Over two years ago we began making plans for a new facility. Our architect asked a few of us involved to write a narrative of somebody experiencing this new place. There were no rules for the narrative. The idea was to help the architect get more acquainted with the heart of the project. Here’s what Josh Watt, pastor of Redemption Students, wrote.
Dear Redemption Gateway,
I was given an assignment by my pre-marital counselor to answer the question, “Why do I want to marry Savannah?” It is a great question, and I loved writing it. What was interesting though was how much Redemption Gateway kept coming up in our story.
So… I just wanted to stop and send you all a thank you for what you have meant for me, my future wife, and my family. My first memories of friends are the kids I would play trucks with in my 3-year-old class. I remember the business of being dropped off and yet I don’t ever remember feeling lost in the crowd. I remember snack time with all my friends, and I remember never wanting to leave because my mom always showed up as I was enjoying my well-earned animal crackers.
I remember my first memory of hearing the Bible taught by someone who wasn’t my parents. They taught the same things I heard at home, but I heard them in fresh ways. They loved me. They smiled a lot. And they treated me like I was the most important kid in the room.
I remember when I first started to question my loyalty to our church. I was on vacation visiting another church. It was intense. There was so much cool stuff. They had huge screens and great decorations everywhere. I remember thinking, “I wish my church had all this stuff.” I don’t remember much about the lesson, but I remember it was the coolest place I had been in a while.
I remember my first time meeting my future wife. She was coloring Noah’s ark in my 4th grade class sitting just to my right. She was annoying. She was too much of a suck-up. I didn’t hate her; she just really annoyed me. And she continued to for a while.
I remember how excited I was to move up to middle school ministry. New building. New people. New everything. It was the first time in my church life that I ever even looked around and noticed anything about the actual church. It had some cool art. It was pretty dark. But it from the very beginning I felt comfortable there. It just felt like home.
I remember when my parents divorced. My life flipped upside-down. My mom started going to another church down the street. It was the newer, cooler church. I went to youth group, because my mom always made me. I remember how loud it was, how bright it was, and how quickly everything moved. It felt like being in school but with a really good teacher and fun games. I learned about God and had some fun to distract me, but I don’t ever remember figuring out who I was while being there. I was 15. I could answer every Bible answer you could throw at me. I had a fun youth group. But I was lost. I was lonely. And I felt like nowhere I went… not even church could help me.
When I was 17, my mom decided to go back to the church we had grown up in. We were both really nervous, because we hadn’t been back since the divorce. I remember the first time walking back into the church and feeling like it had only been 7 days since I had last been. It was just simple. It felt like home even more than my own house in ways since my house was and is so full of tough memories. I went and stood by the coffee station hoping to just blend in. Someone touched me on the shoulder and said, “Welcome back stranger.” It was annoying Savannah. There she was again.
She asked me a million questions. She walked with me and talked my ear off as we went to find a seat. We sat and she told me all about her life and the missions trip she was going on. We missed the beginning of service, because we were talking so much. We went in together and I just sat there. I didn’t stand during worship. I just sat. I wasn’t ready to worship. I sat through the message, and honestly I don’t remember any of it. I wasn’t paying too much attention to anything taught or sung. I was just there, but in a very weird way I felt like I was right where I needed to be.
Afterward, Savannah gave me a tour of some of the new renovations. The youth room didn’t change much other than a coffee counter in their lobby. It was very simple but not boring. It was very lived in but still clean. It still felt good to me though even though lots of life had happened since our last time together. My parents had split. I had gone through more “stages” than I could remember, but coming back I just felt like I belonged.
I looked over at Savannah, and she was helping other people with something in her really annoying always smiling face. I wasn’t ready to smile yet, but I was ready to finally be able to breathe a little easier. I was home again.
Thank you Redemption Gateway for being home to me. Life is torn apart in a million different ways and the one thing that was never torn or tarnished was the church my parents first took me as little guy. Everything in the whole world is vying for my attention. I’ve always been rushed, busy, and stressed and even as a teenager. My life has been far darker than I ever could have imagined even as I sat in a church teaching that Jesus is the light of the world.
But Redemption Gateway has been a subtle sweet spot in my life woven throughout my story. I have never felt like it was vying for my attention, or my money, or my attendance. I have never felt like it was moving just as fast as the world around it. It has always been, since my animal cracker eating days a place where I could show up anytime, blend in and yet still be known, and meet with God wherever I was in life.
Life is better now. I have this weird sense of joy that I have never really known. I have a girl who I love who I get to marry soon. I have confidence in God’s plan for my life, even the chapters that still don’t make sense. I have contentment that I have never known. And the uneasy and hurried-but-not-really-knowing-where-I-am-going feeling is gone. I still see it in most people around me even people in the church. And I don’t really look down on it with any sort of pride. I have a sense of expectation that God is going to show up in their lives just like He did in mine in a church that has welcomed me my entire life, made me feel at home no matter how I felt towards it, prioritized the care of my soul far above entertaining my senses, and has brought me into God’s presence time and time again.
Thank you Gateway.