Was it worth it? That was the question.
Other people asked that question too, and although the answer, "Yes," echoed in my soul I didn't have a good handle on the reasons for the echo. I found the answer varied widely depending on who you were talking to and for each one it seemed like the answer should be obvious to all. For some it was almost visceral. Though we had shared so much of the same things, one thing we certainly didn't always share was our gut level, incredibly personal, answer to the question.
Was what worth it? Ahh, well, here it is.
Was the time I spent in a certain para-church missionary/revivalist organization called, "The Agape Force," worth it?
It came up again and again with each chance meeting or phone conversation with alumni. And it became more than just, “Was it worth it?” Soon I was interested in more. If so, “Why?” If not, “Why not?”
Sometimes it seemed like a pointless and circular mental exercise. But as the years ticked by I began to realize that the answer to that question, on a personal level, was key to taking the next step in coming to terms with the life-long realities that existed because of that choice I had made and the time I had spent. They were choices and time I could never get back so it began to become more important to me to answer it with certainty. The answer itself was a choice in waiting. The path ahead depended on my evaluation of the one I had already walked. On another level there was a kind of healing still going on in me and sometimes it felt like it stalled while I wrestled with that one question. “Was it worth it?”
In the end, (which also became a beginning), I began to write some of my own memories and internal meanderings, then eventually, to interview others who had walked that old path with me and either had, or were in the process of, answering that same question for themselves.
The process of answering the question for myself and, perhaps others, turned into a project of collecting and recording stories from our collective time in the ministry. The project itself succeeded in forever settling the question for me, if not for everyone else. The project got some traction and we put those stories together in groups and I even got help tying it all together from a heavy hitter that we all knew. He was one of us and yet not one of us and seemed like the perfect person to observe and comment on what was coming together.
I was never interested in writing a history of Agape Force, per se. I was never concerned with making a judgement about it's existence in any kind of authoritative way. I wasn't even very interested in writing about it's creative or monetary success or other achievements. The answer to my question, I knew, lay in the changes that occurred in me and in the lives of others. The answer had to be street level and had to speak to the eternal. I never had and still don’t care about dollar signs or any of the other trappings of worldly success that happened or might have happened or should have happened or didn't happen, except perhaps, in the financial fallout of spending my college years in ministry and feeling the effects of that far down the road. More, perhaps, on that later.
Just working on the project was the best therapy I could have ever experienced. As the research went on and the project grew I ended up focusing not only on what happened, or what we did, but on what, God did.
I realize that not everything that happened to everyone was positive. No life is only one thing, good or bad, but I wanted to remember the good because I, myself, needed to hear it. I needed to remember it. I didn't, and don't want to, ignore anything negative in a historical sense, but I knew that for my own healing and the healing of others I talked to, the negative has a tendency to overwhelm and dominate the landscape. Through grass-roots testimonials, Tales of Agape, became my contribution, balancing the scales a bit. These stories ministered to me and provided an added foundation for trusting God even when "stuff happens" that we don't understand. Stuff that is painful; that doesn't end as we expect it should.
Then suddenly, in a series of unfortunate events, it all stopped and the project went on a very long hiatus. Since then it has never been far from my heart and many times I have thought and prayed and tried to pick it up again. Even if just to finish it and call it done. But that was the problem. It didn't feel done.
The project which only ever had a working title of "Tales of Agape" still enjoys hiatus; over 20 years of Sabbath rest. Bits of it have gotten into other things that have gotten out there to some of you. Now a new generation and perhaps new eyes with which to see and, hopefully, appreciate our past have come to adulthood.
For a while now, In my spirit, something else has been echoing and keeps saying, "It's time."
What I thought might be a book may still be someday. But in the meantime I think it will, instead, become a blog. In these blog posts I hope to renew, revisit, and re-examine the central question and my own answer to it. Not just through my own story, but through the lives and stories of others. Also, I will edit and roll out the stories from the original unfinished manuscript.
The answers I got because of the research and writing of the original group of stories provided the motivation for me to walk the last 20 plus years in a completely different way than I might have otherwise. So that part was TOTALLY worth it. It is time to see what it will become.
I welcome input and seek other stories from a wider cross section of alumni. There are certainly many more out there and I would love to hear yours.
Who knows where this will lead? None of us knows what our life will be like tomorrow. But even when the endings seem in sight we know that there are new beginnings. And not just for us, for those who follow, also.