After being involved at H2O Church for 3 years, during which I participated in and led regular evangelism on campus, I wasn’t sure how much additional value I’d gain by forfeiting my last normal spring break to go a on a church evangelism trip to the University of Buffalo. However, the trip ended up being one of my favorite experiences as part of the church.
In the span of just a couple of days, I was able to do evangelism with around 6 different people from multiple churches. Getting to learn from each person’s style of having conversations and seeing the way they loved each person they talked to was super cool. Prior to Buffalo, despite my experience, I would still get nervous to approach people during evangelism for fear of rejection, but the sheer volume of people we talked to that week eliminated any hesitation I felt. I was also able to lead a crossover worship night between H2O UC and H2O Buffalo, re-connect with former mentors, and have a ton of fun in exploring campus, Niagara Falls and talking and creating deeper relationships with friends. Getting to also understand the difficulties associated with planting a church but the ability to see God’s deliverance so clearly through the risk was awesome. All in all, the Buffalo Evangelism Spring Break trip was both spiritually defining and deeply relationally impactful.
Hello, my name is Matthew Johnson, and this year, I had the unique and rewarding
opportunity to attend the H2O mission trip to Memphis, TN. For those who have not met me, I am a second-year Civil Engineering student at the University of Cincinnati and have been a regular attendee and participant in H2O’s ministry since my first week on campus as a Freshman. I often engage in H2O life groups, classes, and workshops such as the Well, Deeper Waters, Membership Classes, etc., all in addition to my presence at Sunday Service.
As I previously mentioned, I had the chance this spring break to spend my week off in a time of spiritually disciplined service work, which I happily pursued after learning I could put some of the things I had been learning in my coursework and studies to good use by repairing someone’s roof. Additionally, I recalled my experience last year traveling to Rose Hill, NC with the missions team and eagerly signed up to go to Memphis during the Sunday church service that the trip was announced. All this is to say, I was excited to go and serve again! Despite knowing what to expect already to some degree from the prior year’s trip, I would still describe my time in Memphis as “transformative” in heart, mind, and spirit.
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh
While in Memphis, our church, among others, partnered with an organization called Service Over Self (S.O.S.). I think that the name alone is telling of the heart posture that the organization had, and, while we were there, the message that they so tenderly left us with. In the evenings throughout the week, we studied the story of the Good Samaritan- a story anyone who’s attended church for more than a few weeks is probably familiar with- however; the perspective shared with us while we were there was not so familiar. It was not, “Christians are to be like the Good Samaritan, so go out and serve your neighbors”. Although that may be true (yes, of course Christians should be lending a hand to those in need of it!), the focus of a lot of our studies was not on the Good Samaritan, but rather the man who lay beaten and bruised at the side of the road. Not one of us is without sin; not one without pain, or suffering, or trauma, or hurt, or guilt- we, yes even us Christians, are dead in our trespasses without the one, true Great Samaritan: Jesus.
This message was a beautiful and exemplary derivation of true Christian doctrine: We are dead without our Savior, the true Great Samaritan, Jesus, Christ, and because of this humbling truth, we have faith in His promise, which He fulfilled by dying on the cross and are saved through our faith alone but are also inspired to do good and faithful work for the Kingdom of God. You see, we are to be like the good Samaritan in Jesus’ story, but you can’t truly understand why, until you realize you’ve been picked up out of the ditch yourself already. This was the type of transformative message that moved our team in the depths of our heart and gave us good reason and desire to serve that week. This theme renewed our “hearts of flesh” over break.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1- 2
“In view of God’s mercy”, our team learned yet another valuable, and transformative idea: “What could life be like living in nearly perfect discipline and service?” Well, we did it for a week; let me tell you! Something that I think was of great value to us, and may have been overlooked by some while staying with S.O.S., was the consistency of schedule that was planned for us each day:
7:30 am- 8:00 am: Individual time in reflection, prayer, and silence.
8:00 am – 8:30 am: Breakfast
8:30 am – 4:00 pm: Work on-site
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm: Dinner, in community with all churches
7:30 pm – 9:00 pm: Evening Chapel service
Each and every day looked like this and dedicating the entire day from waking up in the morning to getting into bed at night to fellowship, service, prayer, worship, and our very relationship with God, was mentally restorative. Physically, the routine, which is far from the average college student’s daily agenda, wore us down, but our minds grew extremely strong by the end of the week. We felt devoted, with purpose, and closer than ever to those God calls us to love: Himself, and our neighbors.
What was so mentally transformative about all this was the spiritual discipline we practiced. Between disciplines of abstinence in the mornings, and disciplines of engagement throughout the day, we all became well accustomed to what it really meant to “offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – as this was our true and proper worship”. And just as the verse continues, I would describe it as, “nothing of this world”.
When you send your Spirit,
they [all Creatures] are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
Lastly, and on a more personal note, I would testify that my spirit itself was transformed throughout the week. In the Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew, the word “ruah” was translated to spirit, and commonly meant “wind” or “breath”. Looking to Greek for the New Testament appeal, we see the word “pnuema” translated to spirit, meaning “breath” as well. Spirt is “living essence that connects the body, heart, and mind” (Biblestudytools.com). When I attempt to understand this as it relates to our trip to Memphis, I search my body, heart, and mind for my true intention for wanting to go on this trip. What did the breath in my body breathe for?
On the Sunday we departed from Cincinnati, my answer to the question posed above, as simple as it may be, would have been, “To get the chance to be outside, building a roof for someone, and also get to serve God out of it.” That makes sense! I’ve worked in construction related jobs for a few years now, it’s what I’m studying in school, I have a fascination for buildings, a competitive mind, and even some experience roofing! It’s all right up my alley and it could’ve been Papa John’s advertising it, and I still would have gone and built a roof. I love this kind of stuff so much that it became my reason for going, in other words, it was self-serving.
Well, it was pretty difficult working for an organization called Service over Self when my priorities were over-serving myself. Through the changes to my heart and mind described in the stories above, as well as the physical toll the week took on my body, my spirit was left wide open and vulnerable for the Lord to work in, and I can proudly say that on the Friday we drove home, I was “Happy to serve the good and gracious God who has rescued his children, and also get to be outside building a roof.”
I hope it is clear to see the impact that a trip like this has on an individual, a mission team like the 14 amazing people I served with, and the church that we got to come back to at the end of the week. As the gospel often is, this mission for the gospel in Memphis, Tennessee was transformative, in heart, mind, and spirit.