One hot, humid Sunday evening in August of 2015, I, the “new girl from Boston,” timidly walked into Vision Night with my parents guarding me on either side. I felt as if my life had been completely uprooted. But, coming into a completely foreign environment and anxious about the impending school year, I was comforted and felt an automatic place in this community.

Small Group has been a sort of sanctuary for me. I love having this safety net of friends to share trials, celebrate accomplishments, and explore scripture with. It was intimidating at first. Many of these girls have been friends since elementary school, but they welcomed me with open arms and warm hearts. The Junior Girls Small Group was filled with vibrant, strong personalities, and I was honestly a little bit taken aback. I felt like all of these girls were so firm in their faith and biblically literate, and I was so far behind them in my knowledge. Through our nurturing friendships, I came to find that they were just like me. They worried about grades, they had boy problems, they had doubts, and they still had to sing a song to remember the chronology of books in the Bible. They graciously and gently provided a space for me. The friendships I have formed in Small Group with these thoughtful girls and wise leaders have helped me walk with the Lord in a way that I never even deemed imaginable. Our kind, empathetic leaders have been such a leading light in our faith journeys, and I know that I can speak for everyone when I say that we are forever grateful for their contributions to our lives. It fills me with joy to know that these beautiful friends have been equipped with the skills and firm faiths to walk onto the campus of any university overflowing with God’s abundant love, eager to pour into others.

There is a fantastic sense of community that goes beyond Sunday school, small group, and SNL’s. It is such a beautiful thing to observe and be a part of a group of students and staff, all at different places in their journey with the Lord, bring unique, God-given gifts to the table. We all come from different homes, go to different schools and participate in different activities, but we are bonded by a common love for Jesus Christ and a passionate desire to follow Him. The St. Luke’s youth group is an exemplary model of Christian fellowship, and during a time when I felt particularly out of place and anxious, I found a place within a group of people leading one another closer to God.

This past August, about a year after moving to Houston, ”Student Leadership Academy” applications opened. I disregarded the announcement in Sunday School, sure that I was not fit enough to be a leader. I was surprised when I received a text from Joseph Patty inviting me to apply, but I reluctantly submitted an application. The leadership position has pushed me far outside of my comfort zone, but I am so glad that I joined such a fantastic group. It is amazing to see the youth ministry staff nurture relationships with every kid who walks into the student ministry building. They are thoughtful listeners, enlightened teachers, and fun-loving friends. They passionately share Christ’s love with the students of St. Luke’s and the city of Houston.

Thank you, St. Luke’s, for introducing me to our grace-giving, unfaltering, compassionate God. For pushing me beyond what I thought I was capable of, and for bringing me a network of friends whom I will forever share a Christ-centered bond with. I pray that St. Luke’s remains the warm sanctuary that it was for me for every kid who walks through the doors of the student ministry building.