Phase-Two: An Update of Thrive Church

At the end of last month our church had its second Grand Opening at our new location here in Lake Nona. This phase-two launch served as another big push to establish Thrive Church’s presence in our community and to publicly open our new location at a local middle school. Months and months of prayer, planning, and hard work all came to fruition and we were able to welcome about 180 people to Thrive that morning! It was a beautiful sight to see this place of public education transformed into a place of spiritual learning. The band room, choir room, and regular classrooms were crafted into environments for infants all the way up through middle schoolers to learn about Jesus. Within a matter of hours the cafetorium (cafeteria + auditorium) became a worship center where we had our main service. The coolest part is that God provided ALL of this!

Before Setup
Before Thrive’s service set-up
After Setup
After Thrive’s service set-up

Kids' HallwayWe are so excited about all the new opportunities that are to come in this school! Just the fact that we have so much more space is a huge blessing, because more space means room for more people and their kids to comfortably come and be in a warm, spiritual, learning environment. We cannot thank our Jesus and the leadership and administrators at the school enough for making this space available to us.

Worship

 

Our hearts are full and we are celebrating our new space, but not for the sake of the space itself. Our celebration isn’t because we have a brand new building to meet in with shiny floors and classrooms that hadn’t been touched until a couple of months ago. Our celebration isn’t because we have an actual stage from which to lead worship with a full band and to give sermons. It isn’t because we have an entire multi-purpose room to use for our services and now we can break out our pipe-and-drape and make use of our stage lighting. Our celebration is not because we’re that much closer to meeting aesthetic expectations and living up to the modern-church culture.

Our hearts are full and we are celebrating because this larger space allows us to welcome more people to join our church family as we all pursue God together. We’re celebrating because we have more space for babies and children and middle school students to be introduced to Jesus and His love for them. We’re celebrating because we have more resources to reach people where they are at spiritually and to teach people of all ages in the way that they learn most effectively. We’re celebrating because we can welcome and provide enough space for mamas with strollers, the disabled with service dogs, and the elderly with wheelchairs into our main service. We’re celebrating because the ability to include more gives us the opportunity to serve more, and therefore the opportunity to love more.

This is not so much a defense of our new space as it is a reminder. For me. For my church. For the Church. May this remind us and encourage us to keep Jesus at our innermost core as we minister to our communities in ways that are culturally relevant. What is so beautiful about the Church is that churches will look different in the ways that they minister and teach. In fact, they must look different in some aspects in order to effectively reach the cultures and people groups of their community. What unites us all is Jesus as our center, offering the hope of salvation and extending grace so rich that it seems foolish to the human mind and love so great that we can’t even begin to measure it.

We are grateful to have been able to see how God has provided for Thrive and are so humbled that we get to be a part of His work in our community. May His name be praised through it all!

 

Will you pray for us as we continue serving and working in our church and community?

  • Pray that Thrive will continue to grow and be a gathering place for people of every generation, culture, and background to come experience Jesus.
  • Pray for the many groups within our church that will start or continue to meet on a regular basis, like our community groups and the middle/high school groups. Lauro and I are currently leading the high school group and are working on starting a college-age/young adult community group in the near future, and we’re very excited about both!
  • Pray for perseverance and rest for our family as this season of our life is definitely requiring a lot of work physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Thank you so very much for your prayers and support! Are there ways that we can be praying for you in this season of your life? If so, please let us know and we would love to pray for you as well!

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Baby Palm Trees

How does one find and secure a sense of place? A sense of home? A sense of belonging?

These are questions my conscience has been begging for answers to for quite some time, and the most frustrating part about that is the answer is simple: time. It takes time for a place to feel like home in your mind and heart. It takes time to take ownership of unfamiliar geography, claiming it as your own space of relaxation and returning.

It takes time, and time during which we can wait around, watching time drag its feet and when it reaches a destination that is the acceptable, man-made finish line that we declare to be the end of our struggle with waiting for our sense of home, we are exasperated and exclaim, “Finally!”

Or, we can walk alongside time and watch and learn and grow our sense of place and home little by little, encouraging our hearts and reminding them that yes, this is home and this is right. This is our new place of belonging and where our hearts are settling in and embracing the geography, the culture, and the people. This is where God has guided us and for which he has provided beyond what we need, and where He will continue to provide for us, His children.

Too often I find myself in the shoes of the first, in constant anticipation of the day I will finally call Orlando home and default to that answer when people ask me where I’m from. Right now that answer goes something like, “Well I lived in Missouri for two years for school, but I was born and raised in Kansas,” to which I get an unenthused, “Oh, okay…” Sorry, Midwest. Don’t get me wrong, my heart will always have a special love for the Midwest; I spent the first 21 years of my life there! All the while, though, I find myself waiting for that supposed breakthrough moment where one morning I will wake up and joyfully declare that this is my home, and I feel it and know it and believe it with every part of my being. This anticipated moment probably isn’t even a thing, kind of like having that one epiphany, that one realization, that one moment when you just know that your significant other is “the one” and that you want to spend the rest of your life with them. (Yup. Spoiler alert: that’s not always the case. Another lesson learned through the slow and intentional walking with time.)

But we are here and we know we’re staying. Our actions reflect those of a family who is settling in and putting down roots in a place they will call home. Though it hasn’t been easy, it seems that now we have our lives in order logistically: we have a place to live, we both have jobs, and we have a place to serve. We’ve been a part of the events our church has put on leading up to our second grand opening on September 24, one of which was a Sunday morning service at the beach! Not only was it amazing to have church at one of my favorite places in nature, it was such a beautiful celebration as well because we got to celebrate four people from our church family being baptized! We had a short service and then simply walked right down from the pavilion straight to the water, witnessing our brothers and sisters declaring their faith and dedicating their lives to serving and loving Jesus.Baptisms

Lauro has been quite busy making preparations in the area of worship for our grand opening next month. His main focus has been on assembling a worship team from scratch, and can I just say that this man was made for a job like this? I am so proud of how hard he has worked to build relationships with people inside and outside of our church, and through those relationships invited people to join our brand new worship team and be a part of our church family. I’m so amazed at how easy it is for him to network and connect with people of all backgrounds, truly out of love for them, and invite them to be a part of something amazing with us. God has definitely gifted him in that area, and even though there are days that he comes home exhausted from a day full of meetings and in the middle of a coffee crash, he knows that the work he’s doing is his niche and his passion, and that it’s results can and will be eternal.

MarriottThis past Sunday we had our last service at the beloved hotel conference room that served as Thrive’s very first meeting place, and beginning in September we’ll be at our new home in Lake Nona’s newest middle school that just opened this school year. Prior to that we’re having a back-to-school bash in one of the parks here in Lake Nona, complete with worship, food, community, and bounce houses for the kiddos.

As for the month of September, the first three weeks will serve as practice services where we will settle into our new meeting place and get the feel for things before we invite entire communities to join us for our second grand opening next month. So much preparation and behind-the-scenes work has been (and is still being) done by the church staff and many volunteers to make this launch possible. As much as we loved the intimacy of our space at the hotel, we are excited to get the chance to stretch our limbs and open our doors to host even more people on Sunday mornings. As we expand into our new space our prayer is that our influence in the community will also expand and broaden as we invite people to live their lives under the love of Jesus and experience the truth and the wholeness that is found in Him.

As our first summer as Florida residents is coming to a close we are amazed at how much God has been teaching us just over that past couple of months. If you were to ask me what those things are, I’d probably chuckle a little and say something like, “Well, let me count the ways…” The learning curve has been HIGH, my friends, and I don’t see that decreasing any time soon. We have loved our community and being a part of this church plant. We are still trying to settle our souls and our hearts into this place, as if they need convincing that, “Yes, this is home now. You can own it, plant down your roots, embrace the depth of the cool soil and let the water that falls from the sky hydrate you and give you life.” It hasn’t always been easy, but we know that it will take time for us to embrace this city as our home. (Simultaneously, Orlando is one of the largest vacation destinations in the country, and look! Everyone here is on vacation so we must be on vacation too, right?) As our roots are slowly being planted we so desire to keep our friends and loved ones in the Midwest close to our hearts and part of our lives, because without them we would not even be where and who we are today. They are just as much a part of this story in Lake Nona as we are, and we’ll always be so thankful for them.

So for now we are like baby trees, slowly and steadily deepening our roots and growing in our environment while being constantly supported by solid beams that are our family, our friends, and our church families of the past and the present.

Or rather, we are like baby palm trees.

Baby Palm Trees
Baby palms just outside of our apartment building

Will you join us as we saturate our phase-two launch in prayer? The power of our God is limitless and his influence knows no bounds. Our deepest desire is that we will be faithful servants as he launches HIS church and continues to live out his vision for the community of Lake Nona through us. We praise him in advance and thank you all for your irreplaceable love and support.

Hello, Orlando!

We made it. We made it. We made it.

As I write this I’m sitting in our sun patio, watching cars drive by on the road in front of our apartment in the cool yet humid air as a light rain falls. At 72 degrees it’s the coolest it has been in the afternoon since we arrived. When we got here we were greeted by temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties (and not to mention the Florida humidity!), and it has rained every day since. Welcome to Florida!

Florida State Line
Crossing the Florida State Line

It took us a total of two days, about 22 hours of travel time, four people, two cars, and one moving truck to get here. We left Joplin mid-morning about three weeks ago on a Monday and arrived in Lake Nona on Tuesday in the late afternoon. It seems so typical to describe the drive as “long” when people ask me how it was, but that’s truly the best way to describe it. As someone who hates driving, this trip was LONG. And I didn’t even drive the entire time like some of our driving crew did! Without a lot of things to break up the monotony of the drive, I was thankful when we got to pass through big cities that I had never been to before, like Nashville and Atlanta. When we passed through Nashville it was right as the sun was setting, and seeing the sun and sky reflect off of all the downtown buildings was absolutely beautiful. I was driving at that point, so I didn’t get to take it all in at once like I wanted to, but luckily Lauro was in the passenger seat and he got some great photos for me.

 

We finally made it to Lake Nona and our apartment complex, and after a quick check in and some final paperwork we were able to begin moving in to our new home! We were so blessed by the people who came from the church to help us unload our stuff and start unpacking. By that night we had the master and guest beds assembled and the kitchen all unpacked and put away—a big accomplishment! Especially when you’re doing all of that without air conditioning. Yes, that’ right. Our air conditioner was broken the minute we walked in the door. The filter was completely frozen over, so there wasn’t any amount of cool air being produced to relieve us from the Florida heat. It wasn’t until about a week later that it was finally fixed after two attempts by apartment maintenance and one by an outside A/C company. (There’s always got to be something that goes wrong, right? I honestly would have been worried if there wouldn’t have been any problems at all when we moved in. At that point in the moving process we just expected road bumps and inconveniences and learned to go with the flow.)

The Sotos
Pre-move photo of our little family

So here we are, starting our new life in Orlando, Florida. We had our first Sunday with Thrive Church on the 4th of this month and it made us so excited for the growth the church is experiencing now and how it will grow in the future. We’re starting to build more connections and relationships with people and deepen the relationships we had when we got here. Just thinking about how this church is going to expand and impact the community and reach people and teach and disciple and worship and love, all for the glory of God? I feel like a giddy little kid just thinking about it! Jesus is just so good, so, so good, and I want everyone to know and experience that goodness.

What is so amazing about serving our good God is that you get to be part of a body full of His people who are striving for the same thing: to live like Jesus. There is no way we would have been able to make it to Florida without the help of our friends and family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Without them, we could have just forgotten about packing up our house in Joplin and loading up the moving truck. Driving our two cars and the truck to Florida would have been impossible. And even if we would have made it that far, I can guarantee that Lauro and I would have been absolutely MISERABLE travelling for a combined 22 hours without any help. It would’ve taken many hours to unload all of our stuff into our new apartment and get it all unpacked. Just imagining how our move would’ve gone if we had to do it all alone frightens me! I don’t think I can ever thank our people enough for how much they helped us. On both ends of the move we had so many people helping us, encouraging us, and giving us advice (and as young, married college students whose biggest move was a six-hour drive hauling our stuff in a borrowed horse trailer, we needed all the advice we could get!). People have packed, loaded, driven countless hours, unloaded, unpacked, suffered in the heat, offered us a place to stay with air conditioning, and provided household goods, food, and meals, all for us! I feel so undeserving, but that’s what following Jesus is all about, right? Giving to and loving those who don’t deserve it? That’s what Jesus did for us all, right?

I will always be so thankful for God’s people. He created us for community and to do life alongside other believers, and this move has shown me just how vital that is. By design we were made to be together, living and loving and serving others and each other. We were made to help shoulder one another’s burdens and to rejoice alongside each other’s victories. As the family of God we need each other to encourage and build one another up, not for our benefit, but so that we are able to go out and show people the love of Jesus with a full and encouraged heart sustained by the limitless love of our God and the support of our fellow believers.

Will you continue praying for us as we settle in to our new life in Orlando?

  • I am still looking for a full-time job here. Pray that I will trust in God and be patient, knowing that He will provide one at just the right time.
  • Pray for the Creative Arts ministry at Thrive Church. Lauro has started planning and organizing all the different aspects of this ministry, and soon we will be inviting people to join us in serving in those different areas. Pray that as the foundations for this are laid that Christ would remain as the center focus.
  • Please continue to pray for our financial support. We have been in absolute awe of how much God has provided for us already. We couldn’t be more grateful! As this is a three-year process, we ask that you will keep praying for the support we have to raise as we continue to trust our Provider.