"Dad! You're going too fast," hollered my friend affectionately from the third row of our rental Suburban. Seven of us from UM were on our way from Missoula to Toppenish, WA for the Nations Conference “Would Jesus Eat Frybread?”. My new Native friend had taken to calling me Dad. The others in the car picked up on this family language and soon our little delegation became a tribe.
The second annual WJEFcon brought together one hundred Native college students from over fifty tribes! During the weekend, I learned about worship, identity, and how Natives interact with the Gospel.
Last month I shared about a brief encounter I had with a Native student, and am excited how God has been working in his life since we met. He said that attending the conference was more than he could have hoped for and it helped him take a “first step” toward finding a faith of his own.
Growing up with one parent who believes in their traditional tribal religion and the other who practices Christianity has made it difficult for him to decide what he believes. He has tried unsuccessfully to keep a foot in each realm. He ends up pleasing one parent and not the other. The tension has caused him to step back from both ways to keep peace with his parents. This has left him with a spiritual void that he wants filled.
The conference addressed this type of struggle head on, asking if it’s possible to be Native and Christian. Would Jesus eat frybread? Would it be possible to worship Jesus and keep one’s ethnic identity? The short of it is an unequivocal “Yes.” God’s message of salvation is for every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).
I am privileged to walk alongside this young Native man as a spiritual “dad” while he wrestles with faith. God promises that when we seek Him with our whole heart we will find Him, and I pray that this will happen soon for him.
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.
Q: What’s Summer Project?
Think of a “spiritual greenhouse” where students have the opportunity to grow immensely. We provide in-depth Bible teaching to develop their understanding of God’s character and mentor them along the way to strengthen their relationship with God and their peers. This culminates in sending them back to their campuses with new skills and experiences allowing them to minister to others and share the Gospel everywhere they go.
Q: Where did you go exactly?
South Lake Tahoe, California! Cru has hosted college students from around the country at this location since 1971. The property houses up to 110 students in thirty cabins. We have our own kitchen and cooks as well as a lawn, picnic table dining area, and city bike path access.
Q: How do students decide to go?
Their local Cru Staff and friends typically invite them personally. They submit an online application and choose a location from among 200 spanning the globe. Once accepted, they invite family and friends to help send them through prayer and financial support.
Q: What makes the LTSP unique?
Students spend ten weeks working full-time at local businesses and attending local church partnerships. On nights and weekends they share meals together, study the Bible in small groups, attend teaching and training seminars from project guest speakers, and take every chance to enjoy the lake and mountains.
Q: What do they learn?
Each week is themed around specific topics. We learned about personal revival and brokenness, overcoming barriers in our ability to trust God, God’s design for sexuality, global missions opportunities, faith in the workplace, and having a role in campus ministry while still a student. In addition, we taught Bible study methods and worked through the book of Philippians together daily.
Q: What made this summer special for you?
We were Operations directors and actually began in January with the Student and Staff Development directors. Using video chats for our meetings, we helped shape the project’s structure and schedule. We provided oversight of the budget, housing, and project hiring needs, as well as managed the financial goals for students. It was a great role for us as new parents because we could set a schedule that benefitted Simon, while simultaneously using our administrative and creative skills to contribute to the project’s purposes and outcomes.
If you have, or know of, a student that might be benefit from going on a Summer Project, they can apply as early as their senior year of high school. Have them visit GoSummerProject.com to see where God might take them!
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.
"A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world and might even be more difficult to save." - C.S. Lewis
Klaire is a freshman who filled out a survey from the first week of school. I knocked on her door in Turner Hall to talk about how she could begin a relationship with God. She soon told me about her life and shared how she had been bullied in high school because of her speech impediment. Today, her highest values are to stand up for others and to always try to do the right thing.
As we talked about Christianity, she had some big concerns. She believes sins are in fact good because they can contribute to developing people into well-rounded individuals. She couldn’t accept that this imperfection separates us from God, or believe that Jesus’ death provides the way to have a relationship with God, because we don’t need to be rescued from sin. She thinks Jesus’ sacrifice only demonstrated his commitment to the cause of loving others and being kind, and that God should accept her because she tries to do the right thing.
Melissa is another freshman I talked to who lives in Jesse Hall. She ran cross-country in high school and is studying pre-med, so we had some things in common. She was very interested in learning about Christianity and I shared the Gospel with her. She had a hard time accepting that people can’t work for God’s favor, despite acknowledging that we all sin, which she agreed probably separates us from God. Regarding the Gospel, she said, “This is not the way the world works. If I put effort into studying, I can be guaranteed a certain grade, but the message you’re sharing with me isn’t the same. I can’t earn it. I need to think more about this.”
Klaire and Melissa represent the kinds of conversations we have on campus every week. The common belief among students we meet is that they can earn their way to God by being good. They hold to a moralistic deism; the idea that an impersonal God wants all people to be good and nice, which is how one gets into heaven, as taught by most world religions (Almost Christian, Dean). Sadly, students like Klaire and Melissa have missed the true message about Jesus Christ, that God desires a personal relationship with them, which can only be received as a gift by trusting in God’s Son, and not by merits through their own achievement (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This reality causes us to spend time on our knees in heartfelt prayer for students who are spiritually lost. Only God can open their eyes to His work of salvation. You can join us by asking Jesus to revealed.
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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