This blog is about sharing my story as God writes it. This is part two of the story that brought me to my home of Fresno, CA. I want to share this story to remember how I got here in order to help me process changes leading me into my next chapter. Catch up with Part 1.
My interview with the NETeam (Networker Equipping Team) in Fresno felt like visiting with old friends. I could see myself spending a summer among these people. But I had been rejected too many times for me to feel sure of the job.
The weekend after my interviews was the weekend before finals. The pressure became almost overwhelming as I waited to hear from either Fresno or Pennsylvania. Our university choir director was retiring that year and Sunday evening I attended a dinner in his honor. As we were preparing to move to the chapel for our final concert, my phone rang. Area code 559 – Fresno. “We would love to have you in our program!” I waited for the now familiar “but, . . .” that never came. When I hung up, it still hadn’t sunk in that I finally had an internship. I walked back inside, a little dazed, and the first person I saw was Emily. I told her the news and we reenacted our scene from the beach in Florida. She hugged me and I cried on her shoulder. That night I got to sing “He Never Failed Me Yet” again. For months I had been singing out of a desperate desire to believe the words were true. This time I still could barely get the words out as I sang out of gratitude for how God had come through. About a month later I was on a plane headed toward the city that would steal my heart.
I was greeted at the airport by the Ellis family, who I would be living with for the summer. It didn’t take long for me to feel at home. Our Tuesday night host family evenings would be spent at swim meets. As a former swimmer, that was fine by me. My first morning while the older kids were at school, I played just about every board game in the house with four-year-old Maggie. Several times during each game, she would look up at me with a huge smile and say, “I’m gonna win ya.” I had always wanted a little sister, and now in a way I had three, plus a bonus brother.
My stay in Fresno was off to a good start. On day three, I went to the church for the first time to meet the NETeam and the other Networkers before our orientation retreat. I am not sure how many of us were in that cabin that weekend but I left still not quite sure who was on staff and who was a volunteer. And I thought, “That is how the Church should be.” On the drive down the mountain to church Sunday morning, I learned several families had chosen to move into the downtown neighborhood near the church to simply be good neighbors.
On our first office day, we toured downtown Fresno and learned about the many ways God was at work. The Pink House in the church’s parking lot was our first stop. The new junior high intern at the church was in the process of moving out of the Pink House. Meagan explained the ten month urban ministry training program and how it had challenged her. I was intrigued, but thought to myself, “I could never have the strength to go through something like this.”
I loved what I saw God doing in Fresno, but the highlight of my summer ended up being the people. Even before I arrived, two families had called the church to invite Daniel (my co-Networker) and I over for dinner. There were times when I would call to grab ice cream with a student and the family invited me for a meal. The parents I met welcomed me and I felt as if they cared about me beyond determining if they could trust me with their kid. I learned quickly that First Pres values crossing generational lines and I got to experience this by helping teach an intergenerational Sunday School class. One week we discussed hard times in our lives that God helped us through. One mother shared about the challenges her now grown son faced when he was born. Then a little boy said God comforted him when his friend moved away. I learned that just as no challenge is too big for God, no problem is insignificant to him.
I came to Fresno with the desire to learn and to serve. I did not expect to be loved and cared for the way I was. I felt deeply known by this community and when the summer ended and I returned to the midwest for my senior year of college, I knew I had to get back to Fresno someday.
Will I make it back to Fresno? Find out in Part 3.