Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ten Years In

Yesterday I celebrated the tenth anniversary of my call to ministry. When I say I celebrated I really just mean that in a quiet place in my heart, I reflected on the last decade. Ten years of doing life with Jesus; ten years of marriage to this calling.

I was a senior in college, 21 years old. My local church held a girls’ retreat and that weekend God spoke clearly to my heart about our future together. Three times over the course of the weekend he called me, the first time and then twice more as I asked him, ‘are you sure?’ 

He was sure. And I was excited. 

I was slow to believe the Lord when he first called because I felt so inadequate. Believe me when I say I am well acquainted with my shortcomings. I was not harboring any delusions about what a good minister I would make. 

But what I heard the Lord say to me that weekend was, “I am going to use you in your shortcomings, in your inadequacies, in all your imperfections.” And I had the audacity to believe him, and he has rocked my world ever since and wrecked me for anything less than his plan for my life.

A decade in, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I have lived in three different states, served and loved college students on at least seven different campuses, eaten more pizza than Papa John himself, lost a bajillion hours of sleep, and counseled students on everything from same-sex attraction to whether they should get a tattoo. 

Have I loved every single minute? No. 

Would I trade one single minute of the last ten years for the life I had planned for myself? No.

I have learned many things in my life of ministry so far. I hope this list will encourage someone who is in need. If anyone can learn from my mistakes, let it be so!

1.  What I know is far, far surpassed by that which I do not know. It’s funny that when I first experienced a call to ministry, I thought I knew stuff. I did not know stuff.

2. God doesn’t work according to a formula. You can do the exact same thing on two different campuses and get completely different results. You never know who he’s going to grab ahold of or when he’s going to show out. But you’d better be prepared when he does.

3. Prayer. Good grief, prayer. It changes things but most importantly it changes people, starting with me. There’s nothing more meaningful I do with students than pray over them in person, with my hand on them in some way. (Because I’m touchy-feely like that.)

4. Ministry is a weekly meeting about freshmen ministry. It’s also a middle-of-the-night phone call or someone crying in my office over a broken relationship. It’s easy to forget the purpose behind meetings or seemingly mundane tasks, and I have to remind myself that even the small things have meaning.

5. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the grace to grow. College students in particular do a lot of maturing over four years. I have to allow them to grow without continually bringing to mind who they used to be.

6. One of the first and most enduring pieces of advice I received when God first called me to ministry was to be real with people. That advice has never left me, and it’s one of my fundamental life goals. May I be allergic to fake.

7. Jesus. Occasionally I feel the need to announce to myself and everyone else, “I am bankrupt apart from Jesus Christ.” One of my spiritual mothers says it like this: “the only good in me is Jesus.” The moment my heart drifts away from this truth is the moment I’m in trouble. This is the foundation and the ceiling, the beginning and the end of both life and ministry. Jesus is the reason. Why in the world are we here otherwise?

Jesus, I am all in with you until it's time for me to come home. Let's do this thing.


"We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel but our lives, as well, because you had become so dear to us." I Thessalonians 2.8

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I am fascinated by the British royal family. I don’t know why; it’s just something that has always been in my make-up. Also my mother’s subscription to People magazine has helped over the years. I woke up early to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot two years ago and I was glued to my phone for the better part of the month of July this year-that is, until Wills and Kate brought Prince George out to show him off to the world. I was as excited about their new arrival as any proud auntie. Today as little George is christened, I’ll be thinking about and praying for that sweet family (and watching for the family photos!)

Part of the fascination with the royal family, I think, is that they rarely talk to the press. Queen Elizabeth has never given an interview and she never will. Unlike so many of our American celebrities who leave nothing-and I do mean nothing-to the imagination, the royal family is composed, discreet, and modest in front of the camera. And behind closed doors? Your guess is as good as mine.

But why are the members of the royal family any different from you or me? It comes down to this: their blood. The offspring of Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip are automatically royal because they are of a royal bloodline. Others, like Kate Middleton, are styled “Her Royal Highness” and “Duchess of Cambridge” because they marry into the family. But the only people who will ever hold the title “King” “Queen” “Prince” or “Princess” in their own right are those with blood ties to the throne.

The members of the royal family live a life of privilege. We see them riding in carriages, perfecting their royal wave as they greet the masses, accepting flowers from children and having their picture made. They wear the finest clothes, they eat the best food. Why? Because of a lucky combination of DNA. They didn’t work their way into the royal family. It’s exclusive. There is nothing anyone can do to earn their way into the Sovereign’s bloodline.

However, the members of the royal family also live a life of service. The Queen, Prince Philip, and many other members of the family carry out hundreds upon hundreds of engagements each year, sometimes three or four in a day. She’s been serving the people of the United Kingdom for 61 years. Pope Benedict retired a few months back at the age of 85. The Queen is 87 and shows no sign of slowing down. She takes very seriously her commitment to the throne and to the people of the UK.

While the members of the royal family will never struggle financially or want for anything in life, they bear a heavy weight of responsibility. As a part of the family, they carry out engagements on behalf of the Queen and are under constant scrutiny from the press. They have ownership and are responsible for carrying on the good name their Granny the Queen, and the Sovereigns before her, have built with the people. Queen Elizabeth is their Queen but she is also their grandmother, so they carry out their duties out of respect but also out of love.

It’s the same way with God and us. Through no effort of our own-but because of the blood of Jesus Christ-we are members of a Royal Family. It is a life of privilege, maybe not the earthly kind, but privilege nonetheless. We bear His name and likeness, and it is up to us to be his ambassadors to the world. We carry out His commands out of duty and respect because He is our King but also out of love because He is our Father.

Our royal bloodline ought to make us aware of how we conduct ourselves. You don’t ever see Queen Elizabeth acting in a manner contrary to what you expect of a Queen. So it should be with us. As God’s children and royal heirs of His kingdom, we are expected to interact with others in a way that reflects where we came from. We are conscious of how we treat the world because we love our Father and want our actions to reflect well upon Him, the same way the actions of the Queen’s family reflect back upon her.

When a member of the royal family makes a mistake, the Queen may be upset, and there might be consequences, but at the end of the day they are her family. She loves them. She’s not going to kick them out of the family because they screwed up. So it is with God. Because we are His children, He gives us grace even when we tarnish the family name. Why? It all comes down to blood. Not ours: the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the reason we have a share in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the reason we are all sons and daughters of the King. He is the reason we cannot be excommunicated from this royal family. Jesus is the heir, and He has made a way for us to share in His inheritance. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Stay the Course: Pure Joy Mongolia, part II

So what’s the point of doing a retreat for missionary women?
Our first team devotional was from Isaiah 52.7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”  The missionary women to whom we ministered already know the good news of the gospel. However we were bringing the good news of encouragement, the good news that they’re being prayed for. We were going to remind them that God does indeed reign.

It was humbling to stand in the room with 44 missionary women who are on the front lines of advancing God’s kingdom. They have struggles and shortcomings and family drama just like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, they’re dealing with these issues in a foreign country without the familiar comforts of home. This is why the Pure Joy ministry is so crucial. One of the women put it best when she said, “Last week I was ready to cash it in. But now I see that I’m not alone.” Our team left Mongolia at the end of the week, but those 44 women will continue to be a network of support to one another.

These missionaries are working around the clock to push back the darkness in Mongolia. They came to the Pure Joy Retreat and for those few days we held darkness at bay for them, until they could receive the filling they needed to head back out to the front lines.

What was your most meaningful experience of the week?
This will sound dramatic, but nearly every moment of the week was meaningful to me. However I've got it narrowed down to two:
First: I was privileged to minister alongside two women who are dearer to my heart that I can express in a blog post. I mentioned Mrs. Pam already-she was my roommate for the week, and we had such a wonderful time laughing, crying, and processing this experience together. She has never failed to point me to Jesus when I come to her for support or advice, and she loves me well. Her life glorifies Jesus, and she is my role model in more ways than one. Also, Penny. She has known and loved me since I was an insecure eighth-grader in the youth group where she volunteered. Her unconditional love for me over the years has helped me better understand the love and grace of Jesus. Our hearts connect on a different frequency from everyone else.

They didn’t know each other before this trip, and it was so fun to see them grow to know and love one another while we were in Mongolia. My heart was overwhelmed with thankfulness more than once as I would catch glimpses of them while going about our assigned tasks.

Second: An extra special encounter I had during the week was with a missionary I’ll call Mary (not her actual name). At 79, Mary is a lifelong missionary who has been in Mongolia for more than 20 years doing prison ministry. I had the privilege of spending some time with her, and I can’t say I’ve ever been touched so deeply by anyone after only 2 days of knowing them. Mary and I visited for awhile late one evening. She told me about the ways she has seen God move and some of the adventures He has taken her on. As Mary shared with me about her remarkable life, she looked at me and said, “now Corley, don’t think I’m wonderful. God did it.”

I wept that night as I reflected on our conversation. I have tried to articulate why I was so moved by my time with Mary, and I never feel like I do a very good job explaining.

Mary’s life is upside-down from what the world says we should accomplish. But that has never stopped her from following Jesus to the end of the earth, and there has never been a time when God has not taken care of her. Mary brings light into one of the darkest places on the planet, to people who desperately need it. Yet she doesn’t want any credit or recognition.

Culture tells us to get married, have kids, buy a house, save for retirement. Be safe. Be comfortable. But Mary and the other missionaries have shunned what the world says is successful. God’s kingdom is her main concern, and by kingdom standards Mary’s life is a huge success. She’s someone with a lifetime of serving Jesus under her belt, and her message is “It's worth it.”

I want that.

When I’m 80 I want to still be fighting the good fight and saying, “don’t think I’m wonderful, Jesus did it.” My fervent prayer and hope is that Mary was a glimpse 50 years into my future. No matter what adventure God calls me to, I want to still “be singing when the evening comes.” And Mary sang, y’all. She sang with her hands high in the air, and I was overwhelmed by the significance of it all.

We went to Mongolia in order to encourage others, but I received as much as I gave. There is much I will hold close to my heart as a result of my time there, but what stands out most is the encouragement I received from Mary. She didn’t say this out loud, yet her life proclaims it: stay the course.

Stay the course.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6.13

God, may I be found standing.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pure Joy Mongolia Q & A, part I

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my trip to Mongolia since I got home. In trying to come up with a good way to share about my experience, I thought I’d post in the Q & A format to make it easier to read. That way, you can skip over whatever parts are boring! So here are the questions I’ve been most asked:

What is Pure Joy International?
Pure Joy International is a ministry that takes a team to different locations around the globe in order to encourage the hearts of missionary women (and by extension their families) by providing them a 4-day, 3-night retreat free of cost. During the retreat, the women are treated to great worship and speaking, meals and snacks, and a gift each time they enter the room. You can read about Pure Joy in more detail on their website,

      How did you get connected with this particular Pure Joy trip?
A good friend of mine, Penny, has been going on trips with Pure Joy for years. I’ve always wanted to go based on what she had to say, but never felt like the time was right. Then about a year ago, I sat in my favorite Mexican restaurant in Jonesboro (El Acapulco) across from one of my favorite people, Pam Rusher. I was in town for a weekend visit and we were catching up on life when she mentioned that Pure Joy International was taking a trip to Mongolia in 2013. Mrs. Pam and her husband, the late Dr. Buck Rusher, served for several years in Mongolia with the International Mission Board. I came to know and love the Rushers as an Arkansas State college student between their terms in Mongolia. When she mentioned the upcoming retreat in Ulaanbaatar (the capital city and their home while in Mongolia), I immediately said, “I want to go on that trip!” Eleven months later, I found myself sitting in the Dallas airport, waiting to board a 14-hour flight to the other side of the planet.

Penny on the left, Mrs. Pam on the right.

      Who are the women on the team?
The team was made up of 10 women. Some had been on trips with Pure Joy before; others, like myself, had not. We all had a role on the trip: photographer, hospitality, techno guru, etc.

      How long was that flight?
Long. We flew from Little Rock to Dallas, then Dallas to Seoul, South Korea, then Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The longest flight was 14 hours.

      Did you eat anything weird?
I ate sheep meat on the first day. It wasn’t terrible. I also tried horse meat, which didn’t taste much different from beef. It was kind of bland. And on the last day I ate something called a fish ball. I thought it was a dumpling but once I put it in my mouth I knew I had made a terrible, terrible mistake. I can’t even describe it without wanting to gag. Lesson learned: don’t trust the dumplings.

The sheep meat pie.

       What was the coolest thing you saw?
We saw a gigantic Chinggis Khan memorial that was pretty impressive. That was also the day I befriended a Mongolian vulture. And, the performance we saw of traditional Mongolian singing, dancing and contortion…ism? Is that a word? We saw a contortionist.

Chinggis memorial: 250 tons of stainless steel

What was your favorite part?
Not including the retreat (which I’ll share about later), I loved seeing the Mongolian countryside. I learned that Mongolia’s nickname is Land of the Blue Sky, and we definitely saw why! It was beautiful and memorable.
Land of the Blue Sky

      Would you go back to Mongolia? Do you want to go back to Mongolia?
I would go back in a heartbeat! Though we didn’t spend much time with native Mongolians because we were focused on the missionary ladies, the Mongolians we interacted with were very friendly. They are known for their hospitality and we experienced that, too. Also, they need the gospel. Alcoholism is a big problem, especially among the men (due in large part to a heavy Russian influence for so many years). They are heavily Buddhist and also shamanism is growing in influence. When we asked him, the sweet Mongolian man who drove our bus on our sightseeing days said he’d never heard of Jesus.

      Are you recovered from your trip?
I think I’m physically recovered; jet lag wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. My mental/emotional recovery is slower. (On my first day back at the BCM, I think I cried four times that day.) As recently as this morning I found myself choked up over one memory or another. A couple of people have remarked that I seem ‘off’ or not myself. My answer to that is, I hope I’m ‘off’ forever. This trip had some far-reaching effects on my life, and I hope I seem a little different from here on out. Even if it means I keep getting teary-eyed about it, that’s okay with me. I would rather this experience continue its profound influence on my life than to move on and become callous to it.

Part II is still to come (where I’ll talk about the retreat and my most meaningful experiences).


Thursday, August 8, 2013


Psalm 126:

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.

Bring back our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.

Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.

Next week I will begin my ninth year of college ministry. For me, August is every bit as much a New Year as January 1. It’s that way for those of us who live by an academic calendar. We have two New Years and really, the January one is just for show. For us, reality hits mid-August.

This time, my New Year is starting with a different view. I’m typing this from my desk in the assistant director’s office of the Conway Baptist Collegiate Ministry. If you were to cut me open and examine my DNA, you would not find the Ds, Ns and As. You would find instead Bs, Cs and Ms. The ministry of the BCM changed me to my core; that’s how deeply this ministry affected me in college, so much so that I have dedicated my life to it. My heart beats for college students and campus ministry.

The older I get, the more I’m able to see how different seasons weave their way into and then out of my life. Over the past two years I have deeply missed doing the job I love in campus ministry. I asked God, ‘did I hear you wrong? Should I not have taken this job and moved to Conway? What should I have done differently?’ But I knew I had heard him. I knew how perfectly he had worked out the situation I was in. So I waited. I pleaded with God to move me or make me content. I got angry with him for putting me in a place that felt a lot like purgatory. Just waiting. I even gave him the silent treatment for awhile. 

After that, I did my best to remain faithful. I clung to my personal Bible study and devotions as desperately as if they were the air I needed to breathe. I clung to friends and family who understood my heart and prayed over me while I cried in frustration and despair. I clung to my church family and to the words of truth and hope I heard each week from the pulpit. I clung to moments spent praying in the altar, telling God, “I don’t know. But here I am.” I clung to ministry opportunities that came along, wanting so desperately to be used even in a small way.

But mostly, I clung to Jesus. Through his word, through his servants placed strategically in my life, and through his spirit at work within me, I experienced his peace.

In January I sat down and thought about what I wanted out of 2013. I knew something had to change. I began noticing how Jesus’ teaching did not make much sense to the world. Love, instead of hate? Mercy and grace, instead of punishment? Poverty, instead of wealth? And so when I began praying in earnest about whether or not to take the BCM job, I could hear logic saying, ‘this doesn't make sense. Why leave a secure job with secure benefits and a comfortable atmosphere?’ Leaving CBC for the BCM didn't make sense. And that’s exactly what gave me the courage to make the move.

I trust Jesus more now than I did two years ago or even a year ago. I trust him in ways I cannot put into words. Without this season of waiting, I might not have learned to trust him like this. And if that's what it took to shape me more into the person he’s crafting me into, then I'm thankful for every frustrating moment and every tear. One of my dearest spiritual mothers always says, “God will not waste your pain, if you’ll give it to him.” I believe nothing I have endured in the past two years will go to waste.

He is my faithful provider, orchestrator, and father, and I have hope he will redeem even my darkest moments for his glory and my good. 
What I spent two years sowing in tears I am now reaping with great joy.

One week ago today I began a new adventure, a new season with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. What season, you ask? 

I’m calling it the harvest.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6.9


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Big Adventure

I'm excited to share with you about an adventure I'm getting to take part in! I have been given the opportunity to join a team of women who are headed to Northeast Asia with a ministry called Pure Joy International. Pure Joy is a ministry of women, for women who are serving God overseas. Basically, Pure Joy takes a team of women to countries around the world and puts on a retreat for the missionary women and missionary wives who come. The women who come to the retreat are showered with love and gifts-they receive encouragement and rest in every way: spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically. The founder of Pure Joy, Vickie Arruda, writes periodically about the ministry and the upcoming trips at

I’ve never done long-term international missions, but I will say from my time spent ministering outside the South, a little encouragement is always appreciated.  It’s easy to feel you’re the only person you know who loves Jesus. The loneliness that comes from being the only believer in your area coupled with the strain of learning a new culture/language and laboring under a burden to share Jesus in what is often a hostile environment puts a lot of strain on a person.

I have always loved retreats. There is something about getting away with a purpose that has always resonated deeply with me. My own call to ministry came at a girls' retreat my senior year of college. I don't think the value of taking some time away for reflection can be overestimated. 

I am PUMPED about getting to go to literally the other side of the world to minister to these women. I can't think of any woman in ministry who couldn't use some pampering from time to time, and that is exactly what we are going to be doing for the women coming to the Pure Joy retreat. I'm anticipating a meaningful time, both for the women to whom we'll be ministering and for those of us doing the ministering!

So if you would, I'd love for any of my friends, family (strangers?) who come across this blog to join me in praying for every aspect of this trip. If you're into specifics, here they are:
1. Pray for our team (there are 10 of us) as we prepare mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually to leave the U.S. Trip dates are September 13-22.
2. Travel safety. Planes on time, luggage issues, jet lag, etc. I can't be specific about the country where we're going because not all the missionaries are there as "missionaries." It's for their protection. (So if I've told you the country, please don't post it anywhere publicly.)
3. That God will bring to the retreat each woman He has chosen to be there. We currently have 32 women signed up. We also need each woman to be sponsored so her only cost of attending the retreat is travel to and from the conference center.
4. Join me in thanking God in advance for providing the finances needed for each team member who is going. (This is sometimes a challenge for this worrier.)

I'll post more as the trip gets closer. As of today, we're 58 days out! I have my excited face on!!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When You're Needy

Do you ever hear a song that resonates to your very core? You can’t get it out of your head, you blast out your speakers when it comes on the radio, you find yourself singing it at random moments. That’s how I feel lately about the song “Lord I Need You.” Here are the lyrics:

Lord, I come, I confess

Bowing here I find my rest

Without You I fall apart

You're the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You

Every hour I need You

My one defense, my righteousness

Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep
Your grace is more

Where grace is found is where You are

And where You are, Lord, I am free

Holiness is Christ in me
Teach my song to rise to You

When temptation comes my way

And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You

Jesus, You're my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You

Every hour I need You

My one defense, my righteousness

Oh God, how I need You

(The internet says Matt Maher wrote this. If that’s wrong I apologize.)

This song wrecks me every single time I hear it. I heard it in the car last night and found myself unable to sing along because I was overcome with emotion.

I love this song because it doesn’t pretend. It doesn’t say, “Lord, I’m good. I’ve got this. But once in awhile, I need you.” No. It says OH GOD, I NEED YOU. I won’t make it through this day, this very hour, without you. That word “Oh” conveys emotion. Not, “what’s up God, I need ya!” but “Oh, God. Oh, God, I need you.” Can you feel the depth of the emotion behind the word?

It’s slightly terrifying to admit you need someone. At least, it is for me. In my life I’m afraid the moment I admit to needing someone, they’ll disappear. Maybe I’m the only person who feels this way. But it’s precarious to put your trust in people. Eventually they disappoint you. Admitting you need someone—especially admitting it to that person—feels like taking a giant step off a cliff into nothingness. No one wants to be thought of as a needy person. Being independent and self-sufficient is valued and prized in our culture, and needy is the opposite.

But in God’s upside-down kingdom, needy is the thing to be. God wants us to live in constant dependence on Him. He wants us to reach for Him every hour. He wants to know every detail. We can’t be too needy for God. There’s no way to need Him too much. It sounds strange and backwards, but God designed us to need Him.

And so singing the words to this song is the truest thing I can say to God. I need Him. OH. I need Him. Every single hour. We have permission to express our deepest desire for God. There is no deeper need, and I sing this song with abandon because it is freeing to come before Him and admit that at my core, I am not okay apart from Him.

His invitation is comprehensive: we can bring Him all of our hopes and hurts. There is enough of Him to go around. There’s enough no matter how needy I am in a particular moment, and there will still be enough for the next time. There’s enough for you, too. If you don't know the deep, abiding peace that comes with knowing Jesus Christ, I would love to tell you about Him.


"Even to your old age, I will be the same,
And even to your graying years I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you; 
And I will bear you and I will deliver you."
Isaiah 46.4