Confessions of a Church-Planter
I gotta be honest – I do not want to move to East Lansing, Michigan. That’s a lie. I do want to move to East Lansing. Ugh. See my problem?!
It started with a pastor named John Aaron Rodgers. Actually, The Salt Network. See here is what happened. Aaron planted a church – Story Hill Church – in Lawrence, Kansas. When that happened, I started praying about when I would get to go. When I would be able to plant a church with the Salt Network. I told God, “Send me. When do I get to go?”
Then summer 2018 rolled around. I was working in Hungary. I was catching up on happenings at home one day when I saw the network had announced they were planting a church in East Lansing, Michigan…I had ties to Michigan State already. And I knew. I knew I was moving to EL. I sat on my pull-out bed in an apartment in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, looking at the announcement, and I knew. This was my next step.
While I was in Hungary, I was trying to figure out my next step. Medical school, DO school, PA school, grad school, PhD program or Master’s – I was bouncing all over the place. Don’t believe me? Here is the proof.
Friday, July 27, 2018
I think med school might be potentially back on the table. But the stress…the lack of relationship and patient care…ugh I am not sure. GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING AND WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHOW ME WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE??????
As I researched programs, Michigan State kept coming up. Man, I was annoyed. I didn’t want to go. But it would not go away. It did not matter what program I searched for; even if there were only six programs in the country, one of them was at Michigan State.
I came back to the States, resigned that this was going to happen, and jumped into Launch Team for this new baby church. Not a whole lot of enthusiasm, lemme tell ya.
Labor Day came around, and I went on a trip to MSU. I explored campus. I toured EL. I saw the capital. I saw the need. I felt the differences between Lansing and EL. I ate the best ice cream of my life. I loved campus (which was weird cause I HATED it when I was there three years ago). I loved the city. The waterfront. The farmer’s market. I was encouraged by the new construction. The restoration. I felt a sense of home in Michigan.
Saturday, September 1, 2018
As soon as I crossed into Michigan, I got excited. As we were out exploring Campus Town tonight, it felt right. Standing in front of the stadium, something in me stirred. I am open to moving here. To making this my home. I am praying tomorrow will confirm what my heart already knows – MSU and this church plant is where God is calling me next.
I was pissed. I did not want to love this place. I did not want to move that far away from my family, my home, my support. I was not a happy Ava.
Then Thanksgiving 2018 happened. I was in the hospital and made the decision that I physically would not survive medical school. SO MUCH RELIEF. I was so at peace with that decision. I spent about two days not knowing where my life was going and then my doctor (my mom dubbed him Dr. Cutie) spoke into my life.
We had a conversation one morning about what I wanted to do. He looked straight at me and asked, “Have you thought about being a nurse practioner?” Answer: nope. Had not considered at all. Never even crossed my mind. Seriously, no sarcasm – promise!
During my conversation with Dr. Cutie, I felt more and more convinced that the NP route was my next step. I love people. I care for people. I am smart. I hate the bureaucracy and paperwork associated with a physician that does not exist as an NP. Long story short, God used that conversation to point me in a new direction.
I got so excited! What was the likelihood MSU had the program I needed for this?! I thought I had gotten out of it. Yeah right. They have the program. Of course.
I sat in my hospital bed, 50 tabs open on my laptop, and stared hard at an empty space, imagining God standing there, laughing at me and my stupidity. I accepted. I took a deep breath and decided to embrace it. What was the point in running or trying to change it? It obviously was not working. I was Jonah, but instead of a whale, I had a hospital bed.
That single decision of acceptance began to lead to this beautiful place of captivation. Do you know what that means? It means to attract and hold the attention or interest of; to enchant. I got more excited about moving my life to Michigan. Still hesitant and reserved. Until February 2019 and the Salt Spring Conference rolled around.
I spent the weekend with a group of students from universities across Iowa, Michigan State, and some people from Texas…all committed to seeing The Commons Church in EL flourish; all committed to moving their lives to this random place in a random state. Talk about captivated! I met my best friend. I was encouraged by the faithfulness of the MSU students and the students moving to MI.
And then Troy Nesbitt and Tom Nesbitt walked onto stage Sunday morning. I was done for.
They talked about having a heart captivated by God – a love that takes root deep in your heart. I realized as I was falling more in love with God, He was deepening my heart for this place and this church. Troy made a comment about “You can’t pray to Jesus and not obey.” The last bit of my resistance melted away. Why was I resenting something I had chosen to pray for?!
Troy talked about the Samaritan woman for a minute. Talk about a spear to the heart.
Lift your head and see what God is doing in your life.
Alright, I see You, Jesus. I will lift my head. I will choose to see past myself. I see You. I see Your hand in my life, directing my steps, hands on my shoulders, propelling me forward, taking me to this place in Michigan. I see my love for this place growing. I see You working in me. I see.
Tom had those of us moving with The Commons Church stand on our chairs. We were in the front three rows. In front of 5000 college students, I stood. I told the world, I am moving to East Lansing, Michigan, and I am choosing to trust Jesus in that. I trust He will provide because He called. I stood on that chair, sobbing, holding hands with the girls around me. Tom’s words flooded the conference center. I was going. Willingly. Excited. Slightly broken-hearted. I was moving hours and hours away to a place with so many unknowns. I am crazy.
But it wasn’t over.
God was not satisfied with my love for Michigan yet. Or for Him, either, I guess. A month and a half after the conference, I brokenly chose a spring break trip back to East Lansing over my family. I cried and cried and clung to Jesus, despairing over the brokenness I felt I was creating in my family with the decision to a) go on the trip and b) move permanently.
Those five days in Michigan…y’all. God is REAL and He is working. It started with a message from Noah Brown, our worship pastor.
He powerfully works within me.
God revealed Himself through me during conversations at Espresso Royale with a girl who really needed a ministry, a midnight hangout in the MSU library with a girl desperately needing community, random conversations with frat boys on campus, an exhausting conversation with someone so arrogant but so willing to listen. He chose to shine His glory as I wrestled with the spiritual darkness all around me. I saw God as the fierce and unrelenting warrior He is, defending His flock and fighting for those who do not yet know Him.
It ended with a chapel packed full of people worshiping Jesus. The first MSU Salt Company. Voices ringing to the rafters. God soaking it in. Angels protecting the chapel diligently. MSU students being loved, encouraged, committing to be a part of this radical group of unordinary people. An extraordinary God flexing His muscle and might and power.
The whole five days, people. God burdening my spirit, placing people, places, campus on my heart. Satan making me so so so sick and God graciously carrying me through it, using it. I walked away from that trip captivated.
I was captivated. I was in love with God. Enchanted with EL and MSU. I was confident that God is working in my heart. I saw God use me. I saw my spiritual gifts come out, and God bless my use of them, teaching me and instructing me in how to use them to honor Him.
Yes, I am PUMPED to live in EL. God provided housing this week. God has given me a best friend to move with. God has already been teaching this chosen family of mine how to care for me when I am sick. I believe God will open doors within the program I am applying to. In providing a job for the time between my Iowa State graduation and the start of the nursing program.
I am broken to leave my family. I am devastated that I will miss much of my younger brother’s senior year of high school. I am scared to be so far away. I do not know what life looks like when I move. It feels like a huge part of my support system is vanishing.
Here is the truth.
God is faithful. God provides. If my life thus far is not proof of that…I don’t know what is! So yes, friends and family. In eight months (approximately), I move to Michigan. Captivated by God. Enthralled with being a part of His work and The Commons Church. Terrified at how I will grow and change. Humbled that God has chosen my sorry butt to have a hand in this work of His, and above all, utterly in awe of how God pursues and loves His children.