This blog was written by 2015 Emerging Leaders alumnus, D.J. Skipps.
As my last year of college came to an end, I began to feel the pressures of entering what is often referred to as “the real world”. My mind was telling me to continue toward my goal of joining the health field, but the Emerging Leaders program kept nudging at my heart. I began to think of all the great things a year in the Emerging Leaders program could offer me: nine months of learning the bible from amazing teachers, training to reteach the lessons I learned, experiencing genuine discipleship, and living in an intentional community with my peers in a city drenched with creativity and diversity! Needless to say, I packed my bags and drove the seven hours from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee not yet realizing the impact that decision was about to make on my life.
One of my favorite memories from early on in the EL program was the fall retreat. We spent a weekend together at a campsite off the beaten path, filled with tall pines, brisk autumn air and new friends. I grew closer to the EL participants faster than I had expected during that retreat by sharing and hearing dozens of stories through which God weaved an amazing picture of His love for us. The stories were messy and beautifully unique, yet they shared so many similarities of hurt and acceptance.
After a few weeks as emerging leaders, each class member began to narrow down his or her preferences toward a church for membership as well as an organization to volunteer at. This experience helped me grow in my faith more than I expected it to. It was also a great opportunity for me, and many of the other ELs, to get to know more community members. Also during the first few weeks, the EL staff got to know our personalities and testimonies really well, so they paired us with discipleship leaders! This was one of the most exciting and life-changing parts of the year for me. Although we were originally assigned to one person, many participants, including myself, pursued additional men and women to learn from. I spent most of my time with two godly men and their families. One of them was a pastor at a local church and was married with three young boys. The other man spent his time building up an organization focused around the international population in Memphis. He and his wife spend almost all of their time pouring into the lives of others. The two men could not have been more different, but both provided me with an example of how I could honestly live out my faith in very different contexts.
I never thought my life would change as much as it has in this short year. God has shown and affirmed passions and talents in me I never knew I had. I now see there are no areas of life untouched by God. Every breath, step and decision we make inside and outside the workplace is spiritual. We are children of an amazing God, who wants us to live missionally wherever we are placed. You do not have to fly overseas to meet nations. Thousands of internationals live in your city, and more than likely, most Americans have not taken the time to meet them. I learned there is adventure everywhere and following Jesus is never boring. God does answer your prayers and miraculous things happen when you ask with faith.
So now that I completed my year with Downline, what will I do? That is the question I keep getting asked, and the answer is easy: I will keep doing what I have done for the past 9 months! I will work and be the best employee I can be, serve my church, reach out to the international community in Memphis, continue to disciple new believers to maturity, and do whatever I can to know Jesus better. EL is amazing because it equips all of its participants to have a seamless transition into the rest of their lives. That’s because the Downline Emerging Leaders program is real life! If you choose to do the program, be prepared to fall in love with an amazing city and get to know Jesus in a very real, gospel-centered way.
D.J. Skipps is a California born, Oklahoma raised Emerging Leader. Working as a local barista in Memphis, D.J. is studying to be an English language teacher for the international community. On any given Saturday night, you may find him trying new restaurants in the city or with friends at the Levitt Shell.