It’s easy to mistake Eric for a woman. With his hair down, his long, light-brown curls look much like his sister’s. Most days he wears it in a bun, which is a trending style these days. Yet, what isn’t popular is to trade the freedom of living off campus for 100 square feet of shared living space in the dorms. This fall Eric will do just that to effectively minister to college freshmen.
The two of us have had a good run together. He showed up as a freshman two years ago asking how he could best serve the ministry. His parents are on staff with Cru in Bozeman, MT and are the national directors of Nations, Cru’s Native American ministry. Eric has joined me for both “Would Jesus Eat Frybread?” conferences and has already been exploring his own ministry calling. He spent most of his summer in Nicaragua helping a missionary family with their plantation, where he was mistaken for a woman numerous times.
Eric’s desire to serve on campus has helped us develop a new role for student leaders. We have hired him as a Part-Time Field Staff serving as an Insider, a role I’ve mentioned in previous letters where we challenge students to return to the dorms to minister to their peers. It’s a tall order, and the financial and social benefits of living off campus usually win students away from such a sacrificial commitment. Plus, if a student like Eric is not taking out loans for school, they simply cannot afford to stay on campus.
And then came my pitch, “Eric, would you consider asking God to raise up a team of ministry partners who would pray for your work in the dorms and finance you to move back in?”
“I’ll think about it,” is all he said. A month went by and I figured my challenge was a lost cause. Then, Eric calls me up and says, “I feel like God wants me to move back into the dorms and reach freshmen.” I was shocked. It turned out that the prospect of having forty floor-mates to share life with and potentially lead to Christ was a vision he couldn’t pass up. Eric wanted his time in college to count for more than his own pursuits. He wants many others to know about the purpose and hope he’s found in Jesus.
Mobilizing Eric as a student laborer is a huge answer to prayer. His role will give him the training, preparation, and permission to do ministry in a way we have yet to see. If he can use these next two years to mobilize others, we will witness a successful season of ministry multiplication. This means there would be no telling just how many others would be touched by the Gospel at UM!
Eric is sure to turn heads with his flowing locks, but then again, an upperclassman living among freshmen might seem just as extraordinary. I pray that his presence would bless his floor-mates and stir up curiosity to know Jesus personally.
Away from the comfort of home and care of family for the first time, college freshmen experiment with new hobbies, new friends, their own identity, sex, drugs, alcohol, and more. This makes them incredibly vulnerable. Yet, it can be easy to think of them as upper-middle class kids with no real needs and overlook them as just making unhealthy choices, but there is something deeper going on. The majority of these young people are spiritually lost and in desperate need of Christ, and they don’t even know it.
They wander through these years looking for meaning through partying, relationships, academic success, and a multitude of pursuits, but they feel empty inside and need a Savior to rescue them from the vanity and exhaustion they experience. Jesus addresses this need. “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36).
Freshmen are important not just for their own need but also to reach the whole campus. Our ministry focuses heavily on this class in order to give each one a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel. Through these we trust God to raise up Christ-centered laborers who will minister to others on campus and beyond.
Kirsten met Rylie three years ago when she was a freshman. While attending Kirsten’s bible study she rededicated her life to God. Now in her Junior year, she works with the football team in their recruiting department. She loves football and has recently realized the incredible influence that these athletes possess, but underutilize. Rylie tried five different majors before God spoke to her about becoming a publicist to help professional athletes maximize their influence.
“I thought it would be cool to work for the FBI (as a translator), mostly because I like to have the inside scoop on things. And then I thought it might be fun to be in some sort of management position because I’m kinda bossy (probably not a good quality), and publicist just jumped out of nowhere. I started to realize the impact that football players have on kids. I was researching jobs in the NFL and realized what an impact I could have on thousands of young people if I could influence one player enough for him to set a good example. Recent player controversies just magnified my understanding of the importance of players as role models. And then God started opening doors left and right.”
If Kirsten had met Rylie later on in college, it’s likely she would not have had the time to cultivate her relationship with God as she considered her purpose in life. Now, with a foundation in Christ and the training to share her faith and teach others, Rylie can have a godly influence on campus and in her career with people we would never meet.
We ask God to fulfill His promise to seek out students like Rylie and speak to them about his good plans for their lives. “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” (Ezekiel 34:11). It’s such a privilege to witness their stories of faith unfold.
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