How Jesus met me in Joplin, MO

Written by Trent Russell

Staffing Representative, Group Mission Trips

"Ask God to tell you or show you what's in your way." The MC at my first Workcamp wanted us to do something others had asked of me before: Talk to Jesus.

I believed in God my whole life, but I remember sitting in that sweaty gymnasium in Joplin, MO wondering if there was actually someone on the other end of my prayers. The MC said there was, and I really wanted to believe him.

Full of doubt, I prayed, "I've never heard you, but if all of this is real, show me something." Really, I was asking for anything.

God responded with a simple visual that night—a crown, like kings and queens used to wear. The MC instructed us to write or draw what we heard or saw on a small piece of wood. Then we were to use a small piece of sandpaper to sand our response off the wood, symbolizing how Jesus wants to remove anything that might be in the way of connecting with him.

Later that evening, my youth group shared what we had placed on our piece of wood. My turn. "And why do you think God showed you that, Trent?" I wasn't expecting my spirit-filled response: "God is showing me that I need to give up control of my life because he wants to be the King of my heart..." Whoa. Any remaining doubts or expectations were completely shattered. Jesus is real.

Fast-forward five years, with another Workcamp, two summers on staff with Week of Hope, and an internship with Group under my belt, I now have the privilege of being a Staffing Representative for Group Mission Trips—working year round to help create experiences just like the one that brought me into a deeper, real-life understanding of who Jesus is.

A few weeks ago, I was going through some storage boxes—finally getting to the clutter that collects during the busy camp season. "What are these?" my coworker asked while holding up a small plastic bag containing a pencil, a piece of sandpaper, and a little block of wood. Instantly my heart was back in that gymnasium. Ask God to tell you or show you what's in your way.

"Oh, there's a story here," I told her.

My life narrative would be vastly different if not for Group Mission Trips. Since 2012, God has used this ministry to show me my purpose, develop personal passions for service and youth ministry, provide countless faith-filled friendships, and help me understand the reality that life with Jesus is better.

That first Group Mission Trip turned me from being someone who simply believed IN Jesus to someone who BELIEVED HIM. That block of wood helped me believe that I had a place in the story Jesus came to tell. I'm thankful for the countless pages of change Group Mission Trips has helped write in my life.