When people ask me what my favorite part of New York was, I always answer “the Brooklyn Bridge.” At first, I would tell them it was because you can see the entire Manhattan skyline, and that it was the first place I had been in two days that wasn’t overly crowded. I knew that was not the ultimate reason I fell in love with the little pier next to the massive bridge, but I was still working to discern what the Lord was trying to teach me about Himself. Though I saw the bridge before Movement Day Global Cities even started, it was the physical representation of everything the Lord taught me in New York.
Honestly, I went into this week with closed ears and a closed heart. I was already exhausted, and my introverted self knew it would be a draining week. Our mission statement is “Shifting culture by making millennials Christ-loving, city-changing, church-investing, disciple-making local missionaries.” I really did not feel like I could learn any more about these things than I already know, but I quickly learned that is such a dangerous place to be. The first breakout session I attended was entitled “Emotionally Healthy Leaders” and it was an hour and a half of both conviction and encouragement. Mental and emotional health is what I am most passionate about, but emotional health as it relates to leadership is often brushed aside. The Lord was quick to remind me I would not be city-changing, church-investing, or disciple-making if I was not first Christ-loving. He taught me the difference between isolating myself and seeking solitude, and how to do the latter in a way that seeks Him and empowers me to love the people around me. He brought me from a place of hiding my weaknesses to one of sharing them. I had to learn to be honest and vulnerable with other people and boldly ask the Lord to help me turn my eyes to Him. The Brooklyn Bridge is a beautiful reminder of the access I have to my Father and the grace He abundantly gives, even when I try to rely on my own strength.
During the week, the Lord consistently revealed himself to me as a God of restoration. On Wednesday, we had a worship night in our hostel, and God gave me the verse 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses at a young age, and have struggled with anxiety and depression (amongst others) since then. The month leading up to the trip had been unusually difficult, and it often felt as if the Lord had stopped caring. That night, He reminded me that though they are still part of me and my story, I do not have to live as a victim to these things. The Lord has already restored me and made me a new creation. I attended a session led by Nick Pitts called “Urban Apologetics,” in which he spoke about shifts we have seen in culture and how to love our neighbors well in the midst of them. A few of these were our victim culture, we validate emotion and intuition over logic, we view everything as a narrative and affirm people’s stories, and that truth has become subjective. Instead of teaching us how to fight against culture, Nick said “the goal is not to win culture. The goal is to be faithful to the creator.” As local missionaries, our intention is not to fight against the culture we live in, but to share the Gospel and let Christ’s love redeem and restore it. Through my difficulties, God is my only provider of hope and peace, and the same hope and peace that has restored my soul will be restoration to our city.
When you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, though you are still in New York City, it is a different borough. The people are different, the subcultures change, even the primary type of food changes. The Lord did the same for me in a lounge room in the hostel while worshipping with some of my dearest friends, and while sitting in a chair with thousands of people from all over the world in the Jacob Javits Convention Center. I am still Hannah Rebecca Priest. I still fight temptations and still struggle with the same brokenness, but I do it with faith, knowing Jesus is better. I am praying and believing for the same faith and hope to cover the city of Dallas.