Some people make the mistake of strolling in to ministry opportunities like a CEO with a ready-made plan. But this kind of approach leaves those on the other end of the equation in a passive position as receivers with very little input. Instead, this week’s chapter of The Yes Effect, Invitation 5: Find Your People, reminds us to approach ministry with an attitude of teamwork not just with our peers, but also with the people we have yet to meet in the place we feel drawn to serve.
In our reading, we are learning the Person of Peace approach used by a team serving refugees in the Middle East. We are considering business development as a way to promote world peace. We are discovering how the local church in Cairo’s Garbage City teamed up with the community to develop innovative ways, raising living standards simply by using what they already had at their disposal.
For a local example, I’m thankful today to invite my friend Derrin Slack of Proact Indy to share as part of our Yes Effect Book Club. You’ll be moved by this story of an anxious, stuttering young man who was transformed into a confident advocate because of the relationships he developed through projects and acts of service around the world.
By Derrin Slack
Raised by a preacher dad and prayer warrior mom, I spent half my childhood days in my local church. But as a precocious boy, my questions about the Bible and uncertainties in my life of faith seemed to irritate my Sunday school teachers. One teacher even slapped me on the hand and said, “Faith means believing in things not seen.”
My questions didn’t go away, but now I was afraid to speak them out loud in my community. And because there was no one brave enough to walk through my uncertainties with me, I lost all courage for sharing my faith with the world around me.
I lived with a constant uneasiness. I didn’t belong in the place I was supposed to belong. But I didn’t belong “in the world” either. I began to wonder, “Who are my people?” That experience in Sunday school wasn’t the only thing keeping me from using my voice. All through childhood, I was teased for my disability: stuttering. I feared disappointing certain adults in my life for the questions I wanted to talk about. And I feared ridicule from my peers for the way I talked. This combination wrecked my self-esteem.
There were a few teachers, guidance counselors, and athletic coaches who saw something in me that I failed to see in myself. Their influence set me on the path to earn an academic scholarship to Wabash College, which included the opportunity to play football and run track. You’d think all this might make me feel like I’d finally arrived, but I was still circling around looking for a place to land.
I lacked an understanding of who I really was and what I was capable of…. That is until my college football coach, a strong Christian, counted me as one of his people. Coach Neathery had this crazy idea to send 20 football players to Botswana, Africa, on a mission trip to share the Gospel and teach American sports to schoolchildren, villagers, and prisoners. I thought it was a great idea, just not a great idea for me.
Having never been out of the country, feeling uneasy in my walk with Christ, and not having any money to afford this trip, I gave my coach an emphatic, no. Two weeks later. Coach Neathery called me and said, “Derrin, hear me out. I need you to pack your bags and get your passport. Your trip to Botswana has been paid in full.”
There was a long silence on my end of the phone as I thought to myself, I’m out of excuses. I finally mustered up the courage to say, “Okay. I’ll go.”
In our preparation for Botswana, Coach Neathery assigned me the task of telling the story of Jarius’ daughter whom Jesus raised from the dead in Mark 5:21-43. Out loud. In front of people. Me–with my stutter!
As I practiced teaching this story, I could not get the words out. Because of my stutter, practice times that should have taken me five minutes took me 15. I couldn’t imagine speaking this story in front of hundreds of unreached people on another continent.
But the day came, and we flew to Maun, Botswana. Two days into our trip, my turn came. Coach would not let me off the hook. He tapped me on my shoulder and nudged me in front of a crowd of more than 250 people.
I took a deep breath and began to speak the story. “Rise, little one,” Jesus had said to Jairus’ daughter. To my surprise, and to the surprise of many of my teammates, this story came out of my mouth without a stammer. Instead of becoming bogged down by my stuttering, the message came out smoothly, with clarity and reverence. In fact, immediately afterward an older gentleman ran up to me and said those words had changed his life. God was helping me find my people, and they were helping me find myself.
As I reflected on this experience after Botswana, I kept hearing a still, small voice whisper, “You did not make your mouth…I did.” That voice ignited a courage and passion that willed my heart to seek out every opportunity I could to serve in God’s big world. After Botswana, I traveled to serve in South Africa, Ethiopia, Israel/Palestine, Mexico, New Orleans, New York, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Through these many experiences serving others and building relationships, my confidence grew, and my stutter, as well as my fear of it, began to fade.
The growth I experienced in my travels brought up a new question: “What if I had these experiences at a younger age? How would my life be different?”
This was the question that helped lay the groundwork for the organization I would start in 2010. In founding ProAct Indy, I have been able to provide opportunities to at-risk youth that I wish the adults in my life had offered to me in my own childhood.
ProAct Indy involves youth in public service that educates, delights, and inspires the youth and those they serve. Since our inception, we have engaged over 8,000 boys and girls in community service that focuses on creating and building transformational relationships to empower communities from the inside out.
Invitation 5 of The Yes Effect resonated deeply with me, both personally and professionally. My transformation has been all about “Finding My People” and, in turn, allowing myself to be found by Christ and His people. I’ve gone on to find more like-minded people in the world as business partners donate their financial resources and their time to volunteering alongside our youth. Adults and youth, privileged and poor, we are teaming up and making it known that all are capable of contributing in significant ways.
“My transformation has been all about finding my people and,
in turn, allowing myself to be found by Christ and His people.”
-Derrin Slack, Founder of ProAct Indy
As this chapter points out, “…It is very important to see the people we serve as made in the image of God…stewards of resources, not victims of circumstance.” My coach’s mentoring and encouragement led me to see myself as someone capable and worthy of giving to others. Now, I can offer opportunities to youth in the most vulnerable communities, in their most vulnerable years, to find self-confidence and life purpose.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20 we see that God has called every believer to be an ambassador for Christ. Basically, He’s telling us to go connect with people ourselves in order to connect them with Him. How do we go about this task? We follow Christ’s model, breaking through the same two barriers He did.
First, we need to break through the humanity barrier. Christ took on the flesh, cultural patterns, thought patterns, practices, and weakness associated with humanity. He left His world and entered into our world. Motivated by His love, we also need to enter into the reality of those who don’t believe like us, seeking to understand their context, and finding areas of common ground. This means that, without compromising, we are to get involved with real people and their needs, struggles, and intellectual doubts.
Second, we need to help people overcome the sin barrier. Jesus went to the cross and became sin on our behalf so we could be forgiven of our sins and come to know God personally. We break the sin barrier by sharing the gospel within their context, in a way that “makes sense” within another person’s cultural and intellectual makeup.
Not only did God seek humankind by becoming human, His commitment to seek connection with us continued after Christ’s death and resurrection, in a new form, this time through His Holy Spirit and His people.
In Invitation 3: Fix Your Eyes, we read about a Bible page that floated down from a windstorm right in front of a praying man, a man with a lot of questions. That Bible page settled right in front of him with his answer. In the middle of the page, he read this verse, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10).
God has people everywhere, and He seems to like linking us up. He’s helped me find people of peace in my city. And in the process, He’s helped me find the courage to go on speaking and not be silent.
While on a college mission trip to Botswana, Africa, Derrin experienced the power of giving back to others and wondered how his life would have been different had he been exposed to service at a younger age. This led to the founding of ProAct and what it is today. With a strong background in nonprofit management and research, Derrin acts as the conduit between the needs of the community, and the individuals, partners, sponsors, and students that engage with ProAct. Under his leadership, the organization has engaged over 8,000 boys and girls in community service since its inception.