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A lot can happen in a year...

Hunter Winey, Director of the Community Learning Center

Before the summer of 2022, I needed to find a summer internship as a requirement for my degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. At that time I was a junior, studying Ministry with a focus in Intercultural Studies. I did not enter college with the intention of being a Ministry major, but near the end of my first year I felt God subtly leading me to go in that direction. Over the next few years of my college journey after my freshman year, I wrestled deeply with vocational direction. After some searching and conversations, I ended up with two options (for my internship): one at a local church near my home in Pennsylvania, and the other at a nonprofit organization named Lower Lights Ministries in Columbus. As I prayed and reflected extensively over these two options, I did not feel any specific leading from God towards one of them. I concluded that God was placing the decision in my hands, but in my mind that meant He did not have very much purpose or intentionality for where I ended up that summer. So, I decided to choose Lower Lights Ministries.

Though I did not sense God at work on the front end of the decision, He was by no means absent or uninvolved on the other side once I stepped into my summer internship there. I encountered Him in meaningful ways on a daily basis, whether that was through the people I built relationships with, the events that I participated in, or the moments of personal reflection where I felt God’s presence. Through extensive weekly journaling, I recorded all of the ways I was impacted and shaped by my experience. It would be too much to try to share the specifics of my reflections here. But one of the main things I took away from the summer is a more nuanced understanding of the way that God invites us to co-labor with Him in this world.

I had always seen partnership with God as Him leading from the front with a very specific purpose and me following from behind; but this experience taught me that God has called me primarily to Himself (rather than to a specific vocation), and as I abide in Him I sometimes have choices that He gives me to make to which He then responds with His presence and action on the back side of my decision. This realization generated a sense of wonder in me as I finished my internship and prepared to enter my senior year of college.

As I left Lower Lights Ministries, I really thought that I was closing a chapter of my life spent with the Lower Lights Community. I had a great experience, but I did not have any inclination that I would return in the future. Throughout my senior year I explored several options but did not feel peace moving forward with them. Near the end of the school year, my fiancé (now wife) found a job in Columbus, so we planned to live in that area after graduation. Therefore, after graduation, I spent weeks searching for jobs in the Columbus area; but again, I did not feel any peace about them. In the back of my mind, I thought that I would like giving nonprofit work a try, but I was too intimidated by the thought of it. I was amazed the previous summer by Lower Lights Ministries and the staff that worked there, but I did not believe that I myself could do what they do. Plus, I knew all of the existing roles and positions at Lower Lights Ministries, and I personally could not have seen myself in any of those roles. Yet in the midst of my discouragement, I felt a still, quiet nudging in my spirit to reach out to them. This—in addition to my wife’s encouragement—led me to do it.

The response I received back was not what I expected. Through my next few conversations with Lower Lights Ministries, I found out that the organization had undergone some significant changes in the year that I was gone. They had just recently obtained access to a new building that they intended to use for youth programming. God had over the past few months provided the funding, the building, and the vision for this new program, and they just needed a person to step in to run it. Furthermore, just before I reached out, they were specifically praying for God to send someone for that role. As I learned these things, I felt a deep excitement, peace, and stirring in my spirit. I felt confident that God was inviting me to partner with Him in the good work that He is doing through Lower Lights Ministries on the Westside of Columbus.

In the month of July, my wife and I got married, moved into our first apartment together in Columbus, and became part of the Lower Lights Community. It has been such a blessing to be here. As I look back over the year between my internship last summer and my current job at Lower Lights Ministries now, my faith in God has been deepened. In all of those really hard moments where I experienced God’s silence and absence, He was actively working in ways beyond what I could see. He has somehow weaved together a beautiful story out of my experiences of confusion, anxiety, and despair. I have worked over the past few months in my new role, and I can even see how God prepared me for this over the past four years at college. All of the things I learned and experienced—which I thought of as just a disjointed collection of activities that was occupying my time during a season of waiting for clarity on what was next—are coming into play now. God is bringing it all together; none of it was wasted. In all those years of struggle, the only thing I could do was to be the most faithful I knew how to in the moment and season I found myself in. Now, I can see that is all God asks of me.

In this current season at Lower Lights Ministries, I know that I am called to walk faithfully with God with what He has placed before me. As I do that, He will be faithfully present to me and active in weaving together a beautiful story beyond what I have the ability to see.

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