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.
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.
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.
Hannah is a bubbly nursing student I met my second day on campus when we reported to The University of Montana two years ago. We hit it off right away because we are both from Fargo-Moorhead and ran cross-country in high school. She is the first student I began a discipleship relationship with and this past weekend she graduated!
College is the time for students to consider what to do with their lives, and it’s an excellent opportunity to receive ministry training so they can be a spiritual resource for others. We want students like Hannah to consider how God would use them after graduation to influence people in their workplace, neighborhood, community, and across the world with the message of the Gospel.
I pray that Hannah would transition well from college into the “real” world and I have challenged her to invest her life for the sake of making Jesus known. It’s evident to me that she has an important role to play in God’s Kingdom. She is excited to share her faith with those around her and to begin investing her time and energy into people’s lives. The direction she’s heading holds a special place in my own life.
Hannah accepted a job on a Medical-Surgical floor in a hospital to gain experience; it’s a typical first job for a nurse. Even though it is not where she wants to be long-term, she is thankful to be able to pay off her student loans and knows that the Lord has placed her there for a reason. Yet, Hannah’s ultimate desire is to become a Hospice nurse.
When Ivan’s father passed away, our nurse had a great impact on our family and really blessed us as she provided care for Wes. She was able to not only ease his pain, but provided comfort and guidance to our entire family during a time when we really needed someone to come alongside us. I have great respect for Hospice nurses and I am so grateful that Hannah wants to invest her life in this way.
Hannah has been equipped to share with others about Christ, to teach a new believer basic Christian doctrine, and to lead others in Bible study. She will truly be an asset to any local church she joins, and will “shine the light of Christ” to those she rubs shoulders with every day. I’m confident that the Lord will provide her with many opportunities to pray and talk with her patients and coworkers. This is Cru’s vision of reaching the campus with the Gospel today in order to reach the world tomorrow.
We arrived in South Lake Tahoe once again for Summer Project. This time around we are the project’s operations directors. Check out our website for the latest! By the way, Simon did great traveling for two days in the car.
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.
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We took 20 students to Flathead Lake last weekend to give them vision and strategy for bringing the Gospel back to campus for the spring semester. We spent time discussing our national mission statement, "Turning Lost students into Christ-Centered Laborers." We encouraged these student leaders to return to campus with a renewed passion for sharing the Gospel with their peers and discipling them to maturity.
Above is a picture of Hannah, a junior nursing student, and Braelynne, a sophomore Resident Assistant, returning home from the retreat. I work with both of them, and they are now starting to pursue deeper relationships with freshmen. These two girls are beginning to take younger students to share their faith and are beginning to lead Bible studies in Knowles Hall. They are joining the mission of connecting their fellow students to Jesus!
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