Throughout the past 25 years, God has placed me in four distinct churches that have differed in denomination, race, socioeconomic makeup, and language. In these different communities, God has grown my understanding of him and his mission and equipped me to better serve him among diverse people.
Gaining a Firm Foundation
In the church where I grew up, God saved me. I was baptized and made my public proclamation of faith there. I began to learn how to pray, read Scripture, lead, and live a life of faith in community.
It was also there where I began to appreciate Communion. Taking Communion together—every week—developed in me an appreciation for how clearly it reminds us of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, as well as the abundant, extravagant grace of God.
Experiencing the Goodness of Diversity
In college, it was through a summer-long InterVarsity Urban Project that I connected to a new congregation. Through serving with the partner church (which was in the same city as my university), I discovered that I loved them. And even though the church is of a different culture, denomination, and worship style than I was used to, the church welcomed me; I had found my new home.
As a White woman in a historically Black American Baptist church, I learned—at least for a few hours a week—what it feels like to be the only person of your ethnicity in the room. Even in loving settings, it’s not always comfortable. That experience gave me a little insight (albeit incomplete) into the lives of people who are in the minority in their respective spheres. This ability to identify with others fueled ministry on campus, as God opened doors for me to invite a new university professor to the church, and to start a Bible study for Black students on campus.
This congregation also taught me to be concerned about the well-being of entire communities, not solely individuals, through its prophetic preaching. And it supported my theory that every church has a sweet older lady who carries candies in her purse to pass around during the service.
Growing in Grace and Leadership
When I graduated from college I joined a Presbyterian church, compelled by their vision for serving the city and their passion for the gospel.
In this church, I (re)learned God’s grace. The weekly rhythm of the service—the pairing of the time of confession with the assurance of forgiveness—brought refreshment to my perfectionist, overly driven self that too easily forgets that I am loved because I am a daughter of God, not because of what I do (see 1 John 1:9).
This church also welcomed my involvement in leadership as a young adult, so I grew and developed significant friendships from opportunities to work with others on committees and from participating in Bible studies. The church still regularly prays for me and supports me as I serve university students in the Dominican Republic.
Loving and Serving the Community
Moving abroad to work with InterVarsity Link means that I am now involved in a church that does not worship in my mother tongue. What made me feel at home is their commitment to love and serve the most vulnerable in hands-on ways; being the hands and feet of Jesus is a universal language.
Situated in a tourist area of the Dominican Republic, my church is at the center of the highest concentration of the homeless, drug users, sex tourism, human trafficking, prostitution, single mothers, and latchkey kids in the entire country—communities with distinct physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This church is living out God’s mission in a way that is contextualized, challenging, and effective in leading people to faith, from forming a low-cost preschool, a gym, and a free lunch program to hosting AA/NA groups and housing 12 of the most vulnerable homeless within its walls.
Here, I mentor a new Christian—one of the homeless men who began to live at the church—and learn more about God’s character and mission in a family that is economically diverse and creative.
As we open ourselves to learn from God in the context where he places us, he has many things to teach us through the Church. I am thankful that I get to witness his faithfulness to transform me and communities through his imperfect family—the church—who seeks to love him and share his saving grace with others...all around the world.
Laura Abrams is currently serving through InterVarsity Link in the Dominican Republic with the local International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) group, la Asociación Dominicana de Estudiantes Evangélicos. She is in her eighth year working with InterVarsity and is grateful for the ways God has used the Church and InterVarsity to expand her awe of the greatness of God and the ways he is working in the world—even including his followers in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples.