It was the year 2013 and I was graduating high-school in just a few months. My plan: go to college, study business, start a business, make a ton of money, and live the American dream. This was my legitimate plan. After all, this plan was praised by this world and made sense logically. My motives were seemingly pure – I wanted to get married, raise a strong family, and I wanted to one day "deny my wife nothing that her heart desired”. Well, fast forward just 6 months and suddenly everything begins to change.
Through a series of events, I decided to participate in a Gap Year program called OneLife. OneLife really only attracted me because of the travel, adventure, and hands-on learning style. The other thing about OneLife that attracted me was that I received 30 college credits for the year. As I was processing my next steps, I thought, “I can do this program, have a ton of adventures, and transfer into business school without a delay to my aspirations." This was true, however little did I know my entire way of living would be altered.
Three months into OneLife I quickly realized my heart was full of vanity. It was evident through the strong community and the hands-on learning that the Proverb, “the heart of a man plans his way but the Lord establishes his steps” is in fact true. “Who am I to think I can plan every detail of my life and think I have the correct plan?” This is a question I was faced with in my time at OneLife and it was questions like these that changed the way I live my life today. The small, tight knit community, and the focused biblical training are what God used to alter my heart and my mind. For someone who does not particularly like sitting in a classroom, the travel and experience helped keep me engaged and focused on learning and growing. As my time in OneLife continued I developed the strongest friendships I have ever had – one of those lifelong friendships became my beautiful wife.
Fast forward 5 years; I still struggle with wanting what this world has to offer. However, the key word to this statement is that I struggle. I see that the desires of my heart are not what will bring fulfillment and it is evident that God has called us to pursue character, surround ourselves with a positive and Christ-centered community, and connect our calling to God’s purpose of “going and making disciples”.
I now work full-time for OneLife Institute in a development position and it is so fulfilling to have a vocation that helps raise money for students with financial barriers. I first handedly see that so many students would not have an experience similar to mine without the support of generous partners is something that makes my job extremely motivating.
On November 17th, 2017, we have a unique opportunity to raise every dollar needed for our 2018 student scholarships. We have several huge supporters who have agreed to match donations up to $101,000 and our total scholarship need next year is $202,000. Remember this is a 24-hour window that we have. This is a HUGE goal for us. $202,000 in 24 hours! Through our partnership with Extraordinary Give we have access to even more grants on this day. Please consider supporting the life change that I experienced first-hand. I would not be where I am today without the financial support of generous, Kingdom focused individuals.
The link to give is onelifegive.org
Thank you for considering, we are so thankful for your partnership in Christ.
6 Essential Life Skills I Am Learning At OneLife Gap Year
I wanted to have it all together before coming to OneLife. The shocking truth, however, is that I’m not perfect. I have so much to learn about God, about myself, and about others. OneLife is not so much about realizing the destination as it is about embracing the journey. I am on a journey, and so far in this process I am learning some very important essential life skills that I hope will stick with me throughout life. Here are six of the essential life skills that OneLife has taught (and is still teaching) me so far:
1. Talking (to strangers)
Making conversation is an art, and our generation is quickly losing it. Not at OneLife. Here, without phones to distract us, meaningful conversations happen at any time, at any place, with anyone. I’ve talked to random strangers on the street about where they find hope in life. In an artist’s studio in Greenville, a casual chat led me to discover how one man successfully combined his passion with his ministry. While waiting for coffee, a traveling guitarist explained to me the areas in which he finds brokenness in the music industry. Both of these encounters started with a simple question, like “So how was your day?”. I think everyone has something to say—all it takes is for one brave soul to initiate. I’m finding that bravery here at OneLife.
As a personality type that likes to be self-sufficient and people-pleasing, asking for help from others, admitting a need, or being honest about my state of mind is challenging, but it’s essential for One Life to work as a community. “Community Time” and “Hot Seats” facilitate safe places for declaring what I’m feeling about a situation, as well as for calling out the good I see in others. What I have learned is that people are usually ready and willing to hear what I have to say and to respond with grace. Honesty, both in admitting my needs and in encouraging others, is key to thriving.
I’ve never been comfortable with face-to-face confrontation. At OneLife, however, the only way to live with the same people for nine months is to face conflict head on. Conflict is not always bad; in fact, it strengthens our community when addressed well. We all need to hear and know how we can improve and how we can love each other better.
4. Living intentionally
Everything we do at OneLife is intentional. Intentionality can play out in every aspect of life. It looks like punctuality (yes, being EARLY to breakfast at 7:30 every morning), prioritizing relationships (as well as sleep and homework), scheduling in rest, and planning ahead of time. It requires evaluating what is truly important and what doesn’t make the cut. It is pursuing something higher, something greater; it means always improving and never giving up. It is embracing all that OneLife offers—being all in.
5. Embracing flexibility
As much as I want them to, people don’t fit in boxes. They grow and mature and are constantly changing. Trying to prevent that natural movement from happening will drive you mad. People aren’t the only things that change—schedules change too (surprise!). Going with the flow is necessary if any of us are going to have any peace. An open mind and an open heart also go a long way here at OneLife. I am learning to let my previous opinions, beliefs, and assumptions be up for change. This is essential if I want to experience the full effect of the truth in my life.
6. Accepting vulnerability
The first step to embracing growth is to admit weakness. I won’t lie—I don’t like vulnerability. But here at OneLife, there’s no place to hide…and I am learning that I don’t want to hide. What remains in darkness remains a threat; what is brought into the light finds healing. Vulnerability means speaking up even when you haven’t sorted out all your thoughts yet. It looks like jumping into a new situation, even if it makes you look bad or feel embarrassed or afraid. It is letting go and joking about stupid things and having fun. Vulnerability means exchanging the risk of rejection for depth in a relationship. It is daring greatly. I have so much room to grow in this, and I know I can’t do it alone. That’s why I love this community—by coming together and being honest, our weaknesses makes us stronger. Yes, vulnerability is hard, but I’m discovering that it’s always worth it. One person’s willingness to be vulnerable can spark a chain reaction, creating a place where freedom can thrive.
I’ve been at OneLife for six weeks. Only six weeks—and I’ve already learned so much. “Gap year” is probably the worst description for this experience—every moment is fine-tuned for meaningful growth. I keep finding myself thinking, “This is real living.” I can’t wait to experience the rest of what OneLife will offer.
Riley is a OneLife student at Southern Wesleyan University.
Finding Your Place in God's Story
Why are you going to college? For many students, going to college is simply the assumed next step after high school. That was certainly true for me. Since about the time I could say the word “college,” I knew I was going. I never gave it a second thought. As I look back on my life, however, I wish someone would have asked me why I was going. Being forced to think about reasons for going to college, would have kept me more focused and helped me to make the most of the opportunities that I was given. Early on in my college experience I didn’t realize how much I was allowing our cultural story to answer this question for me. Let me explain.
A famous philosopher once asked a question that helped me to better understand how stories work in our world. He wrote, “I can only answer the question: what am I to do? if I answer the prior question: of what story do I find myself a part?” For our purposes, we can restate the question like this: “I can only answer the question: why am I going to college? if I answer the prior question: of what story do I find myself a part?” On what story is your life based?
All people live their lives based on a grand, overarching story that gives meaning and shape to life. If you’ve grown up in a church or in a Christian family, more than likely, you have been shaped by the story of the Bible. Hopefully you have come to realize that the Bible is not just a rule book, telling us what to do or not to do, but is a coherent story that offers a certain perspective on life. As you know, not everyone lives life based on the biblical story. This probably isn't a surprise to you, but you need to know the difference it makes when it comes to education. We can't let other stories tell us what education is for.
The “World’s story” for college goes something like this: Life is about you. A successful life involves making a lot of money and having a lot of stuff. You are going go to high school, and then to college, where you will get a degree, so that you can get a high paying job, so that you can make a lot of money so that you can retire and move to Florida. This story is often referred to as "The American Dream." People can live by this story without even knowing it or being able to articulate it. It is the approved “meaning-of-life-story” for the majority of society. Education—a smaller part of the story within that bigger story—is seen as a ticket to moving up the social ladder.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that college isn't an important stop on the road to a successful adulthood. College can and should be an important step to getting a job and making a living. I am suggesting, however, that for Christians, finding their place in the American dream story shouldn’t be the primary reason for going college. If it is, you are allowing another story to shape your life, not the Bible.
The Biblical story is about God. It’s not about you. It’s not about how much money you can make and buying a lot of stuff. The biblical story, the true story of the world, is about a loving God who has created you in his image. God has given you a mind to think and gifted you to serve him, all so you can glorify his name and enjoy him forever. You are to live and move and have your being in Him. As you do this, you begin to discover your part in his story. What role will God have you play? What character are you? God’s story—his purposes and plans—is the story you have been called into.
So, where does education and college fit within God’s story? Here is a 3-D vision for students who desire to live-out the biblical story during their college years:
First, your time in college should be about developing your mind. Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Mark 12:30). Loving God with your mind means taking academics seriously, thinking critically, and turning knowledge into wisdom. It’s about being more concerned with learning, and less concerned with grades. Don’t tell your parents I said that.
Second, your time in college should be about discovering your gifts. College presents a remarkable opportunity to think more deeply about how God has gifted you, and how you could use those gifts in service to God and neighbor. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). The beauty of the Biblical story is that when God calls us to participate in his story, he gives us the gifts to play our roles well. Of course, this has huge implications for your choice of classes, your major and your career goals.
Third, your time in college should be about discerning God’s call on your life. Too often we think that the only people who are “called” are pastors or missionaries. The fact is that we are all called to serve God wherever he places us. Where might God be calling you now and after college? Your time in college provides a unique context for reflecting on God’s call on your life. Take advantage of it. You will never have this kind of time again.
One theologian provides a nice summary of the place of education in the biblical story: “One way to love God is to know and love God’s work. Learning is therefore a spiritual calling: properly done, it attaches us to God. In addition, the learned person has, so to speak, more to be Christian with.” Learning is a calling, if we do it well, we are attached to God, and we have more to serve him with. Here’s the vision you need to take with you: college is about increasing our serviceability for God.
But here’s the kicker: while the Biblical story is much more adventurous and satisfying, it’s not easy to live out. The “me story”—accumulating money and stuff—can be very attractive. A life based on the True Story of the world, following in the footsteps of its hero, Jesus, will require sacrifice and courage. It won’t be easy to go to college to develop your mind, discover your gifts, and discern God’s call, but it will be worth it. Are you up for the challenge?
A few years ago I had the amazing opportunity to spend an afternoon with a famous NFL football coach. The coach was an outspoken Christian and his team had recently won the Super Bowl. At one point in our conversation, he said something that I have never forgotten. “I only have one regret in my life,” he remarked. “I wish I could go back and do college over again. I would have taken advantage of the opportunities to grow spiritually during my college years.” Here was a man who had achieved great athletic and academic success in college but neglected what should have mattered most: growing in his faith.
There can be tremendous pressure around making a decision for college. We all ask the practical questions about life after high school: Should I go to college? What kind of school should I attend? What academic programs are available? How much will it cost? But here are other important questions you might miss and ones that can help to alleviate the stress surrounding the decision: Will I have the opportunity to grow spiritually during my college years? Will the college I attend take seriously my commitment to follow Jesus? Will I be surrounded by friends, teachers and mentors who share my biblical convictions about what a successful life looks like?
If you are able to confidently answer “yes” to the above questions concerning the spiritual health and vitality of the academic institution you are considering, I think you will discover that much of your anxiety will subside. The great thing about choosing a Christian college or university is that the people leading and teaching in those schools are committed to providing opportunities for you to grow spiritually during this next chapter of your life story. They are committed to living out the biblical 3-D vision as well and your spiritual growth is their number one concern.
Derek Melleby is the executive director of OneLife Institute and the site director for OneLife @ Three Springs. He is also the coauthor of Learning for the Love of God: A Student’s Guide to Academic Faithfulness and author of Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning.
Here at OneLife Institute we have a technology policy put in place to help grow and nurture community and relationships that are built here. Students are not allowed to have their phones during the week, but they do get it for a time on Sunday to reconnect with friends and family back home. Another part of our technology practice is our "e-free" days where students are encouraged to do activities that are not connected to technology; so instead of consuming info on-line behind a screen, they are creating, building, or developing growth in themselves or the community. At OneLife, we are pro-community and not anti-technology because we believe that is where real growth happens.
So, the real question is, does any of this make a difference in the growth of our students?
The two questions we asked students were 1.) How has it been to live your life without your phone? 2.) What are you learning from not always having your phone?
Christian Lilly - "The technology rule was almost a deal breaker to me before I signed up. Yet, while I've been here its actually shown me how little I actually rely on it. I can count the amount of times I’ve wanted my phone in the middle of the day on one hand; and I know I'm not alone in this either. I normally get my phone back on Sundays and only use it to call my friends and family. This is because I have naturally found other ways to do things I used to rely on my phone to do."
Jianna Wankel - "Being without my phone has been absolutely incredible. On top of the no phones during the week, my phone has been broken and my parents didn't send it back yet. So I haven't had it for about a month. It has been really good for me and my relationships here and I don't miss it. I feel so free from drama and influences that make me miss the person I used to be. It takes off so much pressure. It takes away the excuse that I would use to not engage in conversation with a complete stranger. I realize the damage it does in our society because it really sucks you in. It is a gateway to an alternate universe that is way too highly valued because it is often used in negative ways. If technology and social media were not abused, they would be great resources but it is a balance and the scale is tipping in a way that people have become dependent on it. I have noticed even the simple things like GPS. Without it, it is hard to really do what you want without being anxious and getting lost. I am not going to lie though, I miss talking to my friends and family on a daily basis, but it makes me appreciate the time I spend talking to them even more. I am more intentional with my conversations."
Riley Hanagan - "I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed not having my phone with me all the time. I actually don’t miss it at all. The connections I have made with other One Lifers has all been face- to-face--no interactions over social media or via texting--and these relationships have reached a depth and authenticity in one month that I haven’t found anywhere else. I have enjoyed the freedom to be all present wherever I am. I have learned to be ok without the instant gratification of Google, Siri, or maps (driving is a whole new adventure); this has taught me patience and pushed me to be more resourceful and creative."
Ryleigh LaRue - "I have been surprised by how much I don't miss my phone. OneLife is correct when saying they are not anti technology but pro community. I find that without a phone I am more engaged in relationships. I am not constantly on a screen looking at random people. Instead of Internet friends and relationships I have made real friends and lasting connections.
Madelynn Barrett - "It has been amazing. I am a millennial and I think not having my phone is amazing... that’s insane!! In all seriousness, I feel alive and focused on what I am doing here at OneLife. I am learning that the pleasures in life aren’t measured by likes or comments, life is so much more than that. I am learning that the mountains are prettier when you aren’t seeing them through a lens and that my community is here at OneLife."
Sarah Harding - "Honestly, the phone rule was difficult at first, because we were all missing our families and friends, but now I don't even notice that I don't have a phone. The tech rules are one of my favorite things about OL, because we are relating on a level that is so foreign in a world filled with screens. We actually talk face to face, and when we are in a group we actually are present and not worried about keeping up with snapchat or instagram. The tech rules are a huge contributor to the depth of our relationships here. We are fully present with each other and it's kind of amazing. If I could give advice to any prospective OneLifers I would say don't be intimidated by the tech rules, because they are more good than bad for sure."
If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or you even might think this is too good to be true we would love to talk to you! You can email us at email@example.com or call us at 717.560.8290.
Digital Marketer at OneLife Institute
Community: With whom will you surround yourself?
According to researcher Sherry Turkle, a common flaw or missing characteristic in our society is belonging. Our desire or longing for deep relationship is not being satisfied by our evermore “connected” on-line society. In our distracted, digital age, she says that we are “all together, yet very alone”. We find ourselves sitting together at the cafeteria table, yet living apart due to our cell phones and constant updates. Why is that? The habits that we’ve formed through our digital lives, seem to keep us from living the abundant life that God intended.
We need to down grade our digital lives and upgrade our real lives!
Here's what we mean. The time we spend connecting electronically leaves us empty, and actually leads us to disconnect emotionally from each other. We may have gained the ability to stay in touch or connected at the click of a button or swipe of our fingers, but we are slowly or quickly losing the capacity to commune with one another or have relational wisdom – to communicate clearly and stick it out when it gets difficult (endurance), to learn from others and adapt when we are wrong (humility), to be aware of self, others, and God, to resolve everyday conflict, and to empathize through listening. The world needs these qualities, not to mention employers are looking for them and will hire if candidates possess such “soft skills”. In order to regain depth of relationship, we need to give up some of our digital privileges. This is why we ask our students to give up their phones for a season of life. Are you willing to counter the numbness you may feel with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by actually experiencing life, traveling the world with a group of committed peers, and developing genuine life-long friendships? Here at OneLife, we are not anti-technology, we are simply pro-community because that is where real growth happens!
Community Grows Character
Growth is not an individual pursuit, it is a community project. When we follow Jesus, we don’t get to be in the driver’s seat of our own growth all the time. We have to receive loving and insightful feedback from others. We have to surround ourselves with people who share a similar vision. The bible reminds us that, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15). On our own, it’s easy to make foolish decisions that tend to be self-focus and self-motivated leaving behind the calling of Jesus. On top of that, the ages between 18-22 can be very uncertain years as we find ourselves asking formative, life questions like: Who am I? What is my purpose? What makes life meaningful? In fact, 80% of high school seniors do not express a clear reason for going to college or anywhere for that matter.
So, why face that uncertainty alone?
C.S Lewis says we need companions for the journey when he explains that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”  Who you surround yourself with directly impacts who you become, especially during the formative years of 18-22. Proverbs 13:20, states, “Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.” Choosing your next community is an investment that will impact your future character. Community grows your character and character clarifies your calling, so choose wisely.
Well, we were never intended to navigate life’s most important questions on our own. We are hard-wired for community and we find clarity to what is most true, good, and wise in life by belonging. Think about it, God is community in His being – we are made in the image of a triune God (Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit). We can only genuinely come to know ourselves, others, and God through community. Or said another way, to know God is to belong to community; and not just any community, but a group of like-minded people who are intentionally seeking to grow in wisdom and truth.
So why is it so hard to find good community?
It may be because we are afraid from failed relationships in our past, we are just caught following the crowd in a direction we know isn't right, or we are too afraid to jump into a small, tight-knit community.
Community is Risky
Getting to know others can take time, but learning to be known by others can take even longer if we are putting up walls or have a hard time trusting. Living together in community that is under the reign of Christ means that we seek to fully know others, be fully known by them, and love them no matter what, just as Christ does for us. Pastor Tim Keller says, “To be loved without being fully known is nice, but is superficial friendship; to be fully known and rejected is our deepest fear, but to be fully known and loved is the Gospel.” Jesus invites us to love others and be loved by them, even in the midst of our fear. A desire to figure out life on our own is not an option according to Jesus, so we need to stop making excuses to avoid deep relationships with others.
According to research, 80 percent of the “church dropouts” or people that leave the faith never intended to leave the church. It wasn’t part of their plan to not have a vibrant faith, but it happened slowly over time. So why is that? Well, many people fail to realize that being a part of Christian community is hard work. In our digital age, people need to practice the art of friendship once again, and learn how to grow with others – this, by the way, is a leading indicator to whether or not someone keeps a thriving faith throughout their life. Said another way, deep friendships are not found – they are built through intentionally living and learning with others through the ups and downs of navigating life’s most important questions.
By joining the OneLife community, you are admitting that you want to grow by taking a different path than most people your age. We are a community that asks “who am I becoming?” before “where am I going?”, so that we can discern together what God is doing in the world and we can participate in it!
Will you join the adventure of developing a deep faith that is built on forming character, clarifying your calling, and growing in community?
Take a risk, by taking a year to walk a different path, and prepare yourself for ways the world NEEDS!
 Turkle, Sherry (2012). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books
 “The Hard Truth about Soft Skills”. http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/the-hard-truth-about-soft-skills.aspx
 Kinnaman, David (2011). You Lost Me. Baker Books
 Lewis, C.S. (1971). The Four Loves. Harvest Books
 LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18-To 22- Year Olds Drop Out Of Church, “ August 7, 2007, http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=165951
 Garber, Steve (1996). The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief And Behavior. IVP
Site director of Lancaster Bible College Campus
Instantaneously my mind recited the famous words before I even noticed or had a choice. I know that verse better than my grandparents’ middle names. That’s what ran through my mind when Samuel Chez came in and talked about Gospel Clarity with us this past week. I was born and raised in a Gospel-believing family. How could it become any clearer?
Turns out, it wasn’t so much as clarity on facts as it was conviction over having forgotten its truth. Sam Chez systematically broke down the Gospel, a story as solid as a rock in my mind. That rock was fractured with each session and revealed the overwhelming love pouring out its fragments of a story that I had claimed couldn’t possibly have anything more to tell me.
This really came to life when Sam Chez held up two books. One was my story; the revolting, smeared, chaotic words describing a story better off burned. The other, Christ’s; the bestseller on every top ten list in history. Sam Chez took the book covers and switched them. Christ took my sinful dime-a-dozen tale to the cross, destroying it once and for all - to my relief. But then, I inherited Christ’s flawless, beautiful words as my own. Even more astonishing, God opens that book and sees Christ’s perfection, not my mess. He sees Jesus Christ, not me.
Too often I forget how dearly, how precisely how obsessively (in the best way possible) God loves us. Think about it. He created a beautiful world and crafted each unique individual in His own image, an honor I can barely fathom. When we had the audacity to spit in His face and run after our own desires, He did not destroy us in righteous anger. He ran after us with an overwhelming love, after His creation, His image, His child, in an undying pursuit. When it came down to it, He sent His only son to die so He could adopt and claim me as His child, His daughter, His family. He sacrificed His own son. For me. For you. We gloss over those words so carelessly it’s cruel. God wanted us more than anything and He still wants us today. Jesus Christ is the Gospel and God’s love could never be clearer.
Sam Chez, thank you for reminding me that the Gospel is not a once-and-done schtick. It’s a daily journey of sanctification until Christ returns and we are fully restored. Thank you for reminding me and other students that God’s Gospel, God’s love, can never be fully grasped and stored on a shelf. It’s a pulsing, living, passionate story that seeks a place in our hearts every moment of every day.
These past few weeks have been much more difficult than I had anticipated. OneLife has been over for around three weeks, and for the past two, I’ve been wrestling with a near overwhelming sense of loneliness. I spent much of that time alone, and while that definitely had something to do with the loneliness I had been feeling, there was a sneaking suspicion that something more was going on behind all of it. After some praying, and some reading, I realized what that something more was.
Since I’ve been home, while I’ve had exceeding amounts of free time, I got started on my slowly growing reading list. I decided that I wanted to reread one of the books that we’d gotten from OneLife that I hadn’t finished: “Reading The Bible with Heart and Mind” by Tremper Longman. I had expected to learn a lot from this book about reading the Bible, but did not expect to be convicted in the way that I was.
I was reading the other night in a chapter that discussed the hurriedness of our world, and the need to take time to slow down and contemplate God’s Word. Tremper Used a quote from Henri Nouwen that said;
“The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. Our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.”
As I was processing what that meant, it occurred to me that over the past two weeks, I had done nothing but try to fill my schedule with whatever I could. I saw empty space in my day, and I just wanted to fill it. I hadn’t taken the time to recognize my loneliness for what it was, and although I had been in the word every morning, something in me was opposed to the idea of simply being still with the Lord. I resolved to change that.
I realized over the next few days that the loneliness I was feeling pointed out that my heart was calling out for something. That something was a satisfaction that does not come from spending time with people, or spending time alone, but from the Lord. That feeling was an indicator to a deeper longing for Jesus, and it was a call to be still and face true reality.
In the practice of being still, we come up against our desire to control our lives. In our stillness, in the practice of slowing down, we realize that despite our lack of input, the world around us continues on. God doesn’t need us to be busy all the time, and there are times in our lives when He will have us in lonely seasons. I think of all the different Biblical characters that God led into the wilderness alone; Jesus himself, Elijah, Moses, and several others. Most of them were alone for much more than two weeks, and the Lord used those times to shape them into the people that He intended to use to accomplish His plan. God can and does sustain us even in these times. He uses them to draw us into Himself, and make us aware of our need for Him.
To be lonely is to be human. It is to recognize that there is an emptiness in us that only the Lord can fill. No amount of good things in this world would ever be enough to fulfill our longing for Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you, and may you recognize your longings for what they are as He continues to draw you to Himself.
The day I graduated from a small international school in Niamey, Niger was potentially one of the saddest days of my life. But after that, I fully embraced just living in Niger, a country I care about immensely. However, four short months later, I had to leave West Africa, the place of my childhood since the age of two and the closest thing to a home I had ever had. I felt like I was being ripped away from a place I deeply loved, not knowing when I would ever return. I had to go to a country I vaguely knew—seemingly filled with only difficult memories and no real place or thing to go to. I had to fight hard against the threatening bitterness and hold tight to God. After all, he knew what he was doing, and I knew what I really needed was him. Nearly a year after arriving in the US, I somehow ended up at OneLife.
Being at OneLife was hard sometimes, but it was also so good. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It was tough at first, trying to find my place there. I didn’t want to be defined by where I’d been, but it’s not like I could hide it – Niger is such a part of who I am, so sometimes it would just come spilling out of me. My classmates quickly got used to my nervously confused responses when speakers would ask where we were from! I struggled to know how much to talk about life in Niger. I hesitated to open up because I was afraid of setting myself apart as being different, of intimidating or overwhelming people, or of being too self-focused. I didn’t want to just be the cool “African kid” that everyone was kind to. I wanted so badly to just be one of them.
But, I did notice fairly quickly how my classmates seemed to sincerely love Jesus and take very seriously their desire to grow as we followed him together. That was something I could share with them. And they truly gave me the love of Jesus. I remember once, later on, looking around the room at breakfast and realizing how each and every one of these special people had been there for me at some point when I needed it. I think you inevitably become close in the OneLife program, with the amount of time you spend together, and all the things you go through together. (This coming from someone who knows the tight bond of a missionary community and an international school!) After doing emotionally exhausting heart-idol presentations in December, it felt like we went from being friends to being family. As I became comfortable with the other OneLifers and we gained more shared experiences, the question of how to be known by them got easier. By the end, I was confident of the steady love they had shown me, but found I needed it less, being more firmly rooted in my acceptance and identity in Jesus. Hence, I became more free to be myself.
Part of that was learning to share my thoughts more, for the benefit of other people. I tend to be pretty timid when it comes to speaking up, but people kept encouraging me, telling me I had unique perspective to give, especially having grown up in another place. The first time I let loose a piece of West Africa (and some thoughts on the broader world ) to the whole group was in a planned worship night. I was terrified but then blown away by the showers of encouragement and love and genuine appreciation my friends showed in response. OneLife became a place where everyone knew me so well that when I was unfamiliar with some aspect of American life, they automatically understood why, and it was perfectly okay. They were always beside me to explain things and help! I belonged with the 43, and I can say that it is possible to find a place here in America.
That’s not to say there weren’t insanely rough times. The littlest things would send me back to a world I’d lost—a gagging feeling would hit my stomach and there would be no one to share it with. Other times I would get ridiculously excited over some insignificant experience that reminded me Niger and my friends would patiently try to be happy with me. When we returned from Israel and they longed for familiar things (American things, in their case), I felt like screaming that that was how I felt all the time, except for me, the familiar never came. Sometimes I would just cry, and although my friends couldn’t quite understand why, they would just hug me.
OneLife talks a lot about putting your own story into God’s grander story. It certainly helped me understand more clearly my experiences in light of Jesus’. Jesus was lonely, with no one who understood, before I was ever misunderstood. Christmastime made me painfully homesick for West Africa – more than usual. But I realized how Christmas is actually the commemoration of Jesus leaving his home so we could have one. I’m able to see on an even deeper level how the endless, restless ache for something like home points to being created for a better world. I think OneLife gave me better tools for processing grief and loss, belonging and acceptance – all the standard TCK stuff. I also have a firmer grasp on the permanent goodness of the God who never ever leaves.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland. When I was 8 years old my entire family moved to West Africa as missionaries through ABWE. This was a life changing experience. Many things happened during those growing up years as a missionary kid. I learned a ton and loved most of it. When I was 16 years old my older sister left for college in the U.S. About a year and half later it was my turn.
Our whole family was coming home with me for a few months, and I was going to stay. I had no clue what God wanted for my life or where He wanted me to go. While searching for colleges and trying to decide what to do with my future, my Mom and I came across OneLife Institute. We decided to look into it. Right away, I was terrified, but somehow I knew God wanted me there. In the midst of this decision something my Dad always said came to mind, “Sometimes the things that scare you the most and that you want to run from, God calls you to.” About two months back from the field and still going through major culture shock I headed off to OneLife…
The first day I was overwhelmed. My family left that same week to go back to the field, and my grandparents took me to move in. I survived it, and after the initial fear and awkwardness of getting to know new people, I started to love it. As I got to know my roommates and the other OneLifers (as we call them), I began to enjoy the new challenges and adventures that OneLife introduced me to. God was growing me in so many ways. It was hard, but God was in it!
OneLife was a growing, relational, and awesome experience for me! It was during OneLife that God taught me how to hand over my worry about the future. Now, I still do not know what the future holds, but I do know that God has it all in His hand. God taught me so many lessons and concepts during OneLife that I am still using today. The leadership and staff invested so much of their time and energy in me and encouraged me to grow in my faith. I still have relationships with many of my fellow OneLifers. In fact, some of them are my closest friends. During that nine months, God taught me more about what being His child looks like. It isn’t being perfect, or having no problems. It is God’s free gift of grace through faith in Him. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I am grateful to God and to each person who had a huge impact on my spiritual growth during OneLife.
Dear OneLife sponsors, supporters, students and alumni,
As my family and friends back home in Wisconsin ask me what I have learned from my OneLife experience, I am able to reminisce in all the blessings and renew a gratitude of my unique opportunity. Where to begin? How do I explain the profound impact this program has had and continues to have in shaping who I am becoming? I usually start with who I was: prideful and arrogant of the things that really mattered, such as the continual growth and nurturing of my romance with Christ. I then express my newfound joy in learning how Christ is still perfecting who I am into someone more like Himself. Or, I simply state: I learned how much I have left to learn, and I learned to love the realization that the more I know, the more I have left to discover. I came to realize it is equally important to learn the gospel to its increasing fullness as it is to believe this truth. I came to realize that no matter how much I hope to “arrive” at a full understanding of Christ, this “full arrival” may simply not be what was best for me. I came to see that God and His gospel is not so much an idea to master but a gift to receive and trust in, in order to have a greater process of sanctification beyond my meager understanding.
I often find myself wishing OneLife had a four year Bachelor program. Now that it’s over, I find myself wanting to go back. This is a statement coming from a student who disliked high school and had lost faith in a big part of the education system--now wanting to back to a thirty-credit institute. OneLife taught me to appreciate the learning process and gave me the stamina to continue my college experience. Onelife taught me my strengths and weakness through countless personality tests, trips, and its community. OneLife gave me ideas for careers I would excel in--careers I would enjoy and that would be life-giving to me, not just a way to pay the bills. I am so thankful that OneLife met me on a personal, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level and that the staff walked beside me to my sense of wonder for all I have yet to learn.
As I move forward from this year of wonder, I feel a temptation to sink into regret. Regret can take many forms: for me, I tend to experience this as a hope to change the past, or a wrestling with countless thoughts of all I could have done differently. I implore the alumni and all reading with a charge to strive toward forward-facing freedom, a mindset of healthy hindsight in view of a greater blossoming future. I challenge all reading to be free from that shadow of “what if” or the ebbing voice that poisons the fond memories to ones of discontent. My prayer now is to have a mindset of gratitude and a hope for the future--because the best is truly yet to come.
- Maggie Triller