Sitting on a cliff overlooking Big Cottonwood Canyon, I closed my eyes and just listened to the wind blowing through the pine trees. There’s just something really special about enjoying creation with the One who formed it out of nothing. There’s also something really special about feeling a deep-rooted freedom that only those in Christ get to truly experience. A freedom to just be. At this point in time, I was reflecting on where I was 3 months ago to where I was at that present time. Spiritually, mentally, and even physically I was in a drastically different place than where I am currently, and I spent that time praising God for delivering me from deep rooted fears and bondage, radically changing my life (again), and for knowing my heart so well to lead me to a place that was exactly what I needed. Walking away from that sweet time with the Lord, I put the memory away in my heart, not anticipating retrieving it until I approached another time of reflection. A week since that moment, the Lord has brought it out again to reveal something to me. We all crave authentic freedom and to feel the presence of the Lord. Now, let me explain why that is a very significant truth the Lord wanted me to know.
Coming out to Salt Lake City, I thought that I would relate to the people of the counter-LDS culture more so than the LDS community. I desired to get a job as a barista to immerse myself into the increasing opposing LDS culture. I was very intrigued by the LDS faith and was eager to learn more about it, but I let stereotypes cloud my heart to the point that I didn’t want to interact with these people. I couldn’t understand why God would allow this false religion that severely distorted the Bible and Him to even exist. When LDS missionaries started coming to my apartment complex and began to speak with a man from a country in Asia, I was filled with rage. I had let my heart become so hardened that I saw these people as enemies.
I deserved some major discipline from the Lord, as those are His people too and I was looking down on them with shame and disgrace…just as the Pharisees did to the tax collectors and sinners of their time. But God has lovingly and patiently helped me to realize that these people are more like me than I originally thought.
The LDS faith is the epitome of a works-based religion. These people are stuck in the bondage of toiling to earn their salvation, so fearful of messing up or failing because that puts their salvation, well-being, and worth on the line. Grace, receiving what you don’t deserve, is foreign concept to them. And I can relate to that so much. I grew up in the Catholic church, being taught that I must be a good person and do all these good deeds so that I may get to heaven one day. I had to work endlessly to earn the love of the Lord. Grace was absent from my home life/religion; there was no room to make mistakes. How much different is what I believed while growing up different to what those in the LDS church believe? There isn’t much of a difference at all. These people are in shackles, searching and working for the freedom they subconsciously dream of, just as I had done once.
Beautiful and elegant LDS temples are scattered across the valley. The LDS faith believes that their temples are where one can experience the presence of Heavenly Father. These people want to feel the presence of God, and they build these temples because they are searching for ways to experience and commune with the Lord. And how much I searched for ways to experience the presence of the Lord, just as these people do. I went to concerts, mega conferences, and worship services as I exhaustedly sought to feel the Lord’s presence. Only until this summer did I truly understand what it meant to genuinely experience the Lord and realized that I had been searching in all the wrong places. These people crave for community with the Father and are actively searching for it in false ways, just like I did.
We all crave authentic freedom and to feel the presence of the Lord. So, these people are more similar to me than I once thought. While their journey in this life looks different than mine, God is beckoning them into a relationship with Him, just as He once did for me. They are loved and cherished by Him, for they are His people too. Praise the Lord for morphing my Pharisee-like heart towards these people into a heart that’s full of Christ’s love and affection for them. And I can’t wait for the opportunity to love, serve, and speak truth to these forgotten people.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” |Matthew 9:10-13|
SLF Class of 17-18
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
For the past year previous to joining the Salt Lake Fellows, I had continually and eagerly been praying about missions, and I openly asked The Lord to reveal to me where He desired me to serve.
I think in our generation and in The Church today, when we hear the word “mission” and our minds quickly think to a third-world country that’s in desperate need of aid and assistance. My mind would jump to “every tongue and every nation”… and rightfully so. These places are in incredible need of the Gospel and the message of hope, and I’m so thankful that The Lord calls specific believers to go and serve in these far off areas. And for some time I thought that would be me. But during this season He has called me to a far different mission field than I would have ever pictured in my mind.
Through prayer and time, The Lord revealed to me that there are yearning mission fields in our very country. There are people who have never tasted the freedom that comes in being a follower of Christ, populations that are lost in legalism and “rules of religion,” hardened hearts who have walked away from the Church due to hurt or past experiences, all in all- people The Lord desires to reach and pursue through His children.
There are 7 Salt Lake Fellows out here this year in the mountains of Utah, willing and ready to serve this city and share of the chain-breaking God we love. And lately we’ve been learning so much about the culture here and the unique mission field in which He’s placed our feet.
I’m learning that a mission field can look very different than we’d imagine a “struggling culture” to look. In fact, in Salt Lake’s case… there may be incredible wealth and prosperity, well dressed men in suits, and temples built up tall to the sky. All masking fear and bondage that comes with legalistic pressures. In Salt Lake City specifically, there is a predominant Mormon culture with our entire city built around the central LDS Temple, and Brigham Young University just minutes from our homes. If you go downtown, many of the local businesses, boutiques, malls, and companies are run/owned by a member of The Church of Latter Day Saints. In a community that values and emphasizes wealth and success, these people seem to be thriving.
But something we are quickly learning as well is that there is also an aggressively strong "Anti-Mormon" culture in the city... which is exactly what it sounds like: people completely in opposition to the LDS Church and show a clear effort to make known where they stand. You’ll observe many of these people with excessive tattoos and piercings in drastic hopes to separate themselves from the Mormon culture in this place. This division has created a strong tension within the city, with these two opposing populations fighting to live in the same land.
Our program director Ben said that as Protestant Christians, we are to walk the line between these two opposing forces. I see this concept illustrated so vividly in the picture below- one that was taken on our hike to Red Pine Lake the other weekend. A picture of two strong forces existing side-by-side but never coming together to dwell.
My prayer is for unity. That somehow, someway the war between these two communities would be brought into harmony by the freedom and joy of Jesus Christ. I pray for the ability to love well and build relations with both communities, and the courage to stand in the gap between the two (Ezekiel 22:30). When I think of the God we serve, and His mighty power that can move mountains, I get excited that I get to be a part of this mission and to see what He does in this beautiful place. Jesus Christ knew division, and He holds the power to conquer it.
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” (Matthew 17:20)
SLF Class of 17-18
I arrived to Salt Lake City on Monday, August 14th and immediately found it hard to breathe as I walked up and down the city streets. It felt as though a lead weight were on my chest first and foremost because of the crushing fear I felt when I thought about my mother getting on a plane and going back to my home in Spartanburg, South Carolina where the elevation is at a whopping 807 feet and nobody thinks it’s strange to say “yes ma’am” and “yes sir.” The second reason I found it hard to breathe was due to the 3,419 foot difference in altitude between the place I had grown up and the place I now found myself living. On Thursday, August 17th I was picked up at my host family’s house by Yumi Shill, another Salt Lake Fellow, who then drove us to REI where we met another fellow, Abbie Hoekstra. As we began talking I felt that weight become lighter on my chest; I had made two new friends and they were pretty cool. After buying some hiking gear for our orientation backpacking trip, we headed to Ben and Rachel’s house to convene with the other fellows before driving up to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Once we arrived at Ben and Rachel’s, we were immediately greeted with bear hugs from John Wilson Booth and Jonathan Crites, the only male fellows in the program. The friendship between the two of them was already visible and their kind demeanor helped spread that sense of friendship throughout the group. We then met Sarah Hinson whose entire belongings were stuffed into a guest room in the bottom floor of the Loderhose’s house then Abby Waters soon joined the pack and our group of seven was complete. We sat in Ben and Rachel’s living room talking about our lives, exchanging names of mutual friends, and expressing out collective excitement and nervousness in regards to the daunting 10 months ahead of us in Salt Lake City. The longer we sat in the living room and chatted, the lighter my chest became. I almost felt normal for the first time since arriving in the city.
We eventually all packed into the cars and drove up to our first campsite. We stopped on the outskirts of the national forest to secure our park passes and Ben came to the cars to remind us to drink plenty of water so we wouldn’t experience altitude sickness. Up until this point I had heard of altitude sickness but thought it only applied to deep sea divers and people climbing Mount Everest. I didn’t realize that even us mere novices going on an “easy” five mile hike could experience altitude sickness as well. Being the worrier that I am, I immediately chugged the entirety of my Nalgene as well as Abbie Hoekstra’s. When we got to the first campsite I nervously stepped out of the car and found, to my delight, that I felt fine - I had escaped the grips of altitude sickness! My celebration was incredibly premature.
The next day we left our cozy campsite with a built-in fire pit and public restroom and drove up to the trailhead that would lead us up five miles towards a meadow right beneath Ostler Peak in the Uinta Mountains. The first 2 miles of the trek were fairly easy, similar to the hikes I was accustomed to around Sewanee, my college’s, domain. After we stopped to eat a snack and take a little water break, we veered left on the trail and soon reached a steep hill of sloping rock that was daunting to say the least. I probably made it 1/3 of the way up before I found my heart racing at an abnormal pace. I stopped for a minute to try to slow my heart rate and catch my breath, but my body wasn’t reacting to my slower pace in the same way it would have in the Carolinas. I began to panic, I had never felt my body act like this. Even on the hardest of runs where I had pushed myself beyond my limits, I was able to regain a normal heart rate and a steady breath soon after slowing down. This was a whole different ball game.
Ben graciously stopped with me, making sure I was okay and asking if there was anything he could do to help. Being the hard-headed person that I am, I told him I was fine (even though I was beginning to question whether or not I was actually having a heart attack) and continued up the hill. I probably made it ten more steps before I promptly took off my pack and got sick. Not only was I embarrassed that I couldn’t complete the hike that the other Fellows were so easily conquering, I was miserable. I was in a strange place with people I barely knew feeling incredibly scared. While I sat on a rock profusely apologizing to Ben who had to witness this embarrassing moment, I prayed to God to give me the strength to make it to the campsite.
I sat for a few more minutes and drank some water before putting my pack back on and taking five (it honestly could have been three) more steps before immediately sitting down again. I was becoming anxious, not only because I had seemingly no control over my own body, but because I imagined the other fellows were already at the campsite while I was still 4 miles away. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me but the thought of everyone leaving me in the woods to be eaten by bears did cross my mind (one of those in-the-moment fears that are completely ridiculous when you look back at it). Ben then asked me if he could carry my bag. That was probably the last thing I wanted to have happen - this was our first adventure excursion as a group and I was already the needy out-of-shape one. I tried to muster up my strength and make it a few more feet up the hill but my body was not cooperating.
I eventually gave my pack to Ben, waves of shame rolling over me alongside the waves of nausea. He was not only carrying his own extremely heavy pack, but mine as well. He constantly reassured me that this kind of thing happens a lot and this wasn’t the first time he’d carried two packs, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly guilty and humiliated. A while later Sarah Hinson walked back to meet us on the trail and took my pack from Ben. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more shame than I already did, but apparently it was.
Ben and I trudged silently up towards the campsite. As we continued along the path my internal monologue became more and more hateful towards myself and my inabilities. I was angry at my mind and I was angry at my body because I couldn’t overcome this obstacle that it seemed only I was struggling with.
Towards the end of the hike after the other group had reached the campsite, Abbie H. (A.B. as we now call her), Yumi, and Abby W. (now nicknamed Wawa) came back and hiked with Ben and me for the remainder of the trail. As we walked I learned that everyone had taken turns carrying my pack up to the campsite. I was overwhelmed with both gratitude and humility. These six people who I barely knew were already willing to carry my heavy load up a mountain. I don’t believe a more reassuring metaphor could ever be devised.
Even as strangers, JW, Wawa, Jonathan, Sarah, Yumi, and AB were willing to take a weight from me that I couldn’t handle and help me reach the top of the mountain. When I prayed to God for the strength to reach the campsite I was expecting a sudden burst of energy or mental fortitude. Instead I was humbled, forced to realize the extent of my own weakness. In this moment the Lord showed to me in a very tangible way that I cannot do everything alone. I have always prided myself for my independence, willingness, and even desire to do things alone. God used this hike to strip me of my pride and reveal the beauty of relying on Him and relying on others in times of need. Through this experience, He showed me that it’s ok to need help, and that I have an amazing support group behind me for these ten months to come.
When I got home from the trip, the weight on my chest had vanished and I felt a peace about my circumstances that I had yet to find. I knew that Ben, Rachel, and the other Fellows would have my back (and my pack) no matter what, and that God is at work in Salt Lake City. His hand may not always be extremely visible and we may find it difficult to see how the circumstances in which He has placed us will help us serve His Kingdom, but we may all rest easy in the knowledge that “in this world [we] will have trouble. But take heart! [He has] overcome the world” (John 16:33).
SLF Class of 17-18
The Salt Lake Fellows 2nd year has officially begun! We are thankful for God's provision to this program and for these 7 Fellows who have made the beginning of this year so exciting! We kicked off the year with a backpacking trip in the High Uinta's and a Welcome Retreat in downtown Salt Lake. We have been immersing the Fellows into the culture that is so unique to Utah; touring Temple Square, climbing mountains, exploring the city, meeting church members and mentors. It has been a great start to the year and we could not be more thrilled with what God is doing here in Salt Lake and with the faithfulness of these Fellows.
Thoughts from the Founder
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative