“This is so dry,” Ellen thought to herself as she looked at her Bible, feeling shame for thinking such a thought about the Bible and the simultaneous urge to let her eyes glaze over the words. Though raised in a loving Christian home, Ellen struggled to have a deep relationship with God. She felt obligated to read the Bible, but the stories felt flat and she felt helpless to learn from them herself. After reading a passage, what was she supposed to do next?

She wasn’t like her theologically astute brother Darcy, who had just returned from a discipleship program called ARISE and was all on fire for Jesus. He’d always had faith; it just came naturally to him. She admired his passion for God as he shared his experience, but it seemed out of reach for her.

Knocking on doors and talking to strangers about God was not her thing.

Ellen had just graduated from high school and was faced with the question of what to do next. The future was a frightening chasm of uncertainty. Should she work? Travel? Study? She’d never left home for more than two weeks at a time before. She was an introvert and anxious. The future also felt rather unexciting—was her only option to work a 9-5 job her entire life?

“You could apply to go to ARISE,” her brother suggested one day.

Deep down, Ellen really longed to have a deep connection with God. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the amazing biblical scholars the program must attract, but if she could establish a stronger connection with God, wouldn’t it be worth it? So, through her brother’s encouragement, she decided to apply.

Ellen arrived on campus nervous and excited. Coming from a church with few young people her age, she wanted to make friends. However, three months was a long time to spend with a bunch of super religious strangers in the hot Australian sun. Would she even enjoy it?

The first few days of class were rough. And then things got worse. On her second day of outreach, when they were just about to go out on the streets of Kingscliff, New South Wales, Australia, she hit a wall and the tears came. Who was she kidding? She wasn’t a super Christian. Knocking on doors and talking to strangers about God was not her thing.

Robbie, the outreach coordinator, took her to the church office to have a chat.

“There are different circles in our lives, Ellen,” he gently explained as he sat across from her. “There is our comfort zone and then there is the growth zone. But there’s also a not-coping zone, which is where you are, and we need to get you out of that.” He smiled and offered to go with her on outreach. Ellen saw she wasn’t being shamed or told she didn’t measure up; she was being supported and encouraged, so she decided to keep going.

Despite the rough start, things started to change for Ellen from day one. She wanted to grow, so she began reading her Bible every morning. One day Ty taught a class on how to study the Bible. He took the class through an exercise where they studied a passage and then wrote their own paraphrases. Ellen was inspired and began writing more paraphrases. Over time, she started finding connections she hadn’t seen before in the text and the Bible came alive.

She loved what she was learning in each class, discovering the gospel over and over again as she studied Calvary, prophecy, doctrine, and so much more. The material was stimulating yet accessible to everyone.

…she started finding connections she hadn’t seen before in the text and the Bible came alive.

Outreach still wasn’t easy, but Ellen saw how God was using her. One day, she and her outreach partner knocked on the door of a man named Paul. They asked if he would fill out a survey they were giving. Paul said yes. They asked their questions and gave their church’s information, and then left, not thinking much of it aside from the fact that it was a nice interaction. Later, they learned Paul had been searching for a Bible. Because he was so moved by Ellen and her partner’s kindness, he called their church and asked for one.

One of the most surprising realizations Ellen had during ARISE was that people were important to her. As an introvert, she had wondered if she could enjoy hanging out with a group of people for so long. But they quickly became a family that helped her grow personally and spiritually, a family she needed. And they weren’t just a bunch of theology nerds. Though coming from different backgrounds, they were just like her: people with hobbies, fears, strengths, and insecurities who wanted to follow Jesus. And they weren’t nearly as scary as she’d imagined.

The day before graduation, Ellen went with her classmates who decided to go for a swim in the river. There was a point where you could jump off a ledge about 15 feet into the water, just before it connects to the ocean. When they had free time, her classmates often came here to jump off and swim. Ellen hadn’t tried it yet, but now she was ready. As she plunged through the air and into the water, she felt free.

She was going to take a gap year next in Germany, but the future was still very unknown. Prior to ARISE, this made her feel scared and unsure. Now she was still unsure, but that was OK. She was ready to jump into whatever plans God had for her, knowing He’d catch her. 

Looking back, Ellen says her proudest accomplishment is her personal growth. By learning about herself, she has been able to understand others better. She can connect with people. She knows how to interact with the Bible herself. If someone talks to her about Jesus, she has something to say, and she truly believes God is her friend.

Ellen is part of a generation that is known for leaving the church. Your donations to Light Bearers made it possible for her to attend ARISE and embrace her faith. If you’re not a partner yet, we’d like to invite you to join us as we train more young people to be disciple-makers and share the gospel.

Anneliese Wahlman
Creative Writer at Light Bearers

Allie is a 2012 ARISE graduate and on-staff writer and communications assistant for Light Bearers. She is fascinated by the intersection of faith and the creative process and enjoys poetry. When she’s not watching a good movie with her friends, she enjoys narrating life with mediocre accents.