by Maddox Park, 9th grade Youth Advisory Council member from Claremont United Church of Christ, CA
Witnessing God in my life has been a challenge, because I haven’t known where to look, or what I’m looking for. Before SSP, I perceived “God” as detached, sitting on a divine couch, watching the story of my life unfold from behind the glow of a screen. Because of that understanding of God, I went into the trip hesitant about God’s company. As the week continued, I came closer to recognizing what I was missing about the presence of God.
On the drive to Del Norte County, the road took us right along the seaside, to a stretch where we were surrounded by seawater on both sides, as if we’d been picked up off the ground and lowered onto the sea. The scent of the ocean swelled around us, and I felt the withdrawn hint of a presence tugging at me, telling me to be present as I experienced the unparalleled view. The presence lingered for a minute, then passed.
“Before SSP, I perceived “God” as detached, sitting on a divine couch, watching the story of my life unfold from behind the glow of a screen.”
On the first full day of work, we built a bridge from one side of the Smith River to the other. As you can imagine, that was a tough morning. We were waist-deep in water, holding the bridge’s floor panels above our heads as people on the bridge staked poles into the stone-cluttered riverbed. We didn’t get to see the full bridge finished before we went back to the campsite.
Later in the week, we went back to the river, and a group of us hiked to see the finished bridge. When we saw it up ahead, we started running. The first thing we did was tell everyone nearby that we built it. Then we walked across. Again, something told me to slow down and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that echoed in every step. Again, I ignored it.
“God wasn’t just a spectator; they were fully involved, providing peace and wisdom.”
On the final night of the trip on the way home, we took a food tour of San Francisco that ended in Ghirardelli Square. We were all sitting around a table with the Ghirardelli sign above our heads, and it was as if a thought spinning outside my mind, trying to find its way in, had finally found a crack wide enough to slip through. I didn’t have to squint to see God, because God was always around me. God wasn’t just a spectator; they were fully involved, providing peace and wisdom.
They were in our laughter as we looked through photos and discussed how we would be spending our remaining days of summer. They were in the sting of the river water, and the buzz of the neon lights sprinkled across the bay.
“Now, I know exactly where to look for God, because I’m no longer searching in directions. I’m not searching at all. I’m letting God search me.“
They knew exactly what I needed before I knew myself, telling me to take a breath and enjoy what was around me before presence was replaced by memory. Now, I know exactly where to look for God, because I’m no longer searching in directions. I’m not searching at all. I’m letting God search me.
Editor’s Note: Maddox’s experience with the divine is not uncommon for volunteers at an SSP week. In summer 2023, SSP will host faith-based service-learning programs in Del Norte County, CA, as well as the Navajo Nation – and there is plenty of space available for you to join! Learn more about what a week at SSP summer 2023 could look like for you.