The first time I heard the gospel in a way that I couldn’t deny, was at a summer church camp going into my first year of high school. By the time I graduated, I had created my own version of the gospel where I was the centerpiece. I was holding my version of God tightly in one hand and everything that I actually wanted in the other. I grew up going to church and had a solid youth group through high school, but rather than creating an identity firmly rooted in Jesus, I became stubbornly moral living solely out of obligation. I did all the good things I thought God wanted me to, but really I was only doing what my parents and friends had come to expect me to do.
When I got to college, fitting the “Christian” mold wasn’t as easy. I continued saying no to the things I thought would make me a bad person. I tried a couple of different ministries to see which one fit me the best, which one could feed me with the biggest spoon. I quickly realized the Christian life I had settled into was nowhere near peaceful or satisfying. Suddenly all of the things I wanted in life seemed to need both hands and the hand I was holding onto religion with felt weighed down. I thought maybe if I loosened my grip I could have more fun and lead a more enjoyable life. As I sat in my dorm contemplating which morals I could justify giving up, I received a message on facebook.
“Hey bro this is Joshua Ekberg. I am Andrea’s friend in Pullman, she talks very highly of you. I lead a prayer team at our church and Andrea is part of that team. Well she told me she was getting baptized next Sunday and she told me you were not able to make it because you do not have a ride. I was wondering if you would be down to come and surprise her. The service is at 6 pm, you do not have to worry about paying for gas money or anything. I can pick you up around three and take you home after the service around 9 pm I can drive you home. I know it would mean a lot to her to see you there while she is getting baptized. Anyways, let me know brother. My number is…”
Many thoughts were going through my head at this point. My sister is choosing to follow Jesus? Who is this guy Josh? Why is he willing to drive an hour and a half two ways to bring me to this service and back? My sister is choosing to FOLLOW Jesus??? Part of me wanted to go out of religious obligation to my family, the other part of me wanted to know what about this “religion” had she found so fascinating to commit her life to it. I messaged Joshua back and told him I was in.
Sunday came and he showed up outside my dorm with two other guys. I don’t remember what we talked about as we drove through the Palouse, but I remember asking myself “what kind of guys would make this drive for a stranger?”. I remember showing up in Pullman and walking through the doors into the most social church lobby I’d ever seen. I remember making eye contact with my sister and being overcome by emotion and not knowing why. We embraced and she introduced me to her village, which seemed to me like a bunch of people who just loved each other really well. That night 25 people walked on stage and explained how their life was changed forever because of Jesus. I watched as Andrea DiGenova stepped into the pool as my rebellious sister, and climb out as a new creation. Talking with her after, it was clear that even though I had been going to church longer than her, she had a much better understanding of who Jesus is and the joy that comes with giving everything to him. During the second set of worship I remember getting on my knees praying that God would reveal himself to me the way that he had to my sister. Pleading that somehow the depth of understanding these students had of the gospel could infiltrate my community back in Cheney. Bent on figuring out how to achieve this I almost missed the announcement made at the end of the service that Resonate Church would be planting that spring at Eastern Washington University.
Fast forward 10 months from that moment. I am standing at the heart of Eastern Washington University in the Pence Union Building as students order dinner one room over. Next to me is my friend and huddle leader, Juan Cuevas, praying for me at my own baptism while my sister proudly stands in the front row. Fast forward another 3 months to Eastern’s second baptism service where I got to pray for two friends as they decided to commit their lives to Jesus.
This is not a story of my great awakening or excellent faith. I am not an example of how to be missional, but my life is marked by God’s mercy and relentless pursuit of his people. Only God could have dismantled the rigidity of my legalism and opened my eyes to the joy in a life pointed at Him. My hands are now open and the life that was once defined by good deeds is now focused on surrendering to God’s plan.