“Mission” Trip to SonLife Church in Jacksonville, FL

Front row: Catherine Ullman, Amber Ullman, Leah Gibson, Kirk Holladay, Julie Smith, Lisa Hagendorf (LWHS German exchange student) Back Row: Spencer Parlier, Madison Campbell, June Ullman, David Kennedy Nelson, Carter Ullman

It was a different kind of mission trip – no gym floors and no roughing it with two in a bed  – which by the way, “guys just don’t do!”  Bob and Dail Hovey met us at the hotel at 10:30 PM Friday night at the Wingate hotel in Jacksonville with our Buddy Walk t-shirts, and I asked Bob to do our devotions.  He kind of explained what his role is as a pastor of a church plant… not having a building, but his church is the beach, restaurants, a fishing boat, and a hotel meeting room for Sunday worship.   During the week the members meet for Life Groups in members homes for Bible study and fellowship.  Things are changing especially in larger cities where people do not seek out a church so he has to take the church, the Gospel to them.  He does that by putting the face of Jesus on all he does.  The “ministry” on Saturday is to be out in the community  – bring the Gospel to the people, evangelizing, not just with words, but just being there selling hot dogs, chips and cotton candy.  He challenged us to do the same – that we are the face of Jesus in all we do and that is our goal for Saturday (and everyday).  He had to leave at 11:15 am to pick up one of his members who had violated his parole … a stupid mistake that set this young man in jail for 5 months.  He is on work release and PB and other SonLife members help get him back to the jail in the evenings (buses stop running at his work at 9:30 pm) so that he can work, and be ready to be productive when he is released soon.  He is on fire for Jesus!

 Saturday morning came quickly and we were at the beach by 8:30 am setting up tables and learning how to make cotton candy.  There were lots of children, young adults and older adults with Down Syndrome in the crowds as there were over 4,000 walkers supporting them in this walk to raise money for the Down Syndrome Association of Jacksonville.  We were one of three food vendors.  The walk was at 10 am and it was awesome to see how our kids mingled with the others from SonLife as if they had known each other for years.  Another interesting story is of the couple with ten kids – some his, some hers, and two of theirs together.  Bob married this couple. As a bi-racial family, through SonLife, six of the kids and both parents been baptized and joined the church.  They live 33 miles away, it takes two cars to transport them all and they’ve missed one Sunday since January.  They are active in the church and came to Son Life through the invitation of another couple.   Material wealth… they have little, but what matters… they have in abundance.

We had lunch at the local beach hangout with SonLife and University of North Florida friends, free time for a little bit in the afternoon at the beach, then we met up with the Bourdettes and headed to the Hoveys’ home which is five minutes away from the Wingate, unless you cannot remember which comes first a left or a right – then you tour the entire subdivision several times.  We ate pizza and watched a sad gator game.  After leaving at halftime, we reconvened at the hotel for devotions and a recap of the day.  Amazingly several kids had never noticed a Down Syndrome person before, so we discussed how/why that happens.  I think they were getting the idea of putting the Face of Jesus on everyday activities is a great way to bring Christ to people.  They do this with Work Camps and lots of stuff, but for some it was clicking.

The worship service was in a meeting room at the Wingate. Joe Ryan McKenzie is the worship leader with an acoustic guitar and with songs we know. The worship style was with very informal prayer requests, and a message from Pastor Bob, on “The Tangible Kingdom. What is the Gospel and What does it look like?”  (podcast on website  www.sonlifejax.com) The heart of the message was to live the Gospel everyday.  During Communion we passed the elements to our neighbor and said, “This is His body broken for you”….  and, This is His blood shed for you.”  It was a beautiful time of worship.  After, the benediction, we brokedown the chairs, put up tables and said “let’s eat.”  SonLife celebrates the beginning of the month with a covered dish let-the-worship-continue luncheon. We were on the road by 1:20 p.m.

The Hovey’s are looking into other projects in which we can partner with SonLife  as in the “round about” way God works.   The man who donated and cooked all the hot dogs is not a member of any church – just a neighbor of the Hovey’s.  He cooked hot dogs from 9:30 a.m. until we ran out.  He loved it and said, “When can I do this again?”  He tasted the Gospel, and wanted more! These are the steps it takes in starting a church. Putting the face of Jesus on what we do everyday, taking Christ and the Gospel to the people and not waiting for them to show up in church, so others will want to get to know our Savior!

Article by June Ullman