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Seth Graves

Story by Jordan Cox | | Photography by Seth Graves

The light flows through Seth Graves’ Seville, Spain apartment as he settles in for a FaceTime call. It’s where he’s spent most of his time the last 12 months — Spain is still in a stricter lockdown — and life halfway around the world is tough. The lockdown has also forced him and his team to refocus their ministry in a place where there is no evangelical presence, and where you have to think strategically around restrictions.

Seth works with a church in Seville — a completely unchurched area. The church was started by the International Mission Board and seeks to engage a part of the city with no evangelical presence. They’ve offered English chats, and a men’s and women’s Bible study on the narrative of Scripture, both of which meet in local restaurants under social distancing guidelines. Those two pandemic initiatives have garnered so much interest that they continue today, and Seth now leads the youth ministry at the church plant.

A road trip that took a few exits off the highway led Seth to Seville. In 2011, as a college student at Shades, he went on a mission trip to Seville. He was studying Spanish at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, had been on mission trips in high school, and was interested in going to Spain. Seth spent his spring break serving in the southern Spanish city and went again in 2012. “That’s what piqued my interest in Spain,” Seth says over a FaceTime call in mid-February. “When I graduated in 2013, I moved back [to Spain] to teach English.” Seth’s first stint living in Seville lasted nine months, but it was his first introduction in 2011 that made him long to return.

Seth first felt a call to international missions in high school. At a Student Life Camp one summer, the Holy Spirit worked in a way that he still recalls with a sense of wonder. “The speaker said, ‘I think there are people in here who are called to international missions. If you feel like that’s you, I want you to raise your hand,’” Seth remembers. “I had never really thought about it. I had been on a couple mission trips with my youth group. I raised my hand, and I knew with a certainty that this was something God was calling me to.” From that moment, he looked for opportunities to go on short-term trips overseas.

A new missions pastor came to Seth’s home church as a senior in high school, and the two began a season of discipleship. “That very much sparked in me an interest and a realization of the importance of discipleship,” Seth says. It was this interest that got him connected to Shades.

Mission Trips

SPRING BREAK 2011

First trip to Spain

SPRING BREAK 2012

Returns to Spain on second mission trip

SEPT. 2013-JUNE 2014

Lives in Seville teaching English

JULY 2014

Return to Birmingham

A friend he met as a freshman at UAB attended Shades, and a few weeks after visiting with his friend, Seth became a watchcare member and DGroup leader. His spiritual for-mation and ministry gifts flourished during his season as a church member. He worked as a Kids Kamp counselor for eight summers — “I realized I liked working with kids,” he says — and taught Missionaries in Training, giving children a glimpse into missions. “That’s the period of my life where I really began to take my faith seriously and what it meant to grow in my relationship with the Lord,” Seth says. “Shades helped with making sure my heart was right before I went to the mission field.”

Because of Seth’s calling to missions, and because of its role as a celebration of God’s work around the world, Global Impact Celebration was a natural fit. It was more than a week to network, though; it was a week God would use to catapult him abroad.

“GIC has always been my favorite event at Shades, partly because I felt a call to international missions,” Seth says. “I always loved getting to hear from missionaries around the world and hear what God was doing.” He looked for ways to get involved, but a moment of action would come in 2017.

“I was working in the [Community Life Center] full-time, and I had finished grad school. I knew that I’d been called to overseas missions and had been exploring,” Seth says. “GIC 2017 had a big emphasis on the Great Commission, and on the last night, I remember being in the sanctuary and the Spirit very clearly saying, ‘Go. You’ve been called; quit waiting around for it to happen. You need to go.’ That was when I started seriously exploring opportunities.” Seth transitioned off the CLC staff and moved to South Korea to teach. 

Picking up and moving across the globe, it seemed Seth was following a new vision. But when he arrived in South Korea, the Lord began to refocus his heart. This refocusing had more to do with the state of his heart than the actions of his life. “When I moved in 2017, part of the reason was to try and pay off my student loans. I was like, ‘I’m totally ready for the mission field, and I’m going to go and be a super missionary in South Korea and do things for the Lord,’” Seth says. “I got there, and it was hard. The job wasn’t very fun, the bosses were not nice, and I didn’t have a good community of believers there.

“The Lord revealed to me that the past two or three years before that, I had made serving God my god,” Seth recalls, confessing that he had let his personal relationship with God decline. “And I got to South Korea, and that was when all of the external things had been taken away. God really showed me my heart wasn’t in the right place. That was the moment God said, ‘I want you to love Me, not just love serving Me.’ God used that to show me my own brokenness but also reorient me towards holiness and a relationship with Him.”

"When we're in God's will following Him in obedience, it's the best place we can be."

Seth Graves

Mission Trips

AUG. 2017-NOV. 2017

First trip to South Korea

NOV. 2017- MAY 2019

Lives in Germany

MAY 2019-DEC. 2019

Back in Birmingham

JANUARY 2020

Moves to Seville as IMB missionary

Seth stayed in South Korea three months before moving to Germany to work at the same company as which his father. He worked 50 hours per week at a desk job he didn’t like, but because of his experience in South Korea, his focus shifted from what he could do for the Lord to how God could use him. “I was [in Germany] a year-and-a-half, and it was like Moses standing on the mountain to see the Promised Land. I had been wander-ing the years before that, but I finally got to see the call,” Seth says.

He paid off his student loans in Germany, and returned to Birmingham. While working at Kids Kamp, he began the IMB application process. Seth felt like God had encouraged him to know Him, love Him, and be willing to go where He called. “It’s like God was asking, ‘You can check all these boxes, but how’s your heart?,’” Seth says. He was refocused on God’s call for his life, and the doors to return to Spain began to open.

That’s not to say there weren’t barriers to saying yes to his calling. Feelings of inade-quacy, family sacrifices, and dealing with loss all could’ve kept Seth from heading back to Seville. “It can be hard when someone says ‘I want to move to the other side of the ocean and I don’t know when I’ll see you,” he says.

Even still, Seth knew God was orchestrating the unfolding events. He trusted God even through the obstacles. “There’s always that fear of the unknown, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next,” Seth says. “It can be scary, but He knows the future and He calls us to follow Him without giving us the whole plan. When we’re in God’s will following Him in obedience, it’s the best place we can be.”

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