It's the time for us to look back and ponder on the previous year, and all I can say is wow, what a year 2008 has been! This has probably been the most transformational year for me up to this point in my life - and it certainly not been easy, but it's been worth it.
Wow, where do I even start this recap? In January I guess. Forgive me is the details are a bit sketchy - after all, it was a long time ago! =)
- January: In August of 2007, I started serving as interim Youth & Young Adults Pastor at what was then called Vista del Sol Baptist Church (VDSBC). The first 4 or 5 months were challenging, a time of learning, and a time of much opposition. I mean I was 21 years old, still in college, and there were many people who saw me as "little Ariel" and didn't have faith in me and didn't believe that Walter had made the right decision in letting me lead. By January though, I had found my groove, had proved myself, and had worked through much of that pushback. On Sunday, the 6th of January, we had a momentous day in the history of the church - our church voted with an 86% majority to change the name of VDSBC to simply Del Sol Church.
Even nearly a year later as I type this, that memory brings tears to my eyes. I remember barely sleeping on the night before the vote, I remember how Walter so passionately cast the vision for why we needed to do that, and I remember how when we finally reached the moment of the vote, my heart started pounding and I stopped breathing for a moment, knowing that the outcome of what was about to happen would be the deciding factor on whether or not our church would start to thrive, or begin to slowly die. I am so thankful to God that our church said we would do whatever it takes, even changing our name, to be a people who are focused on those who don't know Jesus instead of being focused on ourselves. Since then, God has blessed us more than we could imagine and I am so humbled to be in leadership in this incredible movement of God known as Del Sol Church.
Also in January, Dr. John MacKay (one of the church councilmen), Teri Valdespino (our Missions & Ministries Coordinator), and I went to the Creel area of Mexico to plan out the summer mission trip. It's amazing how even planning trips can be such a great time of ministry. Little did we know what the rest of 2008 would hold for us. We had our annual staff Christ-mas party in January (we do it after Christ-mas, when our calendars slow down a bit), we had a bonfire at the Watson's ranch, and we introduced the Movement 21 spiritual growth campaign.
- February: Sunday the 3rd was day 1 of Movement 21, which is kind of like 40 Days of Purpose for youth, and it's only 21 days long, and it's got seven elements like prayer, fasting, intentional evangelism, etc. Movement 21 was one of the best things our youth ministry ever experienced together. We had an El Paso Baptist Association meeting at the church campus (which was a very interesting experience), and we began our midweek youth gatherings called "the Mix" on February 14th.
At the end of February, I had my first experience leading an out of town youth trip. I, along with several other adults, took a group of youth to Phoenix for the Dare2Share evangelism conference as a way to finish off Movement 21. Wow, what a learning experience that was! It was so humbling to know that so many parents would trust me with the lives of their kids, and that is a trust I vowed long ago to never violate. Also in February, I put in my resume to apply for the position of Youth & Young Adults Pastor (Y&YAP) at Del Sol - a job that I REALLY wanted.
Finally, throughout February, Teri Valdespino and I were working hard in planning and preparing for the annual mission trip to Mexico in July.
- March: In March we had this guy named Troy Sanchez, an applicant for the Y&YAP position, come in for a staff fellowship where we could get to know him more and to preach at Cielo Vista Church so we could observe him in action. We also had our first rehearsals for our annual dinner theater fundraiser.
Sunday, March 23rd was the best day of the year - Resurrection Sunday. Because it was in the middle of spring break, some on staff didn't expect a big crowd, but I had been praying for weeks for God to do something so great that it would blow our minds away. And He did. We had 3 worship celebrations and they were packed.
The 8 am was surprisingly full though not totally packed, but the 9:30 and 11 am gatherings were filled and overflowing. In one gathering (I think it was the 9:30 one) we brought in about 50 extra chairs when people kept coming in at the beginning of the celebration service, and there were still people standing against the walls because they couldn't find seats. It was SO humbling and amazing to see God honor my prayers like that.
By March, the drug violence in Juarez and other parts of Mexico had really started getting bad, and we began praying hard and talking about not taking a trip there in the summer.
- April: We began meetings for summer's VBS, had our dinner theater/silent auction fundraiser, had our yard sale, started summer trip parents' meetings, and had Troy Sanchez come in to speak to our youth at the Mix. By this time, the search team decided to offer the position to him instead of to me. And the way it was communicated to me? Talk about hurtful!
April began a dark tunnel of pain for me when I was rejected and this guy from out of town, who had never led a ministry, was chosen over me (the one who everyone seemed to want). I was hurt, and I struggled with God about it for about a month until I finally surrendered to Him and told Him I'd be open to whatever He allowed to happen.
Shortly after that, I started seriously talking with some friends about starting a new church, and I felt a peace from God about pursuing that.
- May: By now, things were really starting to get busy around Del Sol Church. We had a Compassion Sunday, where we emphasized the need as Christ-followers to be compassionate, and we had around 75 kids adopted through Compassion International and a local ministry we work with in Juarez.
On the 10th, some of our youth and leaders and I spent the day working at a Habitat for Humanity worksite as part of the Unify city-wide youth ministry network's "Project Serve." We also had our annual graduate dinner and graduate recognition ceremony on Sunday morning. Man, I remember how nervous I was when I walked out on that stage and had to introduce those graduates, then pray for them. Ha ...now that I think back on it, I remember having a few people tell me after the 9:30 service that they enjoyed it and that I was funny, and then having someone tell me after the 11 am service that I didn't do good at all. I just love honesty!
May was also time for some graduations and a summer camp parents' meeting, and we had a fun photo scavenger hunt. Also, by May we had decided to call off the summer mission trip to Mexico because the violence had gotten so bad, and we were praying about what we should do instead.
- June: This month was a month of great life-change for me. I experienced some things and met some people who would leave me changed forever. June was also the month that I posted my first ever blog post. =)
There were more graduation ceremonies, an appreciation dinner that my leaders threw for me, our annual church-wide volunteer celebration dinner, and we sent 2 groups of youth to 2 different camps at the same time!
I took a group of about 30 people to Centrifuge youth camp - which was awesome - and I heard great things about what God did at Super Summer, but my highlight event of June was definitely the volunteer celebration on Friday the 13th.
See, I LOVE our volunteers at Del Sol Church. I love all the people of our church family, but I have a special fondness for our volunteers who give so much of their time and heart and money and love to help us be a church that loves God, loves people, and serves the world. So to have them all together in one place, and to be able to celebrate them and serve them a fancy dinner at a fancy, nationally renown restaurant like Cattleman's - that's a huge honor.
Us staff arrived at at the restaurant to find it dirty, unprepared, and stinkin' hot since they hadn't turned the air conditioners on like they were supposed to. We worked like crazy to get it ready for our volunteers and finished just in time for the first volunteers to walk in. We then sat them down, served them dinner, mingled with them, then we all went outside and had a very brief game, some giveaways, and a prayer of gratitude over our incredible volunteers. If you're a volunteer at Del Sol Church - please know how grateful we are for all you do and for how much we love you!
But I did say that I met some people who changed my life; two families really - the Moser family and the Pryor family.
I clearly remember when I met the Mosers. Lesli walked in the office and pretty much grilled me on the spot and when she left, I felt like I had just been hit by a truck! But despite my bumbling answers that day, they came on Sunday morning. Then they came back again ...and again ...and again - and now they're an incredible part of our church family.
I also remember when I met the Pryors. The first Pryor I met was Shannah, who had just finished high school and was looking for the young adult GrowGroup. Then later on that morning at the Firehouse, these three youth came in, and they seemed so scared and they looked like they really did not want to be there. I honestly did not think these people would be back, but they did come back again, and again, and again. I later found out that they were really close to not coming back, but God had better plans for Del Sol Church and for me. He knew that the church, and that my life, would not be the same without this family.
It's funny how at the beginning of the year, I had no idea at all that there was anybody named Moser or Pryor - but now in December, I can't even (and don't want to) imagine what my life or what the church would be like without these people. My life has been so blessed by these two families, and I don't even want to remember what life was like before I knew them.
Tomorrow ...part 2. =)