach.
Photo Shoot
More Photo Shoot
 Dinner took a lot longer than expected, so the person we were going to have take pictures for us wasn't available, but two teenage girls on the beach agreed to take them for us. The sun was setting, and the ocean was incredibly beautiful. It was so perfect. Kim told us that she never felt so special in all her life, and we still had more planned! We brought her back to our apartment, where we'd decorated the tables with sea shells, rose petals, and candles, and we set out the chocolate fudge strawberry torte we'd made, got everything ready, and led her in with her eyes closed. Her face was priceless!
After dessert, we each gave her a gift, and since it way too late to start Bible study, I just summarized what it was going to be over, and we discussed it for awhile. At the end of the night, we prayed for each other and for Kim. It was pretty emotional; we're all going to miss Kim a lot!

Loving Strangers
Tuesday night is outreach night, but this week we did something a little different. Since we don't have enough car space for our whole impact group, we usually go sharing on the beach or on mainstreet, but our campus director arranged for us to help out at the church's homeless dinner instead. The church has a free meal, showers, and clothing give away every Tuesday night.

I was so impressed by the attitudes of the people who ran it. It wasn't a duty to them. One lady said it was her favorite night of the week, and it was evident that all of them genuinely loved these people. One man who helped out must have been in his 80's, but he cheerfully did whatever small tasks he could.

I helped serve the food, and I was surprised by the homeless people themselves. I think I always had this stereotype in the back of my head that they were lazy, greedy, free-loaders who just needed to get a job. But when we'd offer them food, instead of hoarding it and demanding seconds and thirds, they'd only ask for "Just a little." They all had stories to tell; some of them had once been business owners, but because of financial struggles and addictions, they are where they are now. One lady had a 14 month old baby, and was pregnant, and she lived in the woods. I can't even imagine that. In this heat, and sparadic weather, being pregnant, and living in a tent, getting showers once a week, not knowing where your next meal was coming from. It makes so many of the things we complain about seem pretty insignificant. I was pretty convicted about the way I viewed homeless people; I definitly wasn't seeing Christ in them.

Loving My Bible Study
Thursday afternoon I met with Kim for our final discipleship time. We went through each of the girls in the Bible study and she asked me what things I noticed in them that could be worked on in discipleship, and it was very interesting to see that we both noticed exactly the same things! She shared her vision plan for me for the next five weeks, which listed things she saw as strenghts that I had, and areas of growth that I can work on for the next five weeks. They were exactly what I wanted to work on too; scripture memorization, leading with authority and confidence, and not worrying. She also suggested that I share my testimony with the entire project, a very scary prospect for me, but one I know I should do, and also that I make plans for what my ministry will look like this fall. I strongly desire to lead a Bible study, because I know that especially after doing it this summer, I'm not going to want to stop! I also want to find people to disciple next fall, to build into people's lives on a one on one basis.

Then Thursday night our project had an Agape dinner before the weekly service. We didn't really know what to expect when we were told to wear comfortable clothes and bring blankets and pillows. When we arrived at the gym, a section in front of the stage had been roped off by Christmas lights, and inside that each impact group spread their blankets and pillows and sat on them.

Some of us were wondering if it was going to be like the international dinner, but they then explained that it was going to be a little like the feeding of the 5 thousand; they'd pass trays of food to different groups, and then each group would take what they need and pass the tray to a different group, until everyone had everything. It was really fun! There was plenty of food for everyone too.

We had a time of worship there, and somehow sitting on the floor with the dim lighting, and acoustic guitar music, it just made it so easy to focus entirely on praising God. That all lasted about two hours, and then we went into the sanctuary for the service. All the chairs had been moved, so we all sat in groups again on the floor. Our project director challenged us to not turn back now that we were halfway through, to love each other and resolve any conflicts, to be all here, and not to stop spreading the gospel. We discussed with our Bible studies where we would rate ourselves in each area, and we all said that we wanted to do better in evangelism, because I think we've all kind of slacked off somewhat over the last couple weeks. It was so neat to hear the girls say they were challenged on things that I was planning to talk to them about in discipleship! God is so at work in them.

After that discussion time, we were all handed candles, the kind almost every church has for their candlelight service. The lights were turned off, and the only candles lit were those belonging to our project directors. They both spoke briefly about their confidence in our new leaders, but our responsibility as a project to grow spiritually and share the gospel. Then they lit the candles of our new student project directors, who lit the candles of people near them, and so on until everyone's candle was lit. During that time, all of the staff had made their way to the back of the church. After everyone's candles were lit, our project director gave us a last reminder to shine brightly and said, "The project is now yours." At that moment, all the staff blew out their candles, and turned and walked out the doors of the church. I think we all felt mingled emotions, I felt sadness and fear, as it hit me that they really were leaving.

Our new directors instructed us to blow out our candles and move all the blankets and pillows to the side, and after we'd done that, they explained that as leaders, we were called to serve as Jesus did. As a practical demonstration of that, they asked all the Bible Study leaders to come to the front, and after they washed our feet, it was our turn to wash the feet of our disciples.

Ok, I thought, this won't be so bad, because whenever I've seen it done before, all they did was dip the person's foot in the water and dry it off, and that's considered washing them. That's not how they did it. They used a washcloth, and actually washed them, not hurrying through it, but taking their time and doing it well, and with JOY. Afterwards, they hugged us and prayed over us before we went back to our disciples. Well, after that I threw out the dipping and drying off idea.

It was probably the most amazing experience I've ever had, it really was. As I washed off their feet, I felt such an overwhelming love for each one of them, that all I can say is that it came from God. It wasn't anything I could make myself do. Yes, I could make myself wash their feet, but I know that I could never love them like that on my own. As I hugged and prayed with each of them, I was so overwhelmed with the desire to see each of them grow in specific areas, and so overwhelmed with thanks for each of them, I could hardly hold back the tears. When I finished praying with the last girl, one of the other girls spoke up; "Guys, let's pray for Emily too!" They all circled around and laid a hand on me, and one by one they each prayed for me. I cried then! I'm getting choked up just writing about it now!

Each of us experienced God's love in an intensely personal way that night. I am still in awe of just how much God loves each of my girls. I'm in awe of how much He loves me, to give me this opportunity to love them, and to give them a love for me!

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rom. 8:37-39

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