The Power of an Invitation

By: Sandi Smith

This is a story about the power of an invitation and how relationships and community play such an important role in introducing Jesus to others.

Jillian did not grow up going to church or knowing Jesus. In fact, the last 8 years of her life had been filled with anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. At the age of 14, she found herself at rock bottom, lying in bed in the psych ward crying, and knowing something had to change. After her time in the hospital, her problems and bad decisions continued, but she just figured out how to hide them better. She felt alone. Although she wanted to change, she didn’t feel capable.

It wasn’t until her friend Julia (who had recently been invited herself) invited Jillian to join her at Amplify, Bay Area’s Student Ministry (BASM) Wednesday night community group time, that her life took a dramatic turn. “One of the very first memories I have of BASM is Sean Anderson [one of BASM’s community group leaders] chasing someone through the BASM Warehouse tearing their shoe off and running away so fast I thought he was going to fall,” Jillian said. “At that moment I knew this is where I’m supposed to be. I spent the next two and half hours watching my now family mess with each other, chase each other, and care about each other in a way I had never seen before.”

Jillian quickly became one of our most consistent attenders on both Sunday and Wednesdays, and even began to serve on BASM’s Hospitality Team where she grew to love spending time with Rachel Mahaffey, BASM’s Hospitality Coordinator, in the cafe. Every time the Warehouse doors were open, Jillian was there. She spent her whole summer either volunteering in the BASM Café or on a BASM summer trip. Jillian says, “my life changed so much in just a year because God knew who I needed in my life and put me with them…It took me almost 15 years to find God but the day I did I was in worship at Amplify and I felt this feeling in my chest, it felt like my heart was on fire and burning.”

While Jillian continued to grow, her mother Dotia was becoming more and more consistent attending the main gathering on Sundays. Because Jillian loved serving so much, she encouraged her mother to find a place to serve too, and very soon, Jillian and Dotia were not only serving in the BASM café together, but they began serving in Children’s Ministry as well.

As Jillian was growing in her faith, she knew the next step was to make her faith public and get baptized, but she was scared of what people would think if she messed up or sinned after making such a public statement. One Sunday, Bay Area’s Student Ministry Pastor Jake Wieduwilt was teaching about how God’s opinion was the only opinion that truly mattered. This spurred Jillian into action and within a week her baptism was scheduled.

Jillian’s boldness in wanting to get baptized illuminated something in her mother as well. Around the same time that Jillian began going to BASM, her mother started feeling a deep calling to read the Bible. Through doing so, she started to really feel God’s presence. He had truly been preparing Dotia for her daughter’s invitation to attend church with her. Dotia told me, “my awakening in Christ came on slowly, then one day I woke up and my whole attitude felt like it had shifted, I felt light and free! I knew baptism was going to be my next step.”

Dotia had enjoyed volunteering in BASM so much and had grown so much while doing so, she wanted to get baptized in BASM. She told me, “it was really important to me to get baptized with the students that I serve – Jillian brought me to church but all the students are keeping me there. I wanted them to see how important their faith is and that it can/is changing the world!”

The week before Christmas, Jillian and her mother were baptized. It was probably one of my favorite moments as a BASM staff member. Jillian said afterward, “that day changed so much for me. Half the kids in BASM didn’t know who I was but now they know my story and my mom’s story. Before I got baptized, I knew I loved Jesus… After I got baptized I was all in and everyone knew it.”

This story really makes me think of the power of an invitation. Would Jillian be walking with Jesus today without Julia’s invite to Amplify? Would Dotia be attending church or so committed to serving without her daughter’s invite? I love to think about the sovereignty of God and watch how His perfect plan unfolds in His perfect timing. It also makes me excited and in prayer for BASM’s “March Madness,” where we really encourage our students to invite their friends to Amplify.