By Sarah Niemitz
I had a plan. It was good - Kingdom oriented even- but it got all messed up.
From eighth grade on I was going to be an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) intern - for life. I know, it’s only 2 years. But I had a plan - 2 year internship, followed by staff position, followed by forever.
I never had another plan. Seriously. I picked my college based on this RUF internship. I chose classes and extra-curricular activities around my RUF schedule. I even took a day long aptitude test that confirmed my ideal career was, essentially, being an RUF intern.
Then Katrina hit the gulf coast my junior year of college, and that spring my RUF took a mission trip to help roof houses in Biloxi Mississippi. That same summer I decided to join a group of 15 crazy college kids, like myself, who wanted to volunteer at Lagniappe Presbyterian Church, drink water from aluminum cans, and help rebuild the coast. I never left the compound because my glamorous job was running the tool shed. I literally checked out hammers, cleaned paint brushes, and drove a fork lift. That fall I headed back for my senior year of college, studied to become an RUF intern….and then in the middle of my internship interview I decided to back to the Mississippi Gulf coast and work full time at Lagniappe Presbyterian Church.
I had officially abandoned the plan and, as you recall, I had no back up. But God used that “detour” to redirect my heart in three important ways. First, he taught me that Jesus was the hero, not me. I was a put together person with an “appropriate” need for Jesus. I had a theological ascent to my total depravity, God’s sovereignty, and the sufficiency of grace. But honestly, I had just been so darn good at life up to this point that I offered others a lot of me and not a lot of Jesus. God began dismantling that at Lagniappe. I tipped over a fork lift with $10,000 worth of sheetrock; I hurt people’s feelings and I forgot the promotional materials for a huge fundraising trip out of town. This could be a long and deeply personal list, but I’ll spare you. Long story short - Jesus showed me that He was both theologically and pragmatically the hero.
Second, he taught me that His kingdom is upside down. I grew up attending an affluent church, school, and university. In general, I was accustomed to being a resource person. Whether experience, money, or time I was the “giver” and others were the “receivers.” But then we built a ramp for an elderly woman’s FEMA trailer, and she started having me and a few other interns over for dinner every Monday night. If you do the math, she quickly outpaced me in the “financial sacrifice” category, but it was more than that. Mrs. Inez offered me community and familiarity in a town that was not my home. She showed me that whether God has given me a trailer, a home, or a mansion I can invite others in. To this day my family hosts friends on Friday nights for the most casual, crazy evening of kids, conversation, and food. It is not glamorous, but I think Mrs. Inez would like it.
Third, God taught me that He loves His church and wants to use her in this upside down kingdom. If you are part of a local church body you already know this - the church (big C and little c) is a mess. It is full of sinners, literally FULL of them, and it is easy to look for a more efficient way to accomplish kingdom work somewhere (sometimes anywhere) outside of the church. And believe me, our non-profit friends are important - this is nothing against them - but God is still interested in using His church too! During my time at Lagniappe I helped to host a lot of church group from large churches around the country. And God grew in me a passion to help equip those churches (or one of those churches) to do missions and outreach a little differently. I was not the expert; I read books by the experts. My passion was to share what God was teaching me about his upside down kingdom - where Jesus is the hero and the poor are at the center - and help an affluent church engage well.
Today I live in Huntsville Alabama, where I worked for 6 years as the Community Development Director for a large church called Southwood Presbyterian. I am married to a wonderful man and together we are raising four little kids. God is continuing to teach us the same lessons - He is the hero, His kingdom is upside down, and His bride the Church matters in this kingdom. We are different church members, neighbors, spouses, and parents today because of the things we started learning at Lagniappe Presbyterian Church, and for that God gets all the glory.