I feel like it’s only appropriate for me to start out by introducing myself. So, Hi! I am Parker Barnes. I am a rising sophomore at Campbell University where I study Communications and Christian Ministry. I found Raleigh Youth Mission when Katherine Blankenship came to Campbell’s connections, which is kinda like chapel, but cooler, and told us about what she does in downtown Raleigh. I immediately knew that I wanted in. I had, just the weekend prior, been talking to my mom about how I had been praying about what God wanted me to do over the summer. I was pretty much a dead tie between interning at a nonprofit and being a camp counselor. So when Katherine gave her talk at connections I knew RYM was for me. I walked my smiling and joy filled self up to the stage and told Katherine with confidence “RYM is what God wants me to do this summer.” Katherine, probably freaked out said, “well the application will be out soon.” And from then on I knew that I would be spending my summer in downtown Raleigh.
I have always been a thinker and so when I went through a difficult time in 2015 I handled that no differently. I thought about it A LOT. I went through a time where I was unsure about the legitimacy of who Jesus was, although I had grown up with both parents working in the Methodist Church. I mean y’all, my parents met in seminary and my first word was “amen,” needless to say, no one ever thought that I would doubt who Jesus was. But I did, just like most people do. I questioned if God was good, if God was for me, if God really was all that people say God is. Yet, through all of this questioning, God was not offended, in fact God used it for his glory and for my good (Oh what a good God we have!). So one day, after a lot of questioning, doubt, and fighting on my own, I asked Jesus to come and help me. And just like that He was there. He said “Parker, you’ve had a rough go of it, how about you hop on my back and I’ll carry you for a while.” And that is exactly what He did. Everything was not perfect in that moment, but everything was different.
Unknown to me, God was beginning to weave a Holy passion in my heart, through my time of darkness. I began to ask bigger questions like “why is there injustice in the world?”, “what does God think about injustice?”, “do I have a responsibility to my fellow brothers and sisters who are being oppressed?” And, as many of us know God answered those questions, without any concern that it was going to turn my life upside down. God was doing all of this at a very interesting time, at an interesting time in our country. I don’t need to tell you that a lot has gone on in our country in the past year, you already know that, and if you don’t, just check Facebook. I began to feel uncomfortable about the way that my brothers and sisters were being treated. I began to acknowledge my privilege, and it did not sit well with me.
The biggest question I began to ask myself was- Why is The Church not doing anything about this injustice? I had read The Bible, I had obviously seen the way Jesus felt about injustice, I was confused why so many people were ignoring it. I was confused and kind of frightened.
This big question lead to a great deal of hopelessness. And think if we are honest a lot of us find ourselves there, concerning injustice in the world. We become immune to it, not because we think it’s okay, but because we think there is nothing we can do about it. The biggest thing that RYM, and the Raleigh community has taught me in general is that there is always something we can do about it.
My first devotion assignment of the summer was Genesis 2:4-9. In this passage the creation story is told in beautiful parable. It goes like this:
“this is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground- trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
I found myself looking at injustice like there were no shrubs, no plants, no rain and no work being done. I felt hopeless, this is how I felt before I began my own personal mission immersion at RYM.
But then I began my time at RYM and God allowed me to see how God had strategically placed streams along this dead land, to water the whole surface of the ground. God showed me that, in all his mercy, God purposely made Shepherd’s Table soup kitchen so God’s people would not go hungry. God purposely made Ruth Sheets Adult Day Care Ceter, so God’s children would never feel forgotten. God purposely made North Raleigh Ministries, so people would not go naked. God purposely made Healing Transitions so God’s sick children would know that they are never alone. God purposely made Church in the Woods so people could encounter to love of Jesus Christ. God purposely made Oak City Outreach Center so there would be no days where a child of God would not see smiling face. God purposely used and uses all of the agencies to give life to a land that can seem so dry.
And while I began to see God nourish God’s land, even though He had been doing it long before I knew of it. It began to give me new life. God used these strategically placed streams to pick me up out of the dust of hopelessness and breath a life of hope into me.
And even in all of that goodness God was not done. God continues to create, grow and plant new trees that are pleasing to eye and good for food. God continues to plant trees like The Raleigh Center and A Place at The Table. God continues to use the people who have been breathed on to water and grow new and beautiful things.
And what continues to amaze me about God is somehow God is able to hold the tension between the hopelessness and the hope. God still allows us, and validates us when we look at the world and say “this is all dead, I can do nothing good here.” God hears that prayers, and validates that sometimes we feel that way. Yet, at the same time, God rejoices with us when we say “oh the stream are beautiful, and I am so thankful for this breath of life in my nostrils.” God acknowledges that in the middle of the garden, at the core of humanity, there is a tree of life, there is a tree of knowledge of good and there is a tree of knowledge of evil. God doesn’t ask us to blindly hope. Instead God invites us to look at the world and see the good and the evil and to decide that we will not be okay with a barren world, but we want a world full of streams and trees.
I will forever be amazed at a God who trusts flawed people with not only God’s creation, but also God’s children. I am not going to lie to you and say that every day I end the day with shouts of celebration for the beauty of the world. There are days where I come to Katherine’s office and have a million question, most that can’t be answered on this side of heaven. There are days where the only thing that gets me through is throwing a football with my kiddos while listening to my lovely fellow intern, Ben’s, dad jokes. There are days where the only sense of hope I can hold onto is listening to “Quiet” by MILCK. Yet even in these days I remain in awe of the streams and trees that have been planted, and I remember that, as someone who has been breathed into, I cannot waste my breath.