It would seem almost impossible to summarize my experience of living in Billings for the past 3 months in one essay.
Three months ago, the thought of packing up and driving to Billings was exciting, but scary enough that I could only face it with the notion that in 9 months I could be back in Wheaton, IL.
Today, Dave and I are seriously considering staying indefinitely.
Three months ago, I had agreed to work at the Friendship House thinking I would tolerate teaching and at least get to be with children, but glad to have the job because it would make paying the bills easier.
Today, I’m seriously considering pursuing a Masters in Education with licensure to teach.
Three months ago, I felt totally directionless in my faith, purpose and marriage. I knew I was unsatisfied with life and struggling with some despair, but couldn’t discern the root or the steps I needed to take to find direction.
Today, I’m learning that my faith and marriage thrives when rooted in Christ and that my purpose is determined through obedience.
Three months ago, I struggled to understand why Christians interacted with the world in the same way non-Christians did, and was confused on why my life wasn’t any different.
Today, I’m learning that the answer lies in obedience.
Living and working in South Billings has begun to change me. At work, I face the reality of what happens when children are brought up in unstable homes steeped in poverty and drug use, founded on generations of dysfunctional, disengaged parenting, and blanketed in hopelessness. While walking through the community, I see abandoned lots, broken windows, shoeless children and littered yards. It is as though the vibrancy of life has been sucked out of the streets and replaced with heavy chains of oppression and despair. And the chains seem so old and so expected, people have forgotten they are wearing them and children seem born with them. Could it be that people are so dead in their sin and lost in despair that they no longer cry for help? Is hope and freedom so lost that people don’t know to look for it?
The chains of sin are apparent in South Billings, and as I begin to consider the community my own, I see how my own chains weigh heavily about my neck and that the only path to freedom is obedience to Christ. I have been a Christian for 6 years, and while those 6 years have been wrought with many trials which tested and strengthened my faith, I could not say that I have been a mature or committed disciple. Life in Billings is calling me out of infancy in my faith and into discipleship. A classroom full of needy children demands my attention and care. A neighborhood heavy with despair demands our mercy and the hope of Christ that we carry within us. A God of Justice, concerned for the poor, the needy and the oppressed, commands that I join Him as He steps into the fray. In discipleship, there is no other choice. No other option exists.
Since living in Billings, the Lord has begun to shift my focus from earthy concerns to eternal realities. To live as a disciple of Christ is to die to self and live for Him. But to do that, one must trust Him. To serve Him fully, I must let go of my dreams and find His so that death to self and death on this earth is not something to fear, but something to face knowing that eternity with my Maker awaits. Obedience to God’s Word and command to discipleship radically changes a person’s life. Christianity is not a spin off of the American Dream, and to live a life resembling that is to step outside the lines of discipleship. Christianity is also not a direct call to asceticism or self-hatred, and so to confuse true life with those practices is to misunderstand the Word of my Creator, Lover and Giver of Joy. God is a God of life, but He cannot give life outside of Himself. As such, discipleship, which can be thought of as a life devoted to God, is a pursuit of true life.
Moving out to Billings was the first major decision Dave and I made as a married couple. We left our families, closest friends, mentors, support network and comfort zone behind and made the journey on faith that God would sustain us in this new place. As a couple, it was an incredibly scary but also intentional move. Out here, we would have to establish the roots of our marriage without familial support or the security of close friendships to fall back on. All would be new, and while new is good, it is hard. As a homebody by nature, it was especially overwhelming for me to think about starting over, making new friends, and building new relationships. My faith has been ridden with fear and doubt since I became a Christian, and as such, my fear has often inhibited me from trusting in God and pursing Him with the surrender and trust required for discipleship. So when thinking of Billings, I couldn’t help but wonder what Jesus would look like in a new context and fear that I would not know or recognize Him. I had no idea of what Christianity looked like outside of Wheaton. What if I didn’t get it? I remember having a mentor look at me at one point and say simply, “Jesus is Jesus. The culture might be different, but Jesus doesn’t change. Keep your eyes on Him.” Right. Ok. I know Jesus, so I should be able to see Him anywhere.
It turns out that breaking into a new community is possible and that making new friends is something I can do. It turns out that Jesus really is the same and that, if anything, I’m learning to see Him more clearly and experience Him more closely. It turns out that moving across the country was good for our marriage and has strengthened some weak points in our bond.
Mostly, it turns out that when you follow the Lord’s voice, you find Him, and there is nothing to fear, because Jesus is Jesus. Simple as that.
– Amanda (CLDI/Fellowship House Intern)