Sunday, October 18, 2009

Alumni Speech: 10/18/2009

Good morning, my name is Jess Samples and I am a Senior International Studies Major.

Last fall, I stopped out at Taylor. I transferred to the University of Virginia in order to enroll in a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. I flew to the Bahamas on August 28th and embarked on a remarkable journey. I proceeded to live on a ship for 4 months, traveling to Brazil, across the Atlantic Ocean to Namibia and South Africa, then to India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and Japan, across the Pacific Ocean to Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal and back to Miami Florida on December 14th. I visited a total of ten countries and took class on the ship along with 700 peers from an amalgamation of universities across the country. My professors were all from either Stanford or the University of Virginia.

My journey took me down dirt roads on horseback, it rocked me to sleep in hammocks late into the evening, challenged me to understand violence: from slavery, atomic bombs and HIV to the abandoned, neglected, scorned and forgotten. My journey shook me, it woke me up to sunrises at sea, to the lightness of the ship on the ocean: like my burdens in Jesus' hands. To the futility of life. To white consciousness. my journey took me on reckless rickshaws, quiet catamarans, hurried bullet trains and secluded subways through the hidden cu chi tunnels and the starry Namib Desert, through apartheid and it's remnants, the flooded streets of Ha Noi, the Great Wall, and endless tea fields in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. It taught me the brevity of life: as we lost a precious and dear friend in Hong Kong.

When I first came home, I was overwhelmed. My parents and dear friends were incredible: teaching me patience and gentleness. I cam back to Taylor absolutely distraught. I felt like it was a mistake to wake up for 4 months, asking Jesus to borrow his eyes. I was not meant to see what he sees. The Pain, emptiness and want that I saw, all juxtaposed against those who have plenty, who are known, who are not in need, was all overbearing. But then He told me a story: the precious and powerful story of when he healed the paralytic. He reminded me of how He did it, "Remember? I said, 'Your sins are forgiven' and then, so they would know my authority to do so, I made him to stand'". He gave me His eyes gain, this time not for clarity of sight; but rather, perspective. Jesus Christ is my living and powerful Savior who saved me first from my sin, and now is working on healing me of its effects.

So, I have let Him lead the remainder of this dance: Semester at Sea was incredible, but when Kurt Leswing died in Hong Kong, all the University of Virginia had to offer was its academics. No hope offered, no truth or light to be made evident. The bombastic shipmates who blamed the Christian God for colonization and slavery (and most other suffering in the World) were broken, and too hopeless or perhaps stubborn to allow Jesus to meet them where they were.

But at Taylor, God has supplied some answers, in His time. He has taught me through Dr. Corduan, to learn wisdom and moral instruction and to discern wise counsel. Jesus has taught me through Dr. Lay and Steve Austin, that it does not work to keep humbling myself, that I must cease to seek information bias, and desire a heart that pleads for Jesus to correct me when I am wrong. Through Dr. Seeman: I've learned the beauty of conviction: that he cannot hardly speak truth without it affecting him. Jesus has taught me through my peers here at Taylor, to pursue knowledge insomuch as I am first pursuing the Lord, to not be afraid to learn trust or love through the risk of attempting them in the strength of Christ.

I realized months after I returned from my voyage, that "my journey" was really Jesus. He took me down those dirt roads on horseback, taught me of violence on both macro and personal levels. He rocked me to sleep in hammocks late into the evening in Salvador. He enlightened me on the brevity of life, of cognitive and affective empathy and that in the beginning, was Father, Son and Spirit: in the beginning was love and relationship. Love and relationship have been at the beginning through the Trinity, and I am not invited into this dance, invited to accept as well as offer this love and to accept as well as enter into this relationship.

Thank you Lord,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Building Castles In The Air

I feel like I am a living dichotomy.


A year ago today, I would have told you that it was us. That God has enabled his people to complete his mission, and to bring his kingdom. Heck, he even taught us how to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”. However, I have found myself in a different place this year.

            On my voyage last semester, I was struck with something called, ‘white consciousness’. I was in South Africa in an Art Museum during Heritage weekend. I remember it well. I had been stunned by the beautiful marriage of art and societal issues in this culture. Apartheid had its influence, and it was more than just a legislative influence. I remember walking past a statue which absolutely struck me. It was a statue of an African man’s face, a black statue. He had a white cloth draped over his head, and was holding the edge of it in his hand, in a contemplative manner. This is when white consciousness struck me.

      Never before had I seen a statue of an African man. In fact, almost every statue I have ever seen was generally a man, and one of European decent (other than the one I mention now, and one of Stalin I saw in Vietnam later that month). I could not believe it. How could I have never seen an elated figure in society, to the point of being molded into a statue, that was of African origin?

     Suddenly, my error was ever before me. I can quote 1 Corinthians 7:17 to you on any day, at any given time. But I realized as my voyage went on, how much I have missed it. Ever since I became a Christian, I have wanted to better someone else’s life. I have honestly wished I was poor at times, or of some other descent. I have coveted the poor and their few material possessions. I have hated myself for being incapable of relating, and for trying to relate when I clearly cannot. God slowly began to reveal the truth of a verse such as 1 Corinthians 7:17 to me: I am white, and I am privileged, and I do have an education, and I do love God, and I do love others, and I do want his kingdom to come.

       I should not have to reject who I have been created as, in order to love God and love others well. I should use my whiteness, and my privilege, and God’s heart in me to do more for the people of this world, and to bring His love to them. God corrected my compassion to be less of a disservice to me, and allowed me to remember that he already was the sacrifice: that I do not have to be. I sacrifice, not by denying my identity, but by founding that identity upon the Godhead.

      Now, I see that juxtaposition of the white cloth draped over the black man, and I feel it. It affects me and I am moved. I feel it in my life. As I sift through the Bible yet again, for not merely half truths, but for whole truths. When a year ago, I would wish to live in an almost socialist way, I now study the Word, and I do not see God condemning all people of private property rights. However, I see him warning them against any heartfelt connection to their property. This sense of idolatry works its way into both extremes in the sense of which I am speaking. One could be defined by the material possessions one procures and arrogant as he or she consumes ignorant of ethics or morals in a free-market capitalist society believing God to bring his Kingdom in His time, in His way therefore lessening the responsibility of His people. One could be instead,  be so caught up in social justice and giving all one has to the poor in an attempt to bring God’s Kingdom as his children, and easily fall into Adam and Eve’s trap becoming his or her own God, in a self-gratifying manner, and perhaps even a self-identifying manner. Either extreme is to fall short of the main point in my own perspective.

            Today in Chapel, Dr. MacDonald from Scotland summed it up well. Our exclusive passion should be God himself. Not ministry, not fellowship, not gifts. Simply God. Shane Caliborne also said it well, as he spoke tonight at Taylor. As we loosen our ties to our material possessions, we do begin to consume less and share more. The Gospel is then capable of its truest form: both vertical (personal) and horizontal (corporate).

            I have to end with a touch of my own story. I have a friend who lived on a ship with me last semester. She was kind of a free spirit. I remember getting so frustrated sometimes, because she always wanted to share with everyone. She felt like she was being hospitable, when someone felt comfortable coming into her room, and taking whatever they want that was hers. That aggravated me. She would ask me for my things too. I thought, “no way jose, you are not going to just give me things so you can take mine, I don’t think so”. As the semester continued, I realized how unimportant her material possessions were to her. Her heart was for the Lord, so those things would come and go, and she would not be worried. I saw her ability to trust God himself. Not just the church, or her prayer partner or something, but God to be her protector and provider, and that he would provide through her.


I’m not suggesting a hate toward those who serve the poor by any means. I  am encouraging the use of education while staying grounded in humanity of all kinds.


May you choose to trust God by giving away your extra cloak this week. May you feed him, and clothe him as you do so to the least of these this very week. May we use our identities regardless of status, for the further growth of His kingdom, and for the least of these. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Plan B

You can e-mail me at
I won't be able to respond but every few weeks, but that is free for me, and this costs me money!

Also e-mail me if you haven't already and have not gotten the updates I've already sent out (I only sent out one or two)

I leave Brazil tonight for Namibia!

Love you all.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Floating Waltz

3 days left in the states. I have absolutely no clue whatsoever as to what my life will be like this semester. I have never in my life lived on a boat, nor have I gone out of the country with a group of people who were not a christian affiliated group other than once to Jordan for 10 days. This is an entirely new situation. I am studying abroad, but I am very much so also on a cruise ship. That is strange. I am living with a bunch of people who are not affiliated with Christianity innately. That is also a first in college. Meanwhile, most of the people who have impacted my life deeply the past few years are all collecting in a little place called Upland Indiana, where they will begin a reunion of love and hope (also known as the fall semester at Taylor). And I am distraught with emotion and am letting the emotion run through my veins as much as possible, so as not to build up walls of apathy to hide any hint of sadness in my choice of absence. 

Ok... I'm rambling. I'll write more as I feel it necessary, or as I have thoughts to give each of you. 

Know, that you are deeply loved... by one who will NEVER leave you for 3.5 months. He will never leave you nor forsake you. 

In that love, and in his peace,


Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Well, in 14 days I will be in the Bahamas. In 1 month I will be on the ship, on my way to Africa, after spending a week in Brazil. That is the future.

This summer I worked at God's House and Cracker Barrel. I fell in love with Marion, and I was scared to death by an impending relationship. That was this summer.

Now I have two weeks to soak up as much time as possible with a couple of friends in the Chicago area, with the not-so 'impending' relationship and to prepare for travel. That is where I am living at now. 

I cannot believe how excited I am to go on this trip, but I cannot believe how much I've learned this summer about community. I am so excited to learn more about COMMUNITY through other countries. But more than that, instead of running from communities here... I'm going to learn from these communities and try to bring a lot of the beauty in other cultures back with me. What a beautiful world.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The birth and death of day.

This morning I woke up to what seemed like a storm of paparazzi in my room. It was dark, but the flashes came and I fled for cover. Good thing the covers were already up to my neck, I just had to grab them with both hands and pull them six inches higher over my eyes. I tried to guess how early it was. The lightening storm made the sky gloomy and dark between strikes, so it seemed early. I guessed 6AM. Ha, I looked at my watch; 9:30. Could I really have been up until 3:30AM?! Between family dinner and games, after E and S had gone to bed, saying goodnight to Ron and Dar (my parents for the summer), writting letters to people I love before I leave, and staying up late talking with GA some more, I just rolled over, laughed out loud twice, and realized that if I wanted to take my sleep more seriously I couldn't start thinking that quickly and to that extent so early in the morning. I shut my eyes and realized that my brain was already up, and tugging at my body to get up like a 7 year old would in the summer mornings when all an at-home parent could possibly wish for is another 2 or 3 hours of sleep. Shoot. Ok, fine. To the kitchen. And such was the morning.

How did the rest of the day go? Well, I fear that I would legitimately bore you. But I spent a beautiful day with two beatiful young women, played Clue with the family and GA (and I won... mind you). I said goodbye to Ron today. He's leaving at 5AM to go swimming as he usually does before work. I wonder if Ron will ever know how much he means to me as a father figure. But then again, I really don't wonder. There is no way Ron will ever understand, because he matters more to me than most men in my life. He really is right there under my own father. I also know that it is different now that you are 20, and I can't just say things like that. Well, I will not lie- after that thought I had a sigh of relief. It makes everything a little bit cleaner cut if people don't know how much they matter to you. Shoot, after that thought I got choked up. E, D and S will be wished a goodbye tomorrow morning. Don't even get me started. How do I ever attempt to say goodbye to these roses in a life plagued with thorns (ok, my life isn't 'plagued with thorns' but I thought that sounded cool).

All I know, is at the end of the day, I was at R and J's house listening to R talk with God about me. It was a strange sound, but holding hands, J, G, R and I held hands on the ground and talked with God. The small elephant in their laundry room was slightly distracting, but I'm sure it will get tired and eventually dry their clothes. But over the distracting broken drier, I could feel God respond to R. I could feel his love and his gentle presence in the room right infront of me, just staring at my face; and his creation. I could sense his presence and knew he heard us and saw us gather and trust him some more. On the ground at R & Js house was where I knew God was. He was there 4 months prior when R talked with God about my trip to Jordan, and he was still there now. But the thing is, I knew it wasn't just because God had taken residence in the carpet of my friends house in this town, but rather that God was with me.

It was kinda like when you get in a fight with someone stubborn. They know it isn't best for you to necessarily walk away and put up walls, and they don't just sit and 'talk it out' so they just don't let you leave their presence. They will wrestle you, push you, hold you... whatever they need to do just to let you know that they love you, but they won't explain away or let you go. That is where God and I are now. He won't let me go, but he's not explaining himself. He just goes where I go. He doesn't let me build up walls from him, he loves but doesn't explain his love right now. I am stuck on the recieving end for now.

Well, now here I am, summarizing those thoughts. I'll be in Naperville tomorrow night. I cannot hardly believe that. C, DJ, J, R, E, S, D, R... and anyone else in the Marion area... you are loved.


Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm Home Hurray!

Well, Wednesday morning I will be loading up and heading to the Chicagoland area. This place has a piece of me. It has taken ownership of a large part of me and I cannot pretend that I can reclaim that piece as mine. My Marion family, my friends on Washington Street, 10th, Spencer and those on 6th and boots have stolen my heart. I am so excited to be back in this place when I am next.
This has been by far the best summer I've had in years... and possibly ever. I cannot believe the absolute fun I have had this summer, along with the absolute transformation God has taken me through. Things that were concrete before are not just being shaken but have been bulldozed down in order to make room for new thought, for walls that are further reaching than before. God has enlarged my heart to fit him in a little bit more. Now, the next few months he will be enlarging my mind. 24 days and counting until I will be on the ship. In one month exactly, I will be 2 and a half days from the port of Brazil. I will have already spent one full week on the ship.
I hope that God is shaking you beyond what you thought your capacity was previously. I hope he is constantly stretching you so that you are constantly aware of your need for him. I hope when I get back to Naperville, I am met by family that is being stretched also, and by one or two friends who have found a way to survive in such deep waters with the bigger fish in the suburbs who are out to kill. May peace go before us all, and may it be the peace of God that makes peace, instead of just 'keeping' it. You are Loved.