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.
A commonly held belief on campus is that one should “live it up” in college before entering the real world. The promise of good times and freedom from stress are just a dorm room away. A resident drug dealer beckons his neighbors to “take a break” from their burdensome studies. Jacob was an easy client until God broke through.
Growing up in rural Montana Jacob’s graduating class was thirty-two. He put his energy into prep football and acquired the size and talent to play collegiate. He dreamed of becoming a Montana Grizzly, but the last week of his senior year proved fateful. A broken ankle erased his plans. He missed tryouts and his singular hope in life was snuffed out.
Studies were still a priority and he attended UM. However, by Christmas break he was in a dark place. Making good friends was difficult. He was angry about his life and his future seemed bleak. He was smoking marijuana every day and escaping reality through video games. For him, these had become the only reliable things in life, never to let him down.
One night, while sitting on his bed packing a pipe, he reflected on how it always felt like God was going to be the answer he needed. Then, out of nowhere, he heard what he described as a loud voice saying, “Jacob! Put it down!” This was all he needed. He threw away his bag of weed and was soon introduced to a Christian community through Cru.
Church had been a part of his background growing up, yet now he wanted to hear for himself what God had in mind for his life. It’s been a year since Jacob’s heart turned towards Jesus, and he is learning that God is more faithful than he ever imagined.
Send him to East Asia this summer!
Jacob has just been accepted to our East Asia Summer Mission partnership! He is thin on Christian community back home and is trusting the Lord to provide new ministry partners that would send him.
Would you prayerfully consider giving a special gift for his five week Summer Mission with Cru?
When I was a student in Cru one thing that impressed me was how the staff members would invite me into their lives. Our friendship went beyond our shared ministry activities. They would tell me how they were doing personally and ask for my thoughts about various situations they were navigating. They would let their guard down and trust me to be their friend.
These “behind the curtain” moments spoke volumes about the genuine affection they had for me and other students. I knew they cared about my life because they allowed me to care about theirs. This verse sums it up: “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thes. 2:8).
This aspect of ministry is something that cannot quite be taught. Yet, it’s the key piece that turns an involved student into a co-laborer in Christ. For example, when we challenge a student to become an Insider, to live in the residence halls to share Jesus with their peers, this is the major component of their investment. It’s something that Adam has figured out and makes saying goodbye to him really difficult.
At the end of the day, Adam cares about others with genuine affection. Of course, he wouldn't boast that statement himself. And maybe it’s not always true about him. Regardless, he has really impressed me with his faithfulness, availability, and teachability. He’s what us campus ministers call a “FAT” disciple.
Let me brag on this guy a moment. First, he’s a double major with a 3.9 GPA. This year he’s carried a full 21 credits each semester in political science and recreation management while living among freshmen in the residence halls and leading a Cru bible study. He made repeated attempts to speak with every guy on every floor of his dorm for the opportunity to get into spiritual conversations and talk about Jesus. This usually meant eating lunch daily with eighteen-year-olds in the all-you-can-eat dining hall.
After long days of classes, extra-curricular activities, and hours in the library studying, Adam would sit by the foot of his bed and spend time getting to know his roommate who struggled with all kinds of doubt about God. They didn’t share a love for video games nor late night television, but Adam became a listening ear to his friend who soon gave him permission to speak into his life about God’s love and purposes.
Adam has learned to spend his life well and has made the most of his university experience. I’m confident that his loving influence and ability to share Jesus with others will leave a wonderful legacy everywhere he goes.
ALASKA SUMMER PROJECT UPDATE
Plans are coming together for our time in Anchorage this June 10th - July 23rd. We currently have eleven Cru staff, three children, and fourteen students. Housing is moving slow and we could use your prayers.
One night after my weekly bible study a student approached me in the residence hall asking if I had a screw driver he could borrow. He had a long black pony-tail and stood eye level with me. My response was a blunt, “Are you a Native American?”
“Yeah. Why do you ask?” He said looking perplexed.
I was caught off-guard too. I didn’t expect to respond to his question with another question, much less the one I had just blurted out.
Earlier that day my staff team had challenged me to attend a conference for Native students hosted by a Cru ministry called Nations. They asked if I would be willing to bring Native students with me since it was actually a conference for them more than it was for me. This was in my head when he walked up, so I guess I jumped at the opportunity.
He went on, “I’m actually half white and half Native. I’m from the Blackfoot tribe up in Browning.”
“Awesome. Well, the reason I asked is because I work with a community on campus that talks about God and spirituality. I assume you have some spiritual background then?” I didn’t waste a breath getting to the point.
“I sure do. My mom is a Christian and my dad is a medicine-man.” He said without hesitating.
We continued for nearly forty-five minutes and he shared at depth about the how he has experienced the positive and negative effects of living on a reservation, including his encounters with Christians and tribal religion.
I pressed in and asked, “Would you say you’ve actually met with God personally?”
He paused for a moment, then said, “You know, I haven’t yet, and that really upsets me about it all. I feel like I’m seeking God but he hasn’t revealed himself. I don’t understand why.”
I was honored to hear the story of a young Native man in the midst of searching for the Creator Himself. As I was leaving he remarked that while we were talking he felt his skin tingling all over. It seems that we had been standing on sacred ground.
Native Americans are our campus’ largest ethnic minority with over 500 students enrolled. This ranks us in the top ten largest Native enrollments in the country. I have much to learn and even some deep heart work to be done regarding my own attitudes toward First Nations people. Would you join me in trusting that Jesus’ name would be known among this special community?
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.
You may recall our January letter about Adam and how he has been taking steps of faith to go where God leads him. The latest part of his journey was traveling to East Asia this Spring Break. Here is what he shared about the process that led him to participate in our campus’ mission trip.
“I found myself in East Asia because that is where God called me to be. Three years ago I was a somewhat scared--somewhat cocky--high school senior in Wisconsin getting ready to begin college at the University of Montana. I arrived on campus with little thought about my spiritual life, let alone plans to join a campus ministry group. But God soon showed he had a plan for my time in college.
“Through an invitation to a Cru event at the beginning of the school year I slowly got involved in the ministry. When a Cru staff member asked me to explain my understanding of the Gospel--and I couldn't--I realized I didn't have a relationship with Christ. Shortly after that realization I gave my life to Jesus, but still wasn’t ready to go overseas for my faith.
“This past December, Ivan saw that my desire to share the true life I had found in Christ was growing. He knew I was seriously considering the Spring Break trip and asked me to give a verbal commitment about going to East Asia. At that point, I was ready. While there, we engaged university students in conversations about God asking if they had ever heard about Jesus. Their most common responses were either, ‘I believe in myself,’ or ‘we [East Asians] have no beliefs.’
“At the end of the trip we worried that because there are so few opportunities for East Asians to learn about Christ while living in East Asia, our interaction with the students we talked to would be their only exposure to His message. But, after reflecting on how God was able to bring me to East Asia, I am sure that our interaction with those students will not be the last time He speaks to them through a follower of Christ.
“This trip affirmed the possibility of me investing a year in East Asia after I graduate to share Jesus with students who have never heard. The Holy Spirit has been working in my life to transform me from an ordinary kid in Wisconsin to a missionary who is willing to go wherever God leads.”
Adam plans to continue being an “insider” at UM by moving back into the residence halls this fall as a senior. Pray that God would prepare his heart to minister to incoming freshmen and create space in his schedule to do it well.
Our biggest outreach of the year is here! We’re giving away UM Griz gear to new students whose names get drawn from our campus questionnaires.
Yet, that’s not the “big” part. We’ll then spend these coming weeks meeting the hundreds of freshmen who have said they’re interested in learning more about God.
This year, 70% (almost 600 students) indicated that they wanted to be contacted about how to know God personally or get connected to our Cru community!
My own introduction to Cru was through this same outreach nearly ten years ago. It provides a platform to begin having spiritual conversations with those who have already indicated that they want to talk about God.
We’re already bringing our returning students with us to share the Good News with this year’s incoming class. Join us in praying that God will meet them and that many will place their faith in Jesus!
WE’RE HAVING A BABY!
Kirsten is happily pregnant and will be due in mid-March. We’re overjoyed and are really looking forward to becoming parents!
Health-wise, she has been dealing with a lot of morning sickness, but it’s been manageable. She plans to continue fully engaging with students on campus.
And, there are ways you can help support the growth of our family. We’ll be sure to let you know more soon!
That God would provide multiple opportunities to present the Gospel to each freshmen, not only through questionnaires, but also through the older students who moved back into the dorms to minister to their peers.
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