Instead of backyard barbecues and family picnics, 30 young Moravians spent their Labor Day weekend answering the question, “How and where do we FIT in God’s mission?”
The Board of World Mission’s FIT (Focused Intensity over Time) First event brought young adults and church leaders together at Laurel Ridge in North Carolina to learn about the biblical call to mission and to discern how God was calling them to take part in His work, be it next door or around the world.
The 2015 FIT First event was modeled on similar events called “Feet First,” hosted in 2006–2009. Several of those who attended the earlier events went on to become members of the Board of World Mission (BWM), others went on to seminary to become pastors and most have taken part in mission experiences that have shaped life choices and career decisions.
One of those was Justin Rabbach, who today serves as director of mission engagement for the BWM and was lead organizer for the event. “In 2007 I was, to put it nicely, ‘encouraged to attend’ or to put it more realistically, ‘dragged’ to Feet First at Laurel Ridge by Rev. Betsy Miller,” says Justin. “At a commitment service at that event I had a chance to take a mustard seed to symbolize my commitment to follow God’s path for me, and to be ready for everything that could grow from that weekend and that moment. To me, the FIT First event held this year represented the full bloom of the seed that was planted eight years earlier.”
A weekend of learning
Throughout the weekend, participants worked with a team of 20 BWM staffers, provincial youth/young adult leaders, pastors, adult volunteers and leaders from church agencies to learn about mission, discuss their own experiences and concerns, understand the faithful underpinnings of mission work and discover resources to help them take the next step in their mission service.
Participants heard presentations on the “essentials” of the Church, practical information about doing mission work in the field, hearing and understanding God’s call to serve and more. In addition, young adults shared their own experiences in local and international mission and encouraged others to consider finding ways to serve.
Workshops on fundraising and logistics, living in intentional communities, exploring a call to ministry and church service, sharing mission stories, interpreting scripture and available ministry opportunities offered opportunities for attendees to gain specific information and insights. Small group discussions with adult leaders gave participants a chance to discuss their thoughts on and concerns about mission.
Of course, as with any weekend at Laurel Ridge, attendees worshiped together, enjoyed activities and joined in evening campfires with favorite camp songs.
“Time and again throughout the weekend I was blown away by the depth of faith the young adults demonstrated,” says Justin. “They came ready and eager to learn and to build relationships with one another. In three days’ time, they went from being strangers to inviting one another to visit mission areas they care deeply about and to encounter people they love and have connected with around the globe.
“In a time of sharing on the final night we heard stories of growth through moments of vulnerability participants experienced in mission, and how simple conversations can teach you to look at words like “hope” in a whole new light,” continued Justin. “Each young adult returns home with a plan they worked on throughout the weekend to help them find their next step, and to seek out others to support and guide them along the way.”
“Being a part of the FIT First event was really eye-opening for me,” said Johanna Dertinger of Waconia Moravian Church in Waconia, Minn. “I learned so much about mission work through the Moravian Church. We received many resources pointing us in the right direction to either lead a mission team of our own or join one. We also learned about how important it is to remember that faith is so crucial and essential for a successful mission trip. It is not about God being with us while we do mission work; it is about us going to do God’s work and spreading his love around the world.
“I also learned that faith is the only essential you need to fulfill God’s work,” says Johanna. “It was awesome to see all these people come together with one common goal to help others. The leadership I saw this weekend was awesome. Seeing how many people my age are taking charge and wanting to take on the challenge of mission work was truly a blessing.”
Awesome and inspiring
“The FIT First event hosted at Laurel Ridge was an awesome and inspiring weekend,” agreed Alex Ford of Kernersville Moravian Church in Kernersville, N.C., who has served on mission trips to Africa and Central America. “I was surrounded by people of a range of ages who were being moved by the Spirit in all kinds of incredible ways. It was obvious that these pulls to “elsewhere” have shaped our lives at home as well and have really been a blessing.
“I was reminded that responding to a call to mission requires surrender and usually changes who you are,” continued Alex. “We are challenged to give up things that hold us back to make room for Christ to fill our lives, and missions are one of the most direct ways we do this. Missions often drag us out of our comfort zones and demand that we abandon the former conveniences, views and even fears to which we have tightly clung. Missions often entail setting out, not knowing where we are going did. Thinking about how missions transform us also reminded me that mission is part of each day and is not confined to designated trips or experiences.
“FIT First reminded me that, especially in the Moravian community, we are surrounded by extremely supportive individuals who also know the difficulty of this task and want to help us on our way. During the weekend, I thought a lot about how I should focus my efforts to change the way I live to be a better servant for Christ in my everyday life and in any other mission experience I take part in, and I wound up with the personal challenge that I need to love vulnerably and fearlessly. In the coming days, weeks and years, I am excited to see how the awesome people whom I met and with whom I was reconnected act on their callings and spread love (and light!) into the world!”
God works wonders
“I agreed to go to FIT First without much knowledge about the event, because why not spend a weekend at Laurel Ridge with fellow Moravians?” said Hayley Geis of New Philadelphia Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, who has been on mission trips to Alaska. “I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I drove up the mountain Friday afternoon, but my lack of expectations led to complete awe of the event planners, the Moravian Church and how God works wonders in our lives when we aren’t even asking Him to.”
“Throughout the weekend, we were able to share our experiences on mission with one another, discern our own calls to mission and grow closer to each other and our Creator,” continued Hayley. “Growing up going to Laurel Ridge for summer camps, mission camps and retreats, I expected this weekend to be like any other, but I was wrong in thinking that. FIT First was the most intentional time I have ever spent on the mountain, and I couldn’t be more thankful that I made the decision to attend. I was able to do more than just learn about mission. I was also able to learn more about myself than I could have imagined.”
Encouraged for the future
“As I reflect on the weekend, it is not this group going out in the world to serve in God’s mission that encourages me most,” says Justin. “Rather, it is knowing the passion each of these people has to share their faith with those in their lives. If even one of the young adults present, at some point, has someone who thanks them for ‘encouraging’ or even ‘dragging’ them to be a part of God’s work in the world, this event would be a success. That will mean this experience did not stay on the mountain in North Carolina, that it reached beyond those present at the event and that there are a whole lot of talented, passionate and engaged individuals out there planting seeds as they go out as living examples of the fruits of the spirit.
“As a representative of the BWM, let me ‘encourage’ all those reading this to not be afraid to ‘push, pull or drag’ those in your lives who God is calling you to help love into being the people they are called to be,” says Justin. “You never know what seeds your encouragement may plant in the lives of others.”
Thoughts from FIT First participants
Gregory Behrend, Moravian Seminary
student from Wisconsin Rapids:
I learned that there is a great deal that young Christians can be doing and LEADING in this world RIGHT NOW!!!
Ben Lippert, Moravian Seminary student:
I have a much clearer understanding of the many awesome missions our youth and Board of World Missions are involved in. I also find I have a lot less anxiety towards local and global mission now that I have a better understanding that this is God’s mission. God isn’t asking us to save the world, just serve it!
Freedom Moravian Church:
This weekend has allowed me to make more connections with Moravians from both the Northern and Southern provinces. I plan to keep in touch with them for future mission trips as we all walk together with Christ. I absolutely loved to see that there are other people who are willing to stand up and be the change that needs to be made in our world. I am very thankful I was able to go and strongly recommend others to attend.
Holland Griffin, Waconia Moravian Church:
I have made connections with people from all over the U.S. and Canada who are excited and passionate about missions. This weekend has given me the tools to create a meaningful and fulfilling mission experience, therefore, giving me the confidence I need to take on a leadership role one day in the future.