Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Written by Josh Wood '12
Acts 4:32 tells us that all the believers were “one in heart and mind,” sharing all possessions making sure no one had need. Simply, in the truest form of community there was sacrificial service. You don’t have to take Created and Called for Community (CCC) to know that Messiah strives to build Christian community across every classroom, sports field and dining hall. It is an ideal talked about in chapel, open house and freshman orientation. But the words, signs and pamphlets can’t make it real--they never have. It is only brought to life when the people that fill each of these sacred spaces choose service.
I am one of thousands who have had their lives transformed during their time at Messiah. And like the Israelities, mine was a progressive transformation.
God’s desire to mold my life into one marked by service began in my head. The Josh Wood that drove onto campus in 2009 was a person best described as proud. I had my opinions (that I called facts ) and was unafraid to defend them. My faith lived between my ears, like a game of trivia, the person with the most right answers wins. It wasn’t until my first theology class with Sharon Putt that my certainty began to slip away. I had to come to understand that intellectual knowledge without an end in loving action is a fruitless faith. That while I had answers, they were to the wrong questions. Faith is always active.
My Appalachian brother (and academic advisor) Dr. George Pickens would soon give me an assignment that let me practice my new active faith. We were tasked with starting an outreach project for a few families in our community from Somalia. Joining with the soccer team we began formally tutoring around 20-30 kids each week. Feeling good about myself (and my faith), the Lord challenged my heart next. I can remember sitting across the table from a young student, a refugee from Kenya, that I met a few weeks prior. I was fired up to help solve all of his academic struggles. What transpired over the next 45 minutes, however, changed my worldview forever. I was halfway through a 5th grade civics lesson when I realized my friend could not read. As I pushed him to work instead on flash cards so he could better understand his homework, he outlined for me the strategy of filling every homework line with blocks of random text from the book, citing his success in passing the class so far when doing this. I will never forget him saying, “If I practice your cards, I won’t do my work, and then I will fail my class. So, which is more important?”
That feeling of frustration never left me. Do I care enough to do something about this? Because it will not be easy or quick. I struggled with the question. It was clear my “active faith” was uninformed. The way I wanted to help and serve wasn’t helpful or serving. I never took the time (and wasn’t interested) to love the person I was trying to serve. You see, I knew now that my faith was designed for service.
Through my tutoring experience, I was beginning to understand that serving someone meant risking my heart to love and understand them. But what I had yet to grasp was the sacrifice and commitment that this aspect of following Christ would require. True service is costly and rarely convenient.
I will forever be grateful for the men God placed in my life through our soccer program who lived that truth every day. The seen and unseen ways these men served each other could fill a library. It was this consistent commitment to one another that bonded us all together over decades and led to unparalleled success. I wanted desperately to pick the earth shattering example that finally broke my mindset and shifted my faith but the greatness of the group was never found in the one-off hero. In fact, I find it easiest to serve in big ways. What I saw instead was a thousand, maybe a million, microscopic choices to choose active, loving, and sacrificial service OVER self-interest. Things like, Josh Mull calling me after a coaching change to make sure I was handling everything OK. Brett Faro washing my feet at our first devos to set the standard for senior service. JD Binger, like clockwork, ringing my cell phone after every game I didn’t play. Nick Thompson taking me to the pharmacy early one morning because I didn’t have a car. JP Fulton putting on my shoes everyday when I broke my collarbone. Jordan Sands inviting me home on holidays when I couldn’t be with my family. Jake Berry training and encouraging Brandon West knowing he would one day replace him. These actions seem almost insignificant because by themselves they are. But added together and compounded over time they are the bedrock of transformative Christian community. Or as I once heard, God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
I am so grateful to Messiah for teaching me these lessons. It is with this in hand that I have tried (like many alumni) to rebuild this community-oriented culture in every place and space God calls me.
Recently, that direction took my family to a role as national outreach director at Elevation Church, a multisite church based in Charlotte, NC, led by Pastor Steven Furtick. In this role, God has positioned me to lead our giving and serving across the world as we seek to serve our communities and meet the needs of families, specifically in this season ministering to the communities hardest hit by COVID-19. Elevation Church currently partners and serves with more than 300 organizations around the world specializing in disaster response, emergency assistance, recovery services, educational development, church planting and medical support. If you would like to learn more about our efforts or follow along you can do so @ElevationOutreach or @j_k_wood on Instagram.