There were about 30 people packed in that conference room. After a long day of tearing down and putting up drywall for houses that fell victim to Hurricane Katrina, members of the Tri-Lakes Christian Church had congregated at Camp Hope for their nightly devotional meeting.
One of the mission trip leaders asked the group of young missionaries to speak up about what was troubling them, what was weighing down on their hearts. The leader scanned the conference room until he landed on a single hand raised in the air.
That hesitant hand belonged to now-sophomore Jeremy Richmond, who was quite afraid. Afraid that he had it all wrong. Afraid that he didn't understand anything the passages within the Bible had to say. Afraid of his ignorance of the scripture.
After his confession, that conference room with 30 people didn’t seem so packed after all, for what ensued was a group heart-to-heart. Through misty eyes and a lump in his throat, Richmond’s youth pastor Nick Borcherding confessed his own fear to him as well.
“This is one of my biggest fears, that one of my kids doesn’t know what the answer is,” Borcherding said, according Richmond.
It was on this mission trip to New Orleans in the summer of 2013 that Richmond received a wake-up call: that he could do so much more with the words of God. Promptly after the meeting, Richmond began devoting more of his time to the Christian faith — discussing Bible verses with Borcherding, analyzing passages, learning more about the stories and main characters.
But he didn’t feel committed to the faith just yet. Something was missing — something that would solidify his bond to the community and make Christianity the primary focus of his life.
It was on Aug. 25, 2013, standing waist-deep in a pool with two of his closest friends holding either arm that Richmond knew he had found what he was missing.
As he stood in the Denney family’s outdoor pool, he looked around at the crowd surrounding the deck. They were fellow church goers; some were shooting videos with their phones, others just watching. He looked across the pool and saw Tri-Lakes pastor David Patrick sitting on the edge, open Bible in hand.
“You must accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and have Him as a Dominion in your life,” Patrick said.
Richmond agreed to those truths. Wholeheartedly.
And that was their cue. Applying pressure to both of his arms, Richmond’s friends lowered him into the water for a few seconds before pulling him back up to the surface, where he was met with claps, cheers and children jumping into the pool.
“It was very symbolic,” Richmond said of his baptism. “It’s the idea that we have decided to commit our lives to Jesus Christ.”
And with the commitment came the opportunity to be welcomed into a new family. As with most families, a person doesn’t truly feel at home unless he’s surrounded by members of that family.
Richmond considered his church community, wherever the community would be located, as his second family, a sentiment that he would carry with him all the way to college.
But that sentiment wasn’t always there for Richmond and his first family. After his parents divorced when he was two years old, Richmond lived with his mother for the next 16 years. Though she believed in the Gospel, their family didn’t become regulars at the Tri-Lakes Church until after Richmond met Nathan Garrison and Levi Pemberton.
Garrison and Pemberton, who would later that year find themselves dipping Richmond into pool water for his baptism, kept inviting him to youth group programs at the church. It wasn’t until January that Richmond finally agreed and tagged along with them.
He was hesitant. They would constantly assure him that it was a lot of fun, that it would be good for him. But he wasn’t sure. He felt uncomfortable — until he arrived at the first youth group meeting.
Food, games and chitchatting with friends contributed to a relaxing atmosphere which ultimately helped Richmond transition into the program with ease.
What started out as an occasional visit quickly turned into a weekly note on his calendar.
“The ball just kept rolling, and I just kept going,” Richmond said.
That ball rolled across the continent into Central America. In the summer before his senior year of high school, Richmond, his mother and Borcherding traveled to Guatemala for his second mission trip. Unlike the trip to New Orleans, this trip was geared more toward providing clinical service with an emphasis on sharing the Gospel.
Their work centered primarily around Los Sentimientos, settlements of shanty houses built on top of landfills that stretched 25 football fields wide. The air had been contaminated with the pungent odors from the trash, running water and electricity were absent and there were no paved roads in sight.
Richmond’s mother worked as a pediatrician at the clinic at which they were volunteering, where a nurse would check patients’ vital signs and prescribe medicine for their specific ailments. To this day, Richmond’s mother remembers a particular case involving a young boy.
He was barely five years old. The toxic air he was breathing in his developing lungs was tearing away at his already fragile respiratory system. Though he was put on a nebulizer, his chances of survival were dwindling with every passing day he spent in that landfill.
“If they don’t take that boy out of there, he will die,” Richmond’s mother said, according to Richmond.
There were less than 30 people packed in that conference room, listening to Richmond’s mother. After a long day of providing care to the residents of Los Sentimientos, the missionaries congregated in that room for their nightly devotional meeting.
This time, Richmond wasn’t afraid. He had nothing weighing down on his heart or troubling him. Nothing to confess.
He did, however, receive a second wake-up call that night. Hearing about that five-year-old little boy’s case made the trip very real for him, Richmond said.
The people living in Los Sentimientos struggle with putting food on the table, living a lifestyle without health complications, keeping their children out of street gangs, surviving. Despite this, Richmond realized that they have something that many people living in the first world don’t.
“They have more hope and joy in their hearts than we do,” Richmond said. “When I came back here I felt like I was missing it. It changed the way I looked at things spiritually.”
It made him more humble. Rather than chasing after worldly successes, Richmond is now focused on doing the best he can to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, whether that be using the Gospel as a vehicle to spread hope or loving people the way Jesus loved others.
Although Richmond isn't quite sure what his future will look like, he knows one thing for certain: He will always be serving in a church, becoming part of that second family that welcomes newcomers with open arms, just as he was four years ago in the Denneys’ pool.
Edited by Claire Colby | email@example.com