Right now I am in Clarkston, Georgia, the most diverse square mile in America. It’s true.
I’m working with an organization that is aimed at serving refugees and sharing the gospel with unreached people groups. It’s amazing work, my friends. I can’t brag enough about the selfless, life-giving work being done here in Clarkston.
I worked with this same organization two years ago and I finally decided this past January that it was time to return.
For the next few months I get to play a role in what’s been unfolding here for years with the help of so many hands, tears, smiles, and acts of love from all over the world. This is a community, a beautiful family that just wants Jesus to be made known. And I, Jessie, get to contribute something, too. I get to pour my heart out into this mission. I get to be a part of what God’s doing in Clarkston and in the lives of these refugees.
And what I want to share with you right now is one of the things I love most about Clarkston.
I love that people are recognized.
And I don’t mean the sort of recognition where everyone stands up around you and applauds the great things you have done. No, this is the sort of recognition where you’re just known. You’re not a stranger. Your stories, your past, your gifts, and your vision are known and cherished by the people who serve alongside you.
In Clarkston, sacred memories are made, each one serving as a reminder that you are loved, you are appreciated, you are known.
Sacred memories like the one of four of my roommates huddled around me and praying over me on the floor of our living room as I cried over a break-up I didn’t know how to cope with. It didn’t matter that I had just met them the week before. They recognized my pain. My hurt and my burdens were welcomed there.
Sacred memories like the one of having my feet washed, reminiscent of the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. This person, this strong servant of Christ, knelt on his knees before me and washed my dirty feet. He wanted to anoint me for a greater mission, a mission I couldn’t fathom myself. He saw Jesus in me. He saw a calling in me. Even the things I felt unworthy of were recognized in me by others.
Sacred memories like the one of neighborhood kids screaming my name as I step outside my apartment each day. I felt like a celebrity. I felt like a big sister. All I had ever done was remember their names and play with them, and that was all they needed. They recognized the love I had for them and they reciprocated.
Sacred memories like the one of my friend and I sitting on the couch in our apartment, sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings as we read together through the book of James. I was fascinated by her life and she was fascinated by mine. We wanted to know each other’s past and present so we could support and encourage each other in the present and future. We weren’t there to teach or to gain. We were there to listen and give. The value of her story was recognized by me, and the value of my story was recognized by her.
Sacred memories like the one of crying in the arms of two beautiful ladies as we were all just completely moved by Jesus. I don’t even know why we were all crying, to be honest. But there we were, praying and crying and wiping our noses. This fellowship we had, this honest and freeing relationship between us three women in that moment, demonstrated just how deeply Jesus can forge love between those who are willing to know and be known by others.
These are just a few of the memories I hold on to from that summer I spent in Clarkston two long years ago.
Now there are new sacred memories to be made.
I’ve been here for three days and I see it beginning again already.
Not every neighborhood kid remembers me, but there are the few who do. I see the recognition in their eyes as connections are being made. I’m somewhere in their memories, maybe some of their own sacred ones. They call out my name as I step outside my apartment, just as before. It almost feels like I never left.
I felt recognized for the briefest of moments last night as a girl I had met just days before touched my shoulder and asked if I had eaten dinner.
The staff I work with remember little things about me, things I thought maybe wouldn’t be worth mentioning after two years of absence. They remember and recognize my gifts and abilities. I am celebrated.
These little things I hold sacred because they are some of the truest demonstrations of the power of recognition. I am moved by these moments because they whisper, “Jessie, I know you and you are loved.”
And I’ve decided this will be my task for the summer while I’m here: to recognize those around me.
I am not a great missionary. I don’t really know how to share the gospel and I’m awful at discipleship. The fact I didn’t come back to Clarkston to visit during the two years I was gone speaks of the lack of drive and dedication I tend to have. I feel guilty because I know I am a college student stuck in comfort, easy living, and non-committed relationships. I keep to myself because it’s comfortable here. And I can’t guarantee that I’ll branch out enough to truly change the life of any of these refugees this summer.
But what I know how to do is recognize people. I remember names and stories. I like to listen. I like to encourage. And sometimes that’s all a person needs.
I want to be the breath of fresh air to the people I’m working with and to the people I’m serving.
I won’t have the most eloquent speeches planned out, and I don’t have much advice to give. But I can give my heart and let people give theirs. I want people to be recognized here because I’ve seen how it changes lives. It’s changed mine.
Please pray for me as I continue on this journey here in Clarkston. I don’t really know what the summer will contain, but I earnestly desire fruit to come out of my time here. I don’t want to be a waste of space, time, or money, so I am praying that I figure out my niche and how I can serve. Most of all, I want to do those things, whatever they may be, wholeheartedly. I want to wholeheartedly love.
Thank you to all who have recognized me and are continually encouraging me. We need people like you. More people need to be recognized. They’re all around you, just begging to be noticed and heard. Continue to be those eyes and ears.
And if you know how to create, then be a mouthpiece, too.
The medium I choose is words, but it’s not the only one.
Let’s continue recognizing each other. In this forgetful, neglectful world, we need it.