Sunday April 13th 2014/ 21st Anniversary of Gulf Coast Community Church
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When I first attended a Gulf Coast Sunday morning service about a year and a half ago, I had not truly experienced the grace the Lord gave me by dying on the cross in a real way. I had been continually seeking the Lord for about a year, and when I met some Christians at my work place, I started going to their church with them and learning about God and the Bible. I got plugged in there, and I even started teaching within that church and helping lead things like youth group Bible study and kids vacation Bible school. I knew that Jesus did something big for me, and I knew that I wanted the love that He offered, and I even thought that I accepted it and knew it. But it wasn’t until I learned how much I truly needed this gift and how much I didn’t deserve it that I was brought to fully surrender my life for Jesus Christ.
I started to truly understand the Gospel through a ministry that this church graciously supports called COMission. If you haven’t heard yet, this is a ministry that’s headed up by Ryan Carver at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg campus that serves to make Jesus famous through sharing the Gospel among a campus that is hostile to it many times. When I was in high school, Ryan Hoagland, my boyfriend at the time, and now my fiancé, got connected with a few guys who were doing a small Bible study on campus. So, when I graduated and started going to USF, I was immediately connected. I started attending meetings, got involved with leadership, and even started leading my own Bible study in my dorm room with seven other girls, the majority of them being unbelievers. I was being trained up by the leaders of COMission and all the while I was learning more and more about this Gospel that they so faithfully shared at every meeting. I was challenged to come up with a defense for why I believed what I believed, which forced me to actually investigate what was going on in my own heart. The Lord was gracious to teach me about His Gospel through allowing me to teach others about the Gospel, and slowly God started opening my eyes to the incredible truths of who God is and what He’s done.
I also started attending church at Gulf Coast as I became more and more involved with COMission, and I started to grow in my spiritual knowledge through the convicting yet truthful words that Jerry and Daryn bring every Sunday. At the beginning, Ryan and I were having difficulties with moving churches after establishing such strong friendships with people our age at our old church. But, it was made clear to us how the Gospel was at the heart of this church, and how much we were growing by attending, which is what we truly wanted in a church. I also got involved with the community group downtown near campus, where I found it hard to connect at first. Corey Thompson invited me out for coffee after attending only once, which I was blown away by. But the more I kept going, the more I realized that these people’s lives were different, and the way that they lived for Christ started becoming more and more real to me. Everyone that I met through Gulf Coast was so gracious and loving, and I could truly see Christ working in their lives, and the faith they had for Him.
The Lord has also blessed me with the ability to serve with re:Generation, Gulf Coast’s youth ministry, which I absolutely adore doing. I love having small group with them at our meetings, and being able to discuss our faith and pray for the students. Becca Carver and I were even able to start a small group Bible study where we walked through a book of the Bible and practiced talking about it to others and applying to our lives with five of the girls. I’ve also been prayed for and supported by the parents that I’ve met through Regen, like when I was looking for a new home. I was even able to have about 20 girls sleep over in my tiny house a few Fridays ago, enjoying time in the Word together, and of course some yummy food and crazy games.
As I mentioned, I recently got engaged to my fiancé Ryan, who has endured this whole experience with me, and who has grown in his faith as well. Words can’t explain how blessed I feel to have so many married couples to look up to in this church that glorify Christ’s model of love in their marriage. Because of the example of women that I’ve met in this church, I get to experience what it means to be a god-fearing wife who submits to her husband.
My walk with the Lord has been so heavily influenced by the people God has brought into my life through this church, and I can only hope that God will use me to bring others to Christ with the help and love that this church family offers me.