It's Montepeque Appreciation Day, appropriately shortened to MAD since it's so hard to say goodbye! (In case you're unaware, my sister and brother-in-law are moving from Georgia to Connecticut this week, and today is their last Sunday at home.) Knowing that "Montepeque Appreciation Day" was approaching and that I would, as both a former youth group member and a sister, probably be expected to come up with some kind of contribution to the festivities, I first thought that I would try to write a poem. Then I decided that I am certainly not the poet laureate of the family (DAD) and that prose would simply have to do. (Also, it would be really hard to say everything I want to without watching you suffer through 37 stanzas.)
It's been hard for me to decide how to approach this post. Do I approach my tribute to Amanda and Steven as simply one of their teens, or do I selfishly include some of the multitude of stories I could share as their sister? (I've already gushed about them here and here, respectively.) It's hard to put into words the love, admiration, and gratitude I have for them... but since today is about their ministry at Berean Baptist Church, I'll try to focus on that.
I've known Steven for twelve years... almost half my life. And I've known Amanda for quite a while... we met on a balmy spring day in 1989... just kidding, obviously I've known her since birth, because she is my sister. (Duh.) But I've known them as a couple for a decade now and it's been fascinating to watch how God's plan for them has unfolded.
Of course, it's no surprise that the Lord has used them the way that He has. Some of my earliest memories include Amanda playing the piano for church, visiting the nursing home (and being far more at ease than I was), and working tirelessly on the bus route, bringing dozens of kids to church and building relationships with their families. While I was always satisified with a perfunctory smile or wave at the old people and usually felt awkward and uneasy visiting in some kind of scary areas, Amanda was nothing but confident as she embraced the little kids, remembered their phone numbers, and truly cared about them. And Steven was no different as a college student, actively reaching kids and families, bringing them to church, and sharing the gospel.
They've continued those ministries and that servant leadership as the youth pastor (and wife!) for these past eight years. Countless teenagers have been discipled, challenged, and loved by these two amazing people. It's rarely easy to listen to preaching that "calls you out," but not only did we know that Steven loved us, we also knew that he modeled the Christ-like behavior he was trying to teach us and lived it more consistently than just about anyone we knew. I relied on his counsel as a teen but didn't really appreciate it until I was grown and "away," and now I count on his calm, rational advice more than ever before. ("WHY WOULD I OVERREACT? NOBODY IN MY FAMILY OVERREACTS!")
In their years at Berean, Amanda and Steven have loved (and been loved) by so many of us for so many reasons. They got back from their honeymoon and literally stepped from their car to the church van to take us to Youth Conference. They washed windshields to help raise money for camp. They let us into their house, fed us, prayed with us, cried with us, and made us laugh. (Where's Stevo, anyone?) They sacrificed more than most would or even could, but they did it with a smile and a passionate fervor for the ministry and the people of Berean Baptist Church.
Many things have changed over the years, including the addition of three (!) kids, and Amanda and Steven have made Emily and Steven, and now Ella, their number one ministry, proving that putting family first is definitely the way God designed it. But they've continued to faithfully serve in their multitude of capacities- music, youth, bus, VBS, translating, preaching, teaching, discipling, nursing home, and more... just hauling two kids around! They've not only served in all these capacities but have opened their home to countless families, sent care packages to college students, hung out with young adults, and were just there for anyone who needed them.
I'd love to tell stories that would make everyone laugh... I am the family jester, after all, but I'm too overwhelmed by emotions to even try. I (selfishly) am glad that I couldn't be there today, sparing everyone (and myself) the embarrassment of my ugly crying. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to acknowledge the debt that I owe both of them... so much of what I know about ministry and who I am as a person is due to their love, support, occasional chastening =), and most of all godly example.
My testimony of their influence is one of many, and today their former teens, fellow church members, friends, and family want to thank them for their sacrificial service. I do not know of two more humble, Spirit-filled, loving, and dedicated servants of God. I am proud to be their sister and even more proud to be a product of their ministry. (As a 4-time Teen of the Month, I think it's safe to say that I am a sparkling jewel in their crowns of service.) =)
Seester and Bruther, I love you! I hope those New Englanders know what they're getting!