My name is Mark. I’ve been apart of COmission and this church for for almost 3 years, and Ryan finally managed to convince me to come before you all and share about it last week.

When I first arrived in, St. Petersburg it was an exciting city much more active and lively than the suburbia of Virginia I was accustomed to, and I was elated about this at first, but soon the realities of a lack of friends to enjoy the city with, and living and working on a steel boat older than my grandparents began to wear on me.  There was one other person on that ship that was my age and living on it with me, just one, and most of the time if it wasn’t a work day he was the only person I talked to, ate with, or even really saw the whole day. And it’d been like this for maybe a month, and one day I saw him walking to leave the boat, that’s when i desperately pleaded I didn’t care where he was going I just wanted him to take me with him.  Well to my luck it was Gulf Coast on a sunday morning, and Ryan Carver was quick to introduce himself and sat me next to all the other kids who were my age, and it was weird, It was just a gaggle of college students who loved to laugh with each other and were honestly welcoming, it wasn’t long before my completely free schedule was filled with hanging out with those guys.

This was when God first introduced me to His family the church, I had at that point decided I didn’t believe in the God of the bible, but when i was in community reading through it I realized i had never really known who He was in the first place. Here I asked questions, received answers, and my spiritual complacency was challenged with the simple statement of “consider Jesus”.  And as people were discipling me, as I heard testimonies from others just as lost as me, stories leading to redemption rather than brokenness that was evident from the fruit and joy in their lives, I began to really consider if the fruit i was bearing, if the priorities I pursued were leading to any real joy in my heart, or sustenance to boast of. God was speaking to me in really clear and practical ways not only through a message on Sunday, but the message His people were sharing through their daily lives.

Things got really personal when Madeline and I started dating, which everyone of our friends in their loving wisdom voted against, justifiably yes, but our stubbornness lead to a messy but ultimately glorifying relationship and testament of faith from us both.  Mads made the gospel to me, much more realistic, where I was used to tears of joy from the realities of the gospel now I got to witness tears of pain and trail from just how far we fall short of that, I got to see a struggle with faith, that I so could click with, but also a yearning to cling to it I wanted to understand.  I received grace, patience, and an encouragement from her in all my shortcomings of how I was supposed to care for her and lead, but for whatever reason God had planted in her heart I’d become a decent partner to her one day.  But once I saw you didn’t have to have your life together, you didn’t have to know much past the fact the only one who was going to be able to put it back in one piece was Jesus, baptism was the next step.

What happened after that was kind of crazy, like a fast track to sanctification sort of thing, as I came to count the cost of becoming a disciple a lot of things started to look different, I was pretty convinced between my heart and His Spirit, He had His work cut out for Him. But the Lord worked miracles, not overnight but He did.  During that time my life began to change, my heart was daily being softened, I was trusting and seeking the Lord’s wisdom about how I was supposed to be living my life and viewing the world, all while learning what that looked like from the family I found at COmission eventually found myself leading, pouring into college students and getting excited about the importance of mission and bringing it to the world!

And then a wild card kind of got played in my life, the military, the very thing that had brought me to a new town, life, and family was taking me from the only place I had ever experienced it and putting me back at the very place I was trying to get away from Virginia, well North Carolina to be exact but only a 40 minute drive from my hometown to my despair. But all the anxiety, fear, and loneliness I anticipated going there was satisfied more than wholly by God.  It was crazy I didn’t know where i was going after, what would happen to the family back in FL while i was gone, what i was going to do about my family in VA while i was there, what Mads and i were going to do while we were apart, but God was present .  And while I felt on my own up North I got to lean on Him more than ever, and He gave me a peace beyond understanding, I found Him in the word, instead of feeling like I was missing out on the mission on campus God put me on a mission of my own, and than he answered a huge prayer and brought me back here to my home and this church!

Several other miracles have occured since than, my personal favorite is Madeline and I’s engagement, but also becoming a leader who’s investing in future leaders, putting the same call on people’s hearts that was put on mine of “consider Jesus”, watching my peers be sold out in their lives for being on mission, getting the opportunity to come alongside and support them in that, becoming one of the members of the body of Christ producing the same fruit that made me want to love Him in the first place, and getting to better know the people in this church who were my first examples is such a blessing.  It’s been a honor being a member of this church and now another awesome opportunity has come in the form of Daryn heading up the call to plant Local Church St. Pete, and he has been to us like many others a great leader and friend, and we’re excited to continue to grow in our faith and pursue our call to mission.  But Gulf Coast is truly the beginning of all that and i just wanted to say praise the Lord and share that all with you guys this morning!