“Tell us your name, and something interesting you did this summer,” instructed my August term professor on our first day of class. I had encountered the all too familiar first day of class introduction cue numerous times, but this time it was different. Unlike previous first days, I did not have to work very hard to conjure up interesting or exciting memories from a less than exciting summer. Considering the time constraints of the brief introductions, I asked myself, “Which one should I choose?”
I will never forget Summer 2013. My mind, ministry, and imagination were stretched like never before. For three weeks, I traveled with the Middle East Travel Seminar (METS) to Israel, Jordan, and Greece. Although I had traveled abroad prior to METS, exploring the lands and cultures that shaped Judaism and Christianity was more enriching than any previous travel. My time traveling with METS was filled with unforgettable moments including dancing with Bedouins in a desert camp, leading an international group of Christians in song in Jerusalem, and standing atop Mt. Nebo with a breathtaking view of the Promised Land. Without doubt, these details would have made an interesting introduction.
Following METS, I was privileged to teach a Bible and Leadership class at Camp Summer Hope hosted by Emmaus House Episcopal Church in Atlanta’s Peoplestown. This would have been a fitting introduction for the class: Teaching the Bible. I could have shared with my classmates some of the challenges of teaching the Bible, and anything else for that matter, to grades 3-5. Teaching in an urban classroom after METS grounded me in real ministry “lest I should be exalted beyond measure.” After attempting to share the Good News with a group of middle schoolers, who some most days couldn’t care less, I could tell my classmates how I was reminded of God’s grace and patience in my own life.
I could also share my experiences working with Candler’s own Dr. Greg Ellison. My small group, led by Dr. Ellison, planned and hosted a community conversation on ways every citizen can address the issues facing young black males. The event, held at Candler, featured music, group discussions, and Dr. Ellison’s stirring call to action. A careful blend of tent revival and community forum, the event provided for me a model of ministry with a social conscience. (For more about “Fearless Dialogues” click here.)
While my classmates and other people that I will meet may not have the time or patience for me to elaborate on all the details of this transformative summer, I am certain that its effects will be evident in how I minister, the ways I engage my community, and in how I view myself in the world.
Mario Stephens, a native Atlantan, is a third-year MDiv student at the Candler School of Theology. Mario is a graduate of Morehouse College. He currently serves as interim pastor of New Generation Baptist Church.
Photo captions: Mario on Nebo (top right); At the Parthenon (middle left).