As a staff member of Athletes in Action at the University of Wisconsin, I have probably repeated the phrase “you gotta go” over a thousand times. We push the athletes really hard to go on some sort of a missions project during the summer, specifically the ones offered through AIA.
Why? Because God tends to show up and do big things in our lives when we step outside of our comfort zones and trust Him.
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In nine years of being on staff, I have yet to hear an athlete come back from a summer project disappointed in their experience or even neutral about it. The general response usually falls somewhere between “that was the best week of my life” and “I am so happy I made the decision to go on that project.”
Student athletes who are a part of a campus ministry, in general, become faithful followers of Christ. Student athletes who give up a portion of their summer time to God through a summer opportunity become world changers.
If you are one of the hundreds of athletes who are responding to the call of God—or the urging of another person—to go on a summer project, great work! Saying yes to go is a major step of faith and one I am confident God will use to grow your faith. Saying yes is significant step in the process.
But it is not the only step. What follows are five pieces of advice I would encourage you to follow to maximize your summer opportunity.
Establish a daily rhythm of reading the Bible. This seems like a no-brainer but let me explain what is going to happen. You are going to meet new people. You will like these people. You will stay up late with these people. You will wake up early the first few days, but after a while, you will need sleep. You will begin to neglect time in the Word and justify it by telling yourself that you are still getting spiritually fed through all of the worship. All of the speakers. All of the teaching. All of the training. Our spiritual disciplines, like reading the Bible, get tested when we change environments and daily norms. Spending time in the Word and hearing from God every day is essential to your experience on the project. When you do this, you don’t just experience a project, but you experience Him.
Be the real you. One of the beautiful realities of a summer missions project is spending a bulk of your time with people you have never met. This is such a great chance for you to just...be you. What do I mean by that? You don’t have to fake being someone you’re not. If you have a habitual sin problem that nobody in your community back at school is aware of and you’re too afraid to tell them, try telling this new community of people. Confess to them. Be appropriately raw and honest. This does not mean getting up front during the first meeting and telling everyone you have a problem with porn. But, if you do and there is an opportunity to bring it into the light at an appropriate time on the project, do it. Give the people on the project an opportunity to show you grace, forgiveness, and hope.
Take a risk. Most projects have risks built into the program, so I won’t force the issue here. When the opportunity arises for you to step outside of your comfort zone, seize it. Be ok with screwing up and falling on your face. A summer project is the safest place to risk. Nobody grows, athletically or spiritually, without stepping into areas of discomfort and uncertainty. One practical risk is to initiate with other people, especially those who are different than you. We naturally gravitate towards people who look, think, and act like we do. You have much to offer—and even more to learn—from people who you may be uncomfortable engaging in conversation. Lean into the potential awkwardness, ask good questions, be a learner, and witness what God can do with that relationship.
Write a couple of letters. There are two kinds of letters you need to write. The first one is to everyone who supported you financially and prayerfully to go on this project in the first place. Get a piece of paper and a pen. Thank them for investing into you. Tell them a couple of stories of what God did in and through you.
The next letter is a little more exhaustive. This letter is to yourself. I’m serious. Find 30 minutes towards the end of your project and write a letter to future you. Tell future you what you are feeling, what you have learned, what you want to change, what you are hoping God will continue to do. When you finish, put the letter in an envelope with your address on it and give it to your project leader. Ask them to mail it to you in 6 months.
Have an answer to the most asked question. When you get back from the project, everyone will ask you the same exact question: how was your experience? You need to be prepared with something more than “it was awesome.” How you respond to this question is a stewardship issue. You have been given an opportunity to glorify God by sharing what He did, and you need to be prepared. Based on the person and the circumstances, you will need to be prepared to give a 30 second, 3 minute, or 30 minute response. During that allotted time frame, what is the best way you can sum up your project experience?
The voice of this world screams “You deserve a break, look what’s new on Netflix, you should be making money, get an internship!” Choosing to go is evidence that God is at work in your life. I am praying that simply saying yes and attending will be all that God needs to do what He does best—transform lives. But I am also praying that you will implement some of the suggestions above!