Fourth Year Reflection: John Barry
“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” -Exodus 3:5
Some places hold a holy significance in our lives because in them, we encounter the presence of the Lord. Before God called him to the burning bush, Moses fled from the land in which he was born. He was in a foreign land among a people not his own. He probably had no idea what the Lord had planned for his life. As Moses approached the burning bush, God made Moses aware of his presence, aware that Moses was in a holy space, and also aware of His own character.
Coming into college, I had a knowledge of God, and I had a relationship with him. Even though I was following the Lord, I encountered many of the fears of going into such a new and different stage of life. Chief among those fears was the fear of what it meant to keep the faith in college. I feared that it would be an environment where it would be difficult to resist the temptation to seek things other than the Lord. I had no idea whether college could be a place where I could deepen in my relationship with Jesus. I could not see the future that the Lord had for me, and I had no idea that college would be the greatest place of spiritual growth that I had seen thus far.
When I think back on my time at UVA, I can clearly see how He has used physical spaces to reveal Himself to me. The Study Center has been one of those places. Right from the start, the Study Center was a beacon of hope: a burning bush in the desert. It has served as a place to see the presence of the Lord: in times of worship in the back room, sunrises from the library, enjoying the beauty of spring from the porch, or the warmth of the fire on a snowy day. I have been brought into His holiness through time in the prayer room. He has revealed more of His character through enriching conversations in the kitchen, and wisdom-filled lectures from people much farther along in their faith.
Throughout my first two years of college the Study Center was a place of immense encouragement and community. I met so many friends who encouraged me deeply in my faith and commitment to Christ. These same people were the people that I could count on in a time of need, or when I just wanted a friend to have fun with. Additionally, as I started to get to know more of the Study Center staff, I would be blessed with the wisdom and insight of older friends who love walking college students through the joys and struggles of becoming an adult, and learning to walk out faith. From the first month at UVA and throughout those first two years, I learned that faith is not limited to surviving college. Instead, faith can thrive when you live within a community like the one created by the Study Center.
Much like Moses at the burning bush, these sacred encounters were purposeful and timely. The Lord did not intend for Moses to stay at the burning bush forever. Rather, the Lord gave this experience as a gift and as a calling. His encounter with the Lord was intended to empower him to bring his people into the hope and realization he himself experienced.
I believe this is my experience with the Study Center. The community I have experienced, the things I have learned about the Lord, and subsequently learned about myself, have been beautiful. The “Stud” gave me the ability to be loved and welcomed. From Move-In Day Lunch to Exam Snacks, free coffee during late night study sessions to people who took time away from important tasks to talk with me, people poured their time and resources into caring for me, especially in those first two years of college. As time continued, the community that first poured into me began to be entrusted to me. Over the last two years in this community, I was able to be the one making coffee, preparing for events, and being available for conversation as an intern.
I have been blessed to be part of the hospitality team for the past two years. Through it I have been able to see the work that various staff members put into maintaining the Study Center as a place where people can encounter the presence of the Lord, through various means. Community takes work. For me to be known and loved took the time and preparation of many people before me. As we receive these blessings, the Lord also intends for us to take up the invitation to help others in the way He has helped us through others. Through participating in the hospitality team, I learned that creating a welcoming environment takes so much work, but I also realized that it is a work that I love doing. It is a beautiful thing to participate in the hospitable heart of our Father.
These experiences were only for a time, but they extend towards a present and a future purpose. What the Lord has extended to me, I can now extend to others. The Lord has blessed me with an uplifting community so that I can help create that environment as I walk into new communities. As I go forward to other places and environments, I realize that I will not always have communities as rich as the Study Center. I do know, however, that I go forward from this burning bush, this place of the Lord’s presence, with the knowledge that where His presence is, it is holy. And He is with me.
John Barry, CLAS '18