In the Fall of 2011, I entered the doors of James River Church for my freshmen orientation. It really hit me that day that I was a college student, I was going to start class on Monday, my mom was leaving me that afternoon, and nothing was about to derail that train. I had no idea what was going to take place at James River College over the next two years; only God knew.
I can confidently stand here today and tell you that my first day at James River College started a path I have been following ever since. I have no regrets, and praise God for His faithfulness and goodness for where He has brought me! Despite all of this, if I could go back in time, I would lovingly sit down with 19-year-old Ariel and tell her these four things:
1. If you think you have any idea of what college will be like, throw it out the window!
When I reflect on my time at James River College, the one thing that constantly comes to mind is that the whole experience was not what I thought it would be. In fact, it was better than I could have imagined!
But in honesty, there were hard times. There were some valleys to trudge through, but there were also mountaintops to revel in. At James River College, God takes you on a journey that is tailor-made for you and if you choose to follow His leading, you’ll become exactly the leader He is calling you to be.
At the start of my first semester, it was very apparent to me that God was going to do things His way. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” And that was exactly what I needed to do; wherever He turned me, I needed to go. I can truly say much of what I experienced was not planned or expected, but I praise God for all that happened because without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
2. You’re going to be different; you’re going to be better.
Over the course of those two years at James River College, I became a different person than when I started. How so? I was spiritually stronger, I had more experience and wisdom than when I began, and most importantly, my relationship with God was closer. If I could have told myself about the things I would learn and experience while at James River College, my mind wouldn’t have been able to conceive it.
At James River College, I had a first-class ticket to see the inner workings of a megachurch and got to learn from amazing leaders who cared about me and helped me become the best version of myself. As a Worship Practicum student, I learned that leading people into an authentic encounter with God is why we should always give our all in worship.
Being around the incredible leaders at James River Church made me want to better myself, push myself as a vocalist and leader, and believe for more. At the end of my time at James River College, I felt that God built in me a solid foundation like I had never known, and it was a foundation that I would continue to build upon in to my future.
3. You’re going to have to keep learning a thing or two.
Although James River College is ministry driven, it was truly only about half of my focus – school and academics required my attention as well. Every class I took was worth real college credit and earned me an Associate of Arts Degree in Leadership through Evangel University, so it was important to give my studies my full attention.
Being a James River College student isn’t just about excelling as a leader in ministry, it’s about being a leader in every area of your life. Your life is a ministry to everyone around you, so bring your best everywhere you go and in all that you do; this includes schooling.
4. You will travel a path only a leader can follow.
Toward the end of my time at James River College, I had an internship lined up at a church close to my home in Pennsylvania. I had been in communication with the church for months and they even created the internship position specifically for me.
A week before graduation, though, I felt a firm direction in my heart from God that I was not supposed to take the internship in Pennsylvania. I was left not knowing where to go and what I was going to do after college. For my futuristic-self, this was the ultimate cause of anxiety. Little did I know, God had a plan.
To make a long story short, backing out of the internship opened a door for me to intern at James River Church and continue my time there. Within a month of interning, it led to a full-time job in the Worship and Production Department, which was where my passion was. Even further into the future, this internship was the start of an incredible journey of doors and opportunities opening to develop myself as a worship leader in the church.
I think back to the moment I heard God tell me not to take the internship in Pennsylvania– I didn’t understand what He was wanting me to do. I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and frightened. If I could, I would go back and tell myself, “Ariel, if you only knew that this moment of uncertainty is a continuation of the incredible journey God has for you. You spent two years being crafted into a leader only to launch you further into all the more of what God has for you.”
It was a path I not have been able to follow without my time at James River College paving the way. It was a path I could not go without the experience and knowledge of what I gained at James River College. It was a path only a leader could follow.
The Best Is Yet To Come
God used my time and experience at James River College in an incredible way to bring about change within me. I am reminded of Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers in Genesis 45 when he says, “So now it was not you who sent me here, but God…” Joseph’s perspective of everything he went through and the outcomes he experienced were all a result of God working in his life.
God conducted the journey of Joseph’s life to bring about His will and create Joseph into the leader He was calling Joseph to be. God used James River College to make me into a leader. If I could go back, I would tell myself these things to put my mind at ease, build anticipation in my heart of all that was to come, and finally, to generate gratitude in my spirit for what God was about to do in and through me. The best was yet to come and it still is.