Today I am sharing the summer mission of an inspiring young lady. I have watched her grow and rise to an absolute warrior in every way. Her tireless work ethic, creative provision, and missional mindset is a true inspiration. The future holds great things for Danielle Thomas. I can’t wait to see where The Lord leads her next.
Danielle is a 25 year old graduate student from Frankfort, Kentucky working on a PhD in sociology—which is basically the study of groups of people, or professional creeperism (yes, she is watching you). Jesus called her into missions when she was just 16 and she thought after she finished college in Tennessee she’d head overseas…but then he sent her to Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Louisiana State University)…which is a foreign culture in many ways, but not overseas. Over the past 4 years in Baton Rouge, she has fallen in love with Cajun culture (can you say FOOD and FOOTBALL?!), read thousands of pages of sociology articles, written hundreds of pages of papers she’s sorry her professors have to read, found an awesome church family to keep her sane and help her grow, and watched in amazement as the Lord has planted her right where He wants her and worked through her and some of her friends to start the SportQuest Baton Rouge project (which uses sports to love on/share Jesus with 200 kids each summer). She thanks you for taking time to read her story and hopes it makes you laugh and want to get to know Jesus better. Check out her blog, which is not nearly as cool as this blog, at http://www.sociodanni.tumblr.com for more stories and lots of venting.
Message From Danielle:
I think we all want God to speak super clearly to us and put shining neon lights around the path he wants us to take. We want the burning bush. But that’s not usually how he works. More often we get that whisper in the wind, or maybe even silence. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through a friend or through His Word, but we have to listen really closely to discern his directions. I’ll admit, I am a pretty terrible listener. But I sure know how to talk (in my dad’s loving words, “Dear, you could talk the leg off a dead horse”). This makes listening to God pretty difficult sometimes. Why can’t he understand that I want the lights and the fire?! But there have been at least three instances in my life when God has decided to communicate directly, to close my lips and impress on my heart exactly what he wants me to do. And looking back, I can see how they’re all related.
The first was when I was 16 and he laughed at me. Yup, that’s right, the Creator of the universe made fun of me. In the loving way a dad teases his daughter. I was sitting in my backyard after a Christ in Youth (CIY) conference, deciding whether or not I wanted to be a Christian any more. Was Jesus real or was he Santa Clause? I had never really questioned all those stories my parents had been telling me for so many years. And then at CIY I felt like someone/something was telling me to go be a missionary. Weren’t missionaries those people who go teach English in far away foreign countries and end up starving and in jail? I chalked up the “calling” to the fact that I probably hadn’t slept in days (you know what I mean if you’ve ever been on a high school youth group trip) and the music was really nice and the worship service really emotional. And then I went home and couldn’t shake the feeling that something inside of me really was trying to get my attention. So instead of listening, I started talking. In my backyard, laying out in the summer heat on my trampoline, I told God, “I know I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but I just realized I never stopped to wonder if you were real or not. So I’m gonna walk away for a while and see how it feels to not believe in you. Then maybe I’ll come back.” And then this weird thing happened—even though I had just said something extremely serious (and frankly dangerous), I felt laughter well up inside of me and it was so strong I actually chuckled. And then I heard his voice clearly, If you aren’t sure I am real, why did you think you needed to tell me your plans to walk away? And he was right, of course. Obviously, something deep inside of me was certain enough that God existed that I felt it was only polite to tell him I was going to take a break from our relationship for a while. So I laughed too, at my own absurdity and lack of logic, and then realized if he was real, that calling into missions I was hoping to run away from (Jonah anyone??) was probably not a joke.
Fast forward five years. I was 21 and sitting in my college dorm room. Graduation was looming—my final semester had already started—and I had no plans. I had followed God’s calling into missions and went to a Christian college. A part of me kind of expected to meet the man of my dreams (a missionary kid or something) and then to get married and move to a village somewhere (you know, where I could teach English, starve, and go to jail). And instead, at the end of the college journey, I was epically single (i.e. no boyfriend on the horizon) and had nearly finished a degree in Sociology and Humanities (I quit studying English and Education after my first semester), and the only thing I was still sure about was that God wanted me to be a missionary. But what did that mean?! And so, I began to pray about where to go and what to do. And then a professor sent me an application to Louisiana State University and told me I should apply to grad school. It didn’t sound vey missionary-ish, and more school wasn’t exactly the overseas adventure I wanted. I smiled and thanked her and said “no thank you,” but then she told me to pray about it. Guilt-trip. And so I did, but it went something like this: “God, I don’t know anyone in Louisiana and I’ve never been there. I don’t want to move there, so please don’t make me. But if you want me to, I promise I’ll go. I just need some neon lights. Make it REALLY obvious. Ok thanks, Danielle.” And then, He listened. I’ll save you the details, but over the next few months every time I thought he was going to let me get away, he pointed me right back to LSU. At risk of getting swallowed by a giant fish for several days (or whatever the 2010 equivalent would be), I graduated from college, packed my car, and headed south.
Grad school was/is pretty terrible. I am convinced the purpose of a PhD program is to shred every ounce of self-confidence and identity you have and then rebuild you as some sort of academic robot that uses big words while giving monotone lectures. Ok, that’s extreme. But the shredding is real. The stress and pressure are intense. During my first year, I constantly questioned what I was doing at LSU and God consistently reminded me I was there because he wanted me to be. And so I reluctantly stayed. And then, during the spring semester my first year, I went out to a park in a low-income neighborhood right down the road from where I lived near campus to do a service project. What most people were doing was helping adults from the neighborhood pick through a warehouse full of donated goods to find things they needed. But I noticed all of the kids running around. Something inside of me clicked and I moved into action. You see, since graduating from high school, I had been serving in the summers with a missions organization called SportQuest (www.sportquest.org). I had travelled with them to other countries and to other US cities to lead sports camps for kids and share the gospel. So I knew what to do when there were a ton of kids with nothing to do in a grassy field. I found a basketball and a soccer ball and some friends and we started games with the kids. Then a football game started. I took a step back from the chaos and watched as 20-30 young adults from my church played sports with 50-60 kids. And God gave me a burning bush: This is it. This is where I want you. That’s all I needed to hear. The fire for sports ministry in Baton Rouge was lit in my heart.
Fast forward three years. SportQuest Baton Rouge just completed our third annual project. I’m still recovering from the lack of sleep and showers I had during those two weeks (but it was so worth it!). The past two summers we have done a free week of sports camp for around 200 kids and shared the love of Jesus with them through basketball, football, cheerleading, soccer, and baseball. This year we added volleyball. A team of 19 missionary-coaches came in to join me and around 10 local leaders along with 50-60 local volunteers to put on this camp. This was the BEST YEAR of camp so far. The Lord caused it to blossom in so many ways. We saw many of the same faces from previous years. We had enough coaches (about a 10-1 kid to coach ratio) to spend quality time with kids on the sidelines and to pray with them. Kids got saved. Volunteer coaches got saved. God took the vision he gave me last year of light breaking through the darkness in the community and replaced with a vision that He is healing the ground and preparing for a great harvest in Baton Rouge. Check out this blog post if you want to read more of that story (http://sociodanni.tumblr.com/post/90392300502/sportquest-baton-rouge-2014-blossoming).
Besides the SportQuest camp, God has connected me to other people in Baton Rouge who are passionate about taking the gospel to young people through sports and recreation activities. So last summer I committed my entire summer to sports missions work in Baton Rouge, and this summer I am doing the same thing. Committing my time and energy to three months of sports missions is pure joy for me, but it’s also risky. In the summer, I am not a grad student/employee of LSU, so I do not have a living stipend or salary. Committing to this ministry means raising support to cover my living expenses.
This summer, I am repeating my summer full of sports ministry—SportQuest Baton Rouge, a swim camp, a church camp, an extreme sports camp, etc.—and I am also being given the opportunity to go to Haiti to connect with some missionaries from my church in Baton Rouge who are serving there. They are doing education and sports ministry with rescued child slaves in Haiti (www.respirehaiti.org) …so who knows what God might want to tell me while I am serving in Haiti?! (I promised Him I would try to listen!) To cover my living expenses and my trip to Haiti, I need to raise $6,000. Good news: God has already provided about $4400! I am more than half way. One of my friends challenged me to raise all of my funds by the time summer ministry started. I did not meet that goal. But I trust God to provide all of my needed summer funds by the time I leave for Haiti, which is July 22. Then I can travel to Haiti stress free knowing all of my summer needs are covered and there will be no scrambling for support when I return to Baton Rouge. Honestly, I have questioned the possibility of meeting support goals so quickly (in just two weeks!). But every time I doubt, God seems to laugh (yes, I think he likes to tease me about how seriously I take myself sometimes).
God has reminded me (again) all things are possible with Him, and He gives good gifts to his kids. And then God laughed at me (yeah, this is normal) and reminded me all things are possible with Him, and He gives good gifts to his kids. And last night, one of my best friends from college, Bekah, facebooked me and told me she would like to help me finish fundraising by using her Premier Jewelry business—she will give me 100% of all profits she would typically make. And then the next morning, Meg facebooked me to tell me she’d love to feature my story on her blog.
God strikes again with his incredible provision, and all I needed to do was tell my story—and talking/writing is something I can do!! So if you’re a jewelry-loving gal like me, this is the perfect way to help me, and here’s how to do it: go to the website http://www.bekahtchouta.mypremierdesigns.com and then click on “browse catalog.” From there, enter your name, email, and the access code T111. Then shop! Email/call/text Bekah (her information is on the website) to tell her the name and item number of what you would like to purchase and she will let you know what to do from there.
If jewelry isn’t your thing, but you are still interested in contributing, you can send checks written out to Connections Ministry with my name in the memo line to 5440 Port Hudson Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70817 or give online at http://www.connectionsministry.com . These gifts are tax deductable (yeah, Big Sam benefits!).
And please, if you’ve read this far…PRAY PRAY PRAY. God is doing big things in this foreign southern place where he decided to plant me and use me. Pray over the children that will come to camp this week, the coaches who will be serving them, my sanity and energy as I lead them, and the community where we will be working. It’s called Gardere. Pray over the rest of my summer ministry and the Haiti trip. God has big things in store and He is teaching me so much. Pray that instead of looking for a burning bush or neon lights that I and my team here would literally BE THE LIGHT to every single person he sends in our path in the next few months.
Message from Meg @ My Sweetheart Life: Isn’t she amazing! What a warrior! To help with Danielle’s fundraising, for people in our hometown, I am making small and large jars of Peppermint Orange Foot Soak and Citrus Hand Scrubs. $6 small/$10 large/$15 one of each. I will donate the funds.