Missionary in San Francisco-Part 1

“Those who go forth ministering to the wants and necessities of their fellow beings experience a rich return, their souls being as a watered garden, and a spring that faileth not…” – Lucretia Mott
Wednesday morning…chapel time at George Fox University again.  I began the painful ritual the same way I did every Monday and Wednesday morning of Freshman year: enter the chapel building, take a sharp right and go up the staircase, and slide my student ID into the card reader to get attendance credits.  I then climbed to the last row of seats in the back of the auditorium, the nose-bleeds. I was back with the other people who didn’t want to be there, the nappers, and the few working on homework.  Most importantly though, I was as far away from the “hand raisers” who were worshiping on the first floor as I could be.  I hated this space…these Christians were terrifying.  After the music was over the topic for the day was introduced, all the mission teams that the school sent out would be presenting on what they did on their trips…lovely.

If I could have clasped my hands over my ears and squeezed my eyes shut without arousing too much social suspicion, I would have.  I felt the droplets of sweat begin to form on my brow and on my back, and the conclusion of this awful time would inevitably end with me going back to my dorm room to change clothes.  It was the same every time.  

In some form or another, I have been uncomfortable with the idea of missionaries for as long as I can remember.    

When I was a child in the Apostolic Faith Sunday School, I secretly hoped that I would never be given that call to be a missionary. I did not want to leave my home for some far off land.  I prayed that no one in my circles would recognize this cowardice in me.  

After I left the church at 18 I was unapologetic in my hatred of missionaries.  Professional exporters of the abuse and thought control that had destroyed me on the inside…Oh…how I hated them.

Missionaries were self-righteous coercers who took a sick satisfaction from destroying native culture where they found it and replacing it with “saved souls”. They were colonizers of the worst sort, pure and simple.

Now, when I hear politically liberal people categorically condemn missionaries, as I clearly did, it makes me feel sad.  But I haven’t found a good way to verbally address it in the moment yet, so I just pray for peace in my heart and in theirs.  I know that their criticisms are true of some missionaries, maybe even a majority, but they are not universal.  I’ve even heard people mention that they thought all missionaries withheld food from people until they converted to Christianity….just like Jesus told us to do right? Bleh…what a terrifying prospect!  

I don’t know if its come through on this blog yet, but I’m kind of a history nerd, and the Quaker history of traveling ministers (*cough* missionaries) was a history that I could connect with! I was inspired by stories of early Friends busting into steeple houses to say “yeah so all that stuff that you say is necessary to connect with God….really ain’t so necessary.  All thats required is what you have right now!” or by the Friends who broke the law to stand against what they saw as clearly wrong.  This was a history that I wanted to be a part of!

During this year of Quaker Voluntary Service, I consider Atlanta to be my mission field.  I felt a clear “yes” to come here, and I’m trying my best to be true to that leading.  However, this wasn’t the first “mission trip” that I felt a clear “yes” to go on…that story will take us back to my Senior year at Fox…

(imagine a cool wavy flashback effect…now!)

Seriously A.J.? A mission trip NOW!?! You’ve never, EVER done anything like that at any point in your life, even when you were a zealot!

Well…that is true,  but “soul saving” isn’t my thing now.  I could give a rat’s ass about what people believe, I do kinda have strong opinions though about people being treated with dignity, having enough to get by, and having love in their lives.  So…do those opinions, which are becoming more informed by the inward Christ I’m experiencing…include a “mission”? Hmm….well shoot I feel like my life is being lived, outwardly anyway, exactly the same as it was before I ventured into this insane thing called Christianity again.  If I’m now testifying to hold certain Quaker values as true…shouldn’t that affect some kind of transformation?  

Yeah, I think that it should, but I’m not about to do anything for the sake of outward appearance.  I want what I do to be led, and to flow out of an authentic place inside…so why am I feeling that this leading to go on a Serve Trip with GFU is coming from there? This was not what I had in mind! 

When I feel a clear leading to do something, it has an arresting effect on my body.  It may sound kind of weird, but ya know when you try to move too fast with your seatbelt on and it locks up? Yeah kinda like that, but on the inside.

The school sent out multiple Spring Serve teams every year, made up of students and a faculty organizer, which used up all of their Spring Break time.  I had no spring break plans for that year…I expected just to spend a quiet week at home and recharge the batteries.  Staying on top of the coursework for two majors as well as my involvement in Common Ground was taking its toll.  This should have been a week off to catch up on all my late assignments, but every time I sat down to pray, this stupid nudge about a mission trip kept rising up.  Ridiculous, the deadline to apply had already passed anyway.

I was overheard in the cafeteria during lunch conversation that there was a new serve trip that was being offered this year, one to San Francisco! Wow…well damn that would have been the one I’d have chosen to go on if I’d known about it. 

There is an old Quaker saying that talks about a “way opening”.

One of my dearest and consistently most supportive friends at Fox, Karina, excitedly told me one day after class that she had signed up to go on the SF Serve Trip because there were some people who had dropped out, and she urged me to do the same!

“They are really looking to find more guys to go!”

Dang…well that was something I needed to pray about.  When I did, the message was crystal clear, an unusual thing for me to say the least. 

I composed the email asking about whether they were still looking for people to the coordinator of the trip, his name is Rusty, and sat there looking at the email at my desk for awhile.  I pushed away from my desk with a heavy sigh and went downstairs to make myself a cup of coffee, and then came back and starred at it again.  The list of all the reasons and scenarios I had come up with that should stop me from going was getting long…but the leading was clear; go to San Francisco.

*sip coffee*

*set down mug*

*deep breath*

“God…you’d better come through on this one.”


It didn’t take me a long time to get an email back from Rusty.

“Hey A.J.!

Yes we are definitely still looking for quality guys who can come! Can you confirm that you’d like to do this?”

Wow…quality guys? Did he just call me a quality guy? Oh damn I’m tearing up…swear I cry at the drop of a freekin hat!

At this point I was undeniably the most infamous student at Fox. By far. People tended to have pretty strong opinions about me, one way or the other.  The popular opinion among the students, and that I encountered from employees before, would have loved it if I left George Fox and never came back.  I was pretty good by that time though at shielding myself from that crap. 

But yeah…hearing an employee that I wasn’t really connected to at all say something nice about me…was kinda surprising.  Ok it was more than surprising, that made my day! 

Ok now A.J., lets take stock, I have one of my best friends going on this trip with me, and the coordinator thinks I’m a good person.  That should be enough even if there is some crazy crazies on the rest of the team.  This is sure going to be an interesting Spring Break!

*confirmation email sent*

This was super last minute, like the week before Spring Break, and all the details were emailed to me.  I was a little nervous, but at that moment I was more excited than anything.  Late during one evening I started walking towards Rusty’s house, where the whole SF team would be gathering for the first time to hear some final details on the trip.  I was crossing the quad and texted Karina to see if she had started walking that way yet.  It was at that moment, that I received the worst. text. ever.

“Hey…I have bad news.  I’m overwhelmed with schoolwork and started to feel extremely anxious about it last night, I won’t be able to go on the trip : ( “



God A.J. you are SO STUPID! What in the HELL WHERE YOU THINKING!?!?!

You big dumb idiot! You voluntarily chose to make yourself miserable for a week! This is so. bad. SO BAD!

I was already over half way to the house. Got to pull it together. Poker face.

I walked in and was the last person to get there…good start.  I scanned the room to see the hornets nest I’d walked into.  

One pleasant surprise, there was a younger Act Six student who was there! We hadn’t talked much, but didn’t someone say she had a gay brother?…gah I can’t remember.  Ok who else is here?….ok there is a person from the student government who voted down Common Ground’s club application. Well that is just f*%!ing great.  Aaaaaaand I don’t know anyone else here.  So that means a couple things, they aren’t Common Ground members, and I’m going to infer that they are probably Biblical Studies/Christian ministries majors (*shudder*) aka the departments that tend to reeaaaaallly not like me.  

Where is the nearest sandbox I can stick my head into ostrich style?
Oh, and its going to be “Holy Week”?  Ugh…there is no way this is going to end up good…

(imagine a slightly faster wavy effect that brings you from flashback to the present)

Spoiler alert, my assessment that day couldn’t have been more wrong.  

That trip was 1 week long, but there has never been a week that so deeply affected my understanding of my faith.  I really cannot understate the importance of each of the days spent there.  I think about the lessons I learned there often, as well as each of the team members, who I share a bond with that I treasure greatly. These people and the journey we shared transformed my life.  Love…reconciliation…Christ…the meaning of all of these things and so many others changed, became more vibrant and rich after San Francisco. 

There are so many stories that I could write posts about from that trip, but I wanted to get this 1st part out there to hopefully get you interested!  I’m not sure when I’ll get to writing part 2, but it rest assured it will happen, because these are things that I can’t not write about! 

Fun Fact: my first Instagram picture was taken on Day 1 of the trip! 


  1. Sounds like an interesting tale......I'll be sure to tune in for the next episode! :)

    1. Haha I'm glad to hear it Daniel! While this is a significant life event...it is also full of humorous moments too XD (...and some rather cynical/ornery inner dialogue!)



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