My whole life I’ve looked forward to summers. Being a Minnesota native, the change in weather from “tortuous” to “survivable” was a big part of this, but the freedom of having time off from school always stirred greater anticipation. Now, as a Campus Outreach staff, my summers look a lot different, but I still have that same feeling of anticipation and excitement as I think about summer at Summer Training Project. As I’ve reflected on why the thought of STP elicits such a fond response in my heart, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a “culture of joy”. Allow me to explain.

In his book, The Soul of Shame, M.D. and Christian counselor Curt Thompson talks about the importance of relationships that are joy-filled in fostering security that leads to creative exploration. In other words, when people feel like they are in friendships and community where they are convinced that the dominant tone is one of joy and acceptance - where they can still be enjoyed by another after they make mistakes - they feel a security that makes them more comfortable exploring - expressing their true opinions, trying new things, and being vulnerable. When the dominant tone of an entire network of relationships is one of joy and acceptance and this leads to whole groups of people pressing forward in new acts of self-disclosure and creative exploration, what you have is a culture of joy. This is a powerful concept - and it creates a profoundly fun place to be! No wonder Thompson says “It is to the world’s advantage that the parent, teacher, coach, pastor, police officer, emergency room nurse, middle manager, CEO, boat captain, and farmer cultivate cultures of joy.”

And that’s what STP is actually like. The God of the Bible calls us as we are. Isaiah 55:1 says “Come, everyone who thirst; come to the waters…” and similarly in Matthew 11:28 Jesus says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We teach students to demonstrate this attitude towards one another. If no sin or shame is too much to keep God from inviting someone to himself, how could we treat each other with any less inclusion? Applying this attitude to relationships produces joy and security that leads to people exploring themselves and their faith in brand new ways. It’s a beautiful thing to watch this culture of joy emerge year after year from students applying the realities of scripture to their own lives and their interactions with one another.

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So when you look at the banner above or other photos on our website and see the smiling faces of students on Project, you can rest assured that it’s real joy. Not easy joy - there can be a lot of pain and messiness involved in shared vulnerability - but real joy nonetheless. It’s a joy rooted in our Father who loves us and delights in us even when we fail and sin. It’s a joy that’s infectious and can permeate a group of people. It’s a joy that begets its own culture.

And it’s a joy that’s not limited to STP. It’s mine and yours today if we’ll look God, be honest about ourselves, and trust that because of his Son he can see our sin and still find joy in us. Even so, I’m filled with excitement for the summer, knowing that many students will discover, comprehend, and propagate this joy in brand new ways.

Nirmal Mekala
Campus Outreach Minneapolis
U of M Campus Director

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