God has ushered in a great amount of newness in my life by placing me among a group of Jesus-loving people working together to start a new church in East Orlando.
In May 2014, I read a blog post by Jenny Kutz (one of several blogs I regularly read) where she shared about her upcoming move from Ft. Worth Texas to Orlando Florida to be part of the team working alongside Caleb and Sarah Wehrli starting a new church: Victory Orlando. Victory Orlando is a plant of Victory Christian Center of Tulsa Oklahoma and Sarah is the daughter of Pastors Billy Joe and Sharon Daugherty. An excitement came over me as I read Jenny’s words describing the Wehrli’s and their heart for Jesus & people. I thought it was so cool that this was happening in my city, as sometimes it seems as though great ministry happenings are always occurring in places far away. Florida is not exactly the Bible belt.
Days went by and I still kept thinking about Victory Orlando (V/O). I went to the website and read all about it. I went to the website for Victory Tulsa to get a sense of the heritage V/O will have. My interest was not waning. So, I decided to pray for this new church and the Wehrli’s. A little more time passed. I decided to send an email to the general “info” email address on the V/O website just to introduce myself and let them know I was praying for them. I got a personal reply from Sarah and an invite for coffee at Panera. I thought, “Why not?!” She and I met a week later where she was generous with her time and shared with me all about the process of God birthing the vision for V/O in their hearts and now tangibly before their eyes. She listened with compassion as I shared highlights of the past year of my life and some of the losses I had suffered, but how I had become fully convinced that my healing and wholeness would come thru outward living and not inward isolation.
Fast-forward to July 25th and 26th: Leadership training for the V/O Launch Team, or as Pastors Caleb and Sarah call us, “The Dream Team”.
Launch Sunday, or the first official Sunday morning service is September 7th 2014. Between now and then, we meet weekly, usually in the Wehrli home, for a time of worship, Word, announcements, fellowship and food. I would estimate about 40 people have relocated from Tulsa to help start this new church and then the Lord has drawn others from within Florida, such as myself.
After praise and worship, we always break into groups of twos and threes to pray together. As a newcomer, I felt shy, but I pushed past those feelings knowing that this was an opportunity to grow.
And then one day in my quiet time at home, the Lord blessed me with this verse I had never noticed before.
People are a blessing. Relationships of all kinds are a blessing. What makes life rich is people. What makes life hard (at times) can also be people. But there’s no denying God’s plan is always for us to live life in community. For me, I feel as though my time spent living outward greases the wheels on my inward life and vice versa.
I’ve never been part of a church plant, or church planting, but I don’t think it’s so much a science as it is a matter of the heart.
I read that when it comes to church attendance: “commit until you know that if you missed, your absence would be noticed”. That’s what I’m aiming to do. And I don’t mean that in a prideful way, I’m speaking more to consistency and accountability. Staying at home is very easy for me to do. Perhaps it is the part of my personality that leans toward introvertedness, but I commonly have to give myself a pep-talk and get committed within myself that I am going, period!
Because of the internet and television, we have access to wonderful preaching and Bible teaching 24/7. But in this new season of my life, it’s not solely about the preaching and teaching (although that is very important), but getting involved in a community of Believers means placing myself in an atmosphere of faith, giving of myself and receiving from the treasure that God has placed on the inside of my brothers and sisters.
By getting involved with Victory Orlando, I am confronting any residue of fear, self-doubt or insecurity lingering inside my thought life or soul. No matter my past, no matter what I have or haven’t done, no matter my age, education or what I look like, God has a unique and special plan for my life which includes abundance, love, joy, friendship, fun, hard work and a divine sense of belonging. As someone who has spent many years feeling like I was on the outside looking in, I realize now that that was a lie.
Just as we renew our minds by exalting the truth of God’s Word higher in our thinking than any of our natural thoughts, so I believe my life is being renewed by taking literal action and involvement in a local body of Believers and allowing new experiences and new connections crowd out the loneliness and lies of my past.