The end of a race is always bittersweet—especially when it requires the passing of a baton.
Having somehow run some three-quarters of our year of service through, together, our community must now round its final turn. Our lap has had its hurdles, but always, we have sprinted to one another's aid. And as another ACE summer approaches, we are still racing—to make new memories, to leave a lasting impact on our students, to not have to even think of saying goodbye.
Just twelve months ago, we left these starting gates as utter strangers. Now, I can hardly remember having had closer friends. Still, our ministry calls us onward. And for two of us, new races must be run.
Thanks be to God then that this is not just any other race. For I have run not with a community, but a family. And family has no end—family has generations.
Dizzying as it is to reflect upon the challenges, growth, and abundant joy this year has brought, I find profound peace in recalling how we got here. ACE summers might well be considered a pressure cooker of sorts. Following the summons of vocational discernment, ACErs are called to hit the ground running from the moment we step out unto this great unknown.
Not only juggling a full schedule of masters coursework, but the novelty of single-handedly leading a classroom, ACErs must race from day one in order to take full opportunity of every precious moment of spiritual renewal, professional formation, and foundation of community. Such a feat ought to be exhausting. And at many times we certainly did off of pure adrenaline. But more than this, it was love that saw us through.
At the time, I could never fully comprehend how we managed to run so far, so fast. But looking back, the source of our stamina stands clear as day. For even as we first-years struggled to envision exactly what this intentional Christian community would mean, we never ran alone. And in those doubtful moments where the road seemed too long, the responsibilities too great, and God's will obviously seemed to have been misinterpreted, our second-years were there, to humbly lighten our yoke.
Having only just finished a year of service that would irreversibly transform their lives, they had just said their own difficult goodbyes. From Friday to Monday, their role had reversed from teacher back to full-time student. And already missing the graduated members of their own community, they returned to the juggling act of coursework, reconnecting with dear friends, and somehow inviting three brave new ACErs into our fold.
Despite every opportunity to cling onto the past, to resist the tide of change, and move forward in blissful denial, they instead prioritized our own well-being. They did not push, nor set expectations, but rather, welcomed us to join in the authorship of the untold adventures that lay ahead. And it was their intentional acts of service and ever-present inclusion that formed the bedrock on which our community now stands.
All of us have since come to appreciate exactly what it is to be a part not of an ACE community, but an ACE family; for the latter requires far more than passing off the baton after two years of service. Each and every one of the ACErs who graduated from our community last year has remained an active member in the race of our site's on-going ministry. Though now scattered across the country, they have made a point of visiting on multiple occasions, and whole-heartedly continued the legacy of this family's expansion.
Recognizing the sincerity of this selfless love, I welcome the growth of another ACE summer's beginning. For as we pass the starting gates anew, our dear friends will never truly have left us. Rather, it is the inspiration of their continually enacted love that will lead us to welcome our family's newest members with open arms.
Our dear friends will return to share in still more memories, to offer up their honest experience, and to minister from afar to this next generation of ACErs. We too must then strive to humbly exemplify all that an ACE family might become. We must share our short-comings as honestly as our successes, be forever inviting, but never expecting, and challenge ourselves to growth we ask of others.
The race we run together does not pass the baton from mentor to mentee. For each individual's experience in teaching is shared and supported across generations. And as the next leg approaches, there truly is no end in sight—only the welcoming of a new beginning.