Making a Difference at Panera

When it comes to making a difference and becoming connected with others, I typically wondered what that looked like for me. I think when many of us consider this idea of “making a difference,” in our mind we imagine grand gestures such as starting a non-profit, organizing a big fundraiser, or even ending world hunger (that last one is a big one!). While all of those are well-intentioned and are important, they’re not the only way a person can make a difference in the lives of others.

I recall a season in my own life after I had accepted Christ for the first time. Although I had accepted Christ at sixteen, it was at age nineteen when I met a woman who would go on to minister into my own life and new-found faith. I personally was searching for God on my own, seeing as though I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. She was a small group leader for teen girls, ages 15-19 at my home church in St. Louis, Missouri. To describe her personality for you, she was someone who was filled with wisdom, always energized, and a huge people person. In a season where I was processing a lot and filled with confusion, anxiety, and stress she was the listening ear the Lord provided.

Every Saturday afternoon a group of us would all meet at Panera to have in-depth conversations about the Bible and about our walk with God. I had kindly asked to sit and talk with her after the group meeting ended. What I thought would be just a quick question about faith turned into so much more. Both she and I sat in that Panera for what seemed like hours after our small group ended. I became emotional sharing with her all of what I had going on at the time. Did she have other responsibilities to tend to? She did. Did she have a husband and kids to get home to? She certainly did. I can imagine she was even tired from a long week-day and could have had other things on her mind. But, instead of trying to rush this time together, she gave me her fully devoted attention. She sat with me, she listened to me, she affirmed my feelings, and then she prayed with me.

This same woman would go on to be my spiritual mentor, who consistently spoke words of encouragement over my life. In her presence and example in my life, I consider Paul’s words writing to the church of Thessalonica: “Continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already” (1 Thess. 5:11, NIV). I also think of the words of Luke here, where he writes: “In everything I have shown you that, by working hard we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:36, NIV).

That woman in my life was consistent and motivated to see me through. She didn’t stop there after we left that Panera. She would continue to encourage me all into my beginning years of college. In many ways, that same person will never know the impact she had on my own life or what it really meant to have her sit with me in Panera that day.

Making a difference can sometimes look like us simply sitting with a person in the midst of their bad day, heartbreak, confusion or questions. We need each other and we need community. We
don’t just need community for the challenging seasons we may face, but we also need other believers to help us grow in our faith and understanding.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV).

Since that time, I’ve appreciated countless men and women who have poured into my own life just as much as that woman once did. They've each made a difference in my life.

by Samantha Copeland
Sam was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri but has called New Jersey home since 2016. She works in social work as a Case Manager and is pursuing her Masters of Divinity with Southeastern University in connection to Kingsway Leadership School. In her free time you can find her reading books, listening to podcasts, trying out different coffee shops, kayaking, or going on a hike. She is passionate about inner-city communities and finding ways for the church to serve families in own own backyard.

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