natalie-buck-story1.jpgYou never know what you’ll find when you walk down the street, especially when you’re traveling. Will you see children playing soccer, or a baker? Will you wave to a woman sitting on her front steps, or some elderly men playing dominoes? When I traveled with my fellow Candler students and professors to Cuba this past January, my classmate Rafael Bryan snapped this picture of us spotting a dachshund in Havana.

I’ve been wondering about how Jesus approached neighborhoods and strangers. Jesus talked to working class people and local religious leaders. He told stories about particular fields and trees with particular employers and laborers, and he said that they could help you to understand the Reign of God. Jesus ate locally and made friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I developed this open, welcoming approach to a place’s particularities during my first international trip with Candler. I traveled to India on a travel seminar hosted by the World Methodist Evangelism Institute for the New Year in 2018.

natalie-buck-story2.jpgOur professors—Dr. Arun Jones, Dr. Deanna Womack, and Dr. Wesley de Souza—wanted us to approach this new culture with care and intentionality. During that trip, I focused on honoring the people that we spoke to and recognizing that they were exactly the kind of people that Jesus would have chatted with. In India I learned to be fully present in the moment, because it could be a moment where God would show up and reveal the Reign of God.

So what does it mean to walk down the streets of an Indian, Cuban, or U.S. city and know that these were exactly the sorts of situations where Jesus ministered in Nazareth, Samaria, and Jerusalem? Could a coconut tree in Southern India reveal the Reign of God? What about a small business in Atlanta? Where was Jesus when our Cuban tour guide Esteban kicked our butts at dominoes?

Natalie-Buck.jpgThis fall, I’ll begin two years of service as a US-2 missionary with the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries. I’ll be serving as a community organizer and ministry associate in Philadelphia. What will I encounter in my neighborhood in Philly? Bakers? Dachshunds? It’s impossible to tell! But I hope that my experiences of encountering God in India, Cuba, and Atlanta will allow me to embrace a new city with eyes that are open to encountering God. I hope that I’ll find reasons to delight and wonder. I hope I’ll have a heart and mind that is ready to ask questions and celebrate where there is good news. I hope that I’ll encounter the Reign of God.

As a graduating student, I’m grateful for the ways that studying scripture, theology, and leadership have enabled me to embrace the many ways that God is always working to make Godself known. Encountering God at Candler has left me amazed and humbled. Studying scripture, theology, and ecclesiology has made me pray, and cry, and laugh. I have no clue how I’ll encounter God in Philadelphia and beyond, but I’m sure that God will show up, just like she did here.

Photo credit: Rafael Bryan Jr.