This is the twelfth in a series of blogs written by alumni of the Student.Go program. This year Student.Go is celebrating 10 years of providing summer and semester missions service opportunities for college and graduate students in locations all over the world.
This blog is written by Joel Baucom who served through Student.Go at Touching Miami with Love ministry center in Miami, FL during the summer of 2004.
In the process of moving earlier this year, my mom came across a copy of my “spiritual journey” I had sent for proofreading that was to be included in my Student.Go application in 2004. I hope it was not the final copy because I found more than one typo. As I read this story about my life and my understanding of God and the world I was struck by the difference that seven years can make. It didn’t sound like me anymore.
I spent that summer living in south Florida and working alongside the staff of Touching Miami With Love (TML). It was a summer of many firsts: My first plane ride by myself, my first time being totally reliant on public transportation, my first time living in a place where most people looked different from me. TML primarily serves the community of Overtown. Once a thriving, diverse community, the effects of Urban Renewal on Overtown were devastating.
It was a busy summer. All week long we worked with volunteer church groups as they facilitated a day camp for the children of Overtown. On Monday nights, I prayed healing prayers with people living with HIV. I ate popcorn, served lemonade and watched movies with the homeless on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sundays were spent at a local congregation that was finding creative ways to minister to their ever-changing community.
Each day, I engaged people who I never encountered in my life in rural North Carolina. I found an appreciation for their stories. I quickly realized that God was very much at work in the lives and struggles of this community. This began to change me. That summer, through the process of listening and sharing, I began to feel at home in Overtown, even though no one looked like me. The long daily bus ride became a Sabbath space. Popcorn and lemonade started to taste more like bread and wine.
Since my summer in Miami, I finished my undergraduate degree, went on to divinity school, worked as a hospital chaplain and now work with families who, in the midst of tremendous grief, decide to save lives through organ donation. The gift of my summer was the discovery of the power of story with an appreciation for the task of theological reflection. I am so grateful to the people I was able to journey with through this important time of my life.