Last month I had the privilege of attending the National Association of Directors of Christian Education Conference and writing the following piece for their quarterly publication:

A year and a half ago, I stepped on a plane and moved to Hawaii for my DCE internship, and in July I was installed as Director of Christian Education at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Aiea, just minutes from Pearl Harbor. Before moving to the islands, Hawaii was simply a place of my imagination, a paradise of beaches, hula, volcanoes, and palm trees.  I never expected I’d visit, let alone live on an island called O’ahu.

When I tell people I serve in Hawaii, I often get questions like “Do you take your youth to the beach everyday?” or “Why aren’t you more tan?” Sometimes, after a few more questions about surfing and aloha, people realize the truth, there must be moments when the place the world calls paradise doesn’t feel like it.

Like any other place in the world, we go through the ups and downs of life. We live on the most remote island chain in the world, and sometimes that feels lonely.  Family and friends are far away, and meeting face-to-face with another DCE requires crossing an ocean, a few time zones, and 2,000+ miles. Any time I make the  journey though, every hour in the sky and mile traveled is worth it.

January brought me one of those journeys. I made my way to Orlando for NADCE where for three days I was empowered, encouraged, and energized by Christian community.

It all began with singing, and I stood in worship with friends I had been joyfully reunited with for those few days. Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV). His presence and power filled the room as voices joined in lyrics of hope and truth. We heard the words of Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,” and together the room ignited with celebratory songs.

The words Desmond Tutu were paraphrased, “Think less of the self less and surround yourself with those who love and those to love.” Once again,  I was reminded that I am not alone. I was surrounded by the community gathered in that place, and there was a community waiting to surround me again back on the islands.

We are not alone in our individual ministries either. Whether serving in the heart of Manhattan, a small town in Iowa, the suburbs of Baltimore, or the California coast, we all have a place in the Body of Christ; His great love surrounds and sustains us each and everyday. We know it is true in our separate ministry settings, but sometimes it takes a conference to let the truth sink in and empower us in our callings.

Some of the time we stood in circles, huddled together sharing ministry stories, making connections, and meandering from person to person, booth to booth. I heard about another church struggling with Sunday school attendance. Another DCE and I shared together the joys of building relationships with military families. I traded notes with the DCE who’s young adult ministry is structured similarly. We leaned into one another, linked by our shared vocations.

Encouragement is found in these kinds of conversations. They give answer to the truth found in the book of Hebrews, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

We stirred each other up with  listening, laughter, and learning.  Energy filled the air of the spaces we shared. Some moments felt like a youth gathering for DCEs. Celebration, growth, and praise marked our time.

Friday concluded with a service of Holy Communion. I stood singing, soaking in the final moments of being gathered in a room full of Spirit-filled Directors of Christian Education. I looked around the room at this beautiful network of friends, mentors, and colleagues considering the beautiful mystery of how this simple meal joins us together with believers of all times and places both here and in heaven.

We put our hands out, and Pastor Matt gave us a blessing, sending us back to our unique ministry settings. I held back tears as I said goodbyes and gave final hugs unsure of when I’d see those gathered around me or have such an experience again.

Before I knew it, I was walking through the airport mentally preparing for my long journey back to my home on an island in the sea. I returned to Hawaii feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.  This is the power of Christian community. When we join together, Christ is among us, energizing us for work in His kingdom.  

While miles may separate, much more unites us. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. It is the creed  that united the early church and unites us still today, confirming our callings.