The following was written by Jamee Eslicker, who recently joined our Student Ministry Staff:
First there was the red balloon, floating skyward with dozens of others, with scraps of paper tied to the strings. Write prayers for this brand new church, they had told me. Who was I to know how to pray for this group of people, so young and enthusiastic and knowing how to do good? I hadn’t been to a church in years, and I was only at this launch ceremony at the beckoning of a friend from school. I did not fit here. As I watched the balloons grow small in the sky, a goofy guy threw a football at my face. If I didn’t already feel enough out of my element, throwing sports into the mix definitely put me there. Yet there was something unmistakably inclusive in his gesture. Maybe these people didn’t quite care about my awkwardness, about the fact that I didn’t know anything about what was going on. Maybe this could be a good place.
Now, several years later, I know a bit more. I know that goofy guy is Aaron Laird, and I know to pray that Dayspring provides light and hope and a family to people in Tyler. I know that obscure day in Bergfeld Park would mark the beginning of countless Sundays spent in movie theaters passing around popcorn buckets full of offering and hearing about the hope of Christ. I’ve learned that church is meant to be a place where people are embraced—I’ve made ridiculous camp activities and equally ridiculous sermon videos, unpacked and repacked countless boxes, sweated gallons in the Texas heat while trying to build wheelchair ramps, and laughed and cried alongside others.
Somewhere along the way, I learned about two important things: belonging, and hope amidst desolation. These lessons snuck in, hidden in Bergfeld Easter services, Six Flags trips, and candlelit singing of Silent Night. When I moved to Massachusetts for college, I hoped that these two things would still ring true on the other side of the country. I quickly learned that this is a challenge—believing in a sense of belonging isn’t easy in new places, in new churches. I joined a ministry team and trusted that my contribution was what God wanted, and the experience led to my first major confrontation with doubt. This threw a wrench in my relationship with hope, but God was faithful. The truths I learned about him at Dayspring, alongside radical experiences of love and community outside the formalized church, carried me through the last four years.
Now I am back at Dayspring, and though things look different—a few more faces, a few more buildings—my understanding of God tells me that a lot is still the same. Our church should still strive to be a place where strangers feel welcome, even if they are clueless. We should still preach hope and belonging, even when life makes those things hard to believe. We should still love in any way we know how, which is why I’m excited to work with students this year. I am eager to see what I can offer them after my own experiences, and I am especially eager to see what Dayspring has to teach me next!