My Philadelphia Story

Jesus’ parable on the farmer and the seed in Mark 4 evoked my own story about finding good soil and the mystery of growing seeds of faith.

Between my sophomore and junior year in college, I had a summer internship at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Havertown, an older suburb of Philadelphia, PA.  My mentor and friend, Stan Wood, was a pastor there and he asked me to work the summer with the junior high youth. I had spent my previous summers as a counselor at Lutheran Bible Camps in Washington State.

During that hot and humid summer, I missed the outdoors of Washington, but tried my best to relate to the youth of Bethany. Unlike Bible Camp, where I had different youth every week, we saw the same youth each Sunday for Bible Study and for special events. I tried my best to spread the seed of God’s Word. It didn’t seem to work. I kept missing the mark. I was the outsider, the stranger, and nothing seemed to work.

When that summer was over, I was glad to get back to college, and though Stan asked me to return to Bethany the next summer, I declined I decided my place was back in the good soil of Washington State. Philadelphia seemed a bit too rocky from my perspective.

Six years later, I was back in Pennsylvania, visiting my wife’s sister, Elizabeth, at her college in Suburban Philadelphia, not far from Bethany Presbyterian. As I was walking through her dorm, I heard a voice call my name, “John Keller, is that you?” I turned to see a tall young man who looked vaguely familiar. He introduced himself and said, “I am a member of Bethany Presbyterian and I remember when you were a summer intern.” I then recognized him though he had grown at least a foot. He went on to say, “You know, that summer really made a difference in my faith. I remember that you and the other interns expressed your relationship with Jesus as something real and vital. That stuck with me. I just want to thank you.” I thanked him and we parted.

I never forgot his expression of thanks. What I had determined to be a complete failure, turned out to bear fruit. Good soil can be found almost anywhere by the power of God.

Lord Jesus, continue to cast your Word into the good soil.

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