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A Response to COVID-19 & Recent Events, With Love From SMU

Dear Biola Community, SMU volunteers, parents, and whom it may concern:

Well, the last few weeks have certainly been some of the most odd, painful, confusing, unknown moments. Significant loss occurred, life was out on pause in unique ways, big decisions were made and are still being made that are somewhat painful and difficult to deal with.

I wanted to write this sooner, but in complete honesty, it’s been so tender and sensitive, I’ve been kind of avoiding touching school and work out of deep grief and sadness.

I want to acknowledge that our entire campus has experienced an intense grief and loss in this space- my fellow seniors grieve as we miss out on graduation and the closure of our last year at this incredible university, goodbyes that came too soon, classes ending, going home, events and activities cancelled, jobs lost.

We went to our last class, our last activity, our last event, our last shift…

And we didn’t even know.

And in the midst of a pandemic it’s so hard to be a good leader because your human and your grief needs space. And you also need to make space for the grief of those you work so closely with. We are in communal grief.

The Student Missionary Union is a 96 (almost 97!) year old organization. We’ve sent out countless trips locally and globally, had almost 100 Missions Conferences, sent out hundreds if not thousands of volunteers throughout the year, prayed fervently, passed the baton and the Lord has continued to keep us moving forward despite hardships and uncertainties.

But this- this was so uncalled for. And I’m not sure SMU has faced something quite like this. Our job descriptions don’t say “must know how to handle a pandemic” or “lead a staff of 30 people during a pandemic”. I read those things and laugh because it seems so unreal but yet, here we are.

And as a staff we grieve. Deeply. That Tuesday morning when Colton and I found out the global teams would not be sent to their global locations, and then later in the week making the hard decision to not redirect them domestically because of the possibility of what was to come. And that same Tuesday, sitting with Josh and Brynn and weeping as we knew their work for Missions Conference was coming to a close… with only a week left until the conference.

We had our last staff meeting, last event of the year and then we hardly got to say goodbye or have any closure. Our year working tirelessly for this incredible organization just ended.

There is beauty here, I know there is. We know there is beauty here. And there is also deep grief, loss, pain, sadness, anger. That’s life. The tension of grief and joy, beauty and pain.

It’s hard to see everything and think nothing was wasted. It sometimes feels wasted. That’s the tension here- because none of it was wasted, but it’s hard to see that when trips weren’t sent out, when Missions Conference, the whole purpose of the job for an entire year, is just…. cancelled. 

My prayer life has been a lot of asking why, and sitting back and weeping and wondering. I’ve listened to several songs that have words that speak truth and life into a season of sadness. I’ve listened to farther along by Josh Garrels and wept because we just don’t have answers today. Farther along we'll know, and understand, but today we don’t. We can’t. We can’t see the big picture or the grander story that God is writing. This is the mystery of God that is both breathtaking and so incredibly frustrating. The battle that wages between my flesh and my eternal spirit is strong.

There is beauty here. We are seeing how important the process is and was. And the ways we have space for work that we didn’t before. There is beauty here… because I see the ways staff grew into incredible leaders, the ways the board of directors became a family and developed incredible bonds. Because people were impacted and touched in SMU and people who spent time here were able to touch lives too.

This is not wasted because we have made massive leaps and bounds toward bigger and greater, towards inclusivity, professionalism, organization, communication. We’ve made space for openness and learning and we are fighting for change and goodness. Not just doing things because they’ve always been done. Asking why. 

It’s been a year of change and a year of a lot of difficulty. But I’ve seen leaders rise up, I’ve seen the Lord move and answer prayers, and I’ve seen mountains move by our mustard seed faith. God is here. I know He is. Even when it seems like He isn’t. Even when the grief is consuming and I, we, don’t have answers. 

I wanted to say thank you to every person who was a part of SMU, who served whether on staff or volunteer, who prayed, advocated, came alongside, spoke truth, or just simply encouraged a friend to apply. My heart is deeply moved by the incredible community that is built within this organization. It’s been nothing but the deepest honor and greatest privilege to lead this organization and be challenged and humbled by the incredible leaders I work with. I am inspired and in awe of the people God chose for this year and the outstanding impact they are making- this year will go down in history, not just for a pandemic, but for the incredible leaders that have made SMU what it is today, for the people who said yes to change and the unknown and fought for a new way, for the people who spent hours and hours dedicated to making things better, to the unified heart- to my directors and staff who made SMU what it is. You all are people of grace and truth and dedication and obedience to the Father and I could not be more proud of you all.

And to the volunteers- interns, trip leaders, trip members, Missions Conference coordinators, MC staff… SMU wouldn’t function without you. It wouldn’t. Your willingness to follow the Father’s call on your life to missions, to learning, to growing, to sharing His light, to creativity, to leadership, to hard work. You gave up time and energy and created space in your life and I hope and pray that SMU has been a memorable and transformative part of your Biola experience. We couldn’t do what we do without your willingness to step into what the Lord has in SMU.

I am so sad at the abrupt ending of this year. My heart was swelling with excitement to watch Missions Conference happen, to sit in the front row and weep at the goodness of God and the awe of Josh and Brynn and their staff's hard work. I was so excited to see trips go out and watch them from afar as I transitioned out of this role and Bobbi stepped in. 

I am sad but I am hopeful. I continue to hold hands with grief and joy. These friends have carried us and will continue to. We press through the hard to find the joy. The grief turns into beauty and joy. Sorrow turns into glory. Suffering turns into grace. 

It’s been an honor to serve as the 2019-2020 SMU President. Know that I am only ever an email/phone call/text away if you ever need someone to talk with.

We are in this together. The Lord makes us United in our grief… and maybe this is just the Missions Conference theme playing out in a way we never could have anticipated.

So I leave you with this passage:

2 Corinthians 4:7-18

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”[b] Since we have that same spirit of[c] faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

You are loved.

-Carly Michael

SMU President

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