Since Covid, the campus ministry staff here at world headquarters have largely been spread out and isolated. On top of the pandemic, the space we were gathering in has been under construction for 2 years, and that has made it difficult to cross-pollinate in the ways Karen and I are particularly gifted.
That is one reason our team made it a priority to host a retreat this month, where we could re-connect and celebrate what God is doing through our work around the US. Our theme was “how God loves the outcast.” Many learned that they were not alone in feeling like outcasts themselves, and we worked to build safer community.
Karen shines in these spaces especially, because she has discovered her calling is to provide prayer and encouragement for God’s people. She leapt up on stage to identify as someone who doesn’t have a permanent spot in the office, but comes in to fellowship and bless people from all departments. She also took every opportunity to get to know people and make them feel special. We were thrilled to be able to bring our own children as well, so they could get to know the other Cru teens in our area.
Braelynn, a young adult leader in SoCal had this to say about her church’s experience partnering with Cru:
We wanted to do a better job of outreach, but didn’t know how to get started. A local Cru leader began helping me, and this training really gave our people some confidence and a vision for how God could use us. Fifteen young adults went to a community college near our church to ask students about their faith background and perspectives. At first, our group was pretty timid, but our first steps to engage with students completely opened our eyes. We quickly saw the openness and spiritual interest of many of those who were willing to talk with us. The Soularium tool we used made it really easy to open up great conversations.
Cru winter conference shifted how our church and students see evangelism, and the time there has motivated all of us to think about those who aren’t involved anywhere yet. We’ve started making outreach a normal part of our ministry. We’ve done some Prayer Walking on campuses, and we’ve decided to launch a new campus ministry at another college near to us, where our young adults are leading and owning the ministry.
This month, Karen and I had the opportunity to attend a 2-day mental health workshop, learning more about the incredible stigma that keeps people with real and valid struggles from getting the help and support they need. Cru missionaries are no less susceptible to these challenges, so it was incredibly important to learn and discuss alongside many of our leadership. Toward the end, we took a suicide prevention course called “QPR” (sort of like “CPR” for someone who is at risk of suicide). I’ll paste an info card here (as well as a picture of our suicide-prevention manga comic from Cru Japan), but the biggest takeaway I got is that it is better to ask and enter in even if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Last fall, Cru students organized a “games and food” hangout in the grassy quad of a California campus. Alden, one of the freshman leaders, invited his friend Ernesto to the hangout. That day, Alden and Ernesto began talking about faith & what it means to follow Christ.
A few weeks later, Ernesto started texting Alden with questions about God and the messages continued over Winter Break. Alden decided it was time to invite Ernesto to ask Jesus into his life, so he planned to text him about that the next day.
The next day, Alden sent his message with the invitation and was thrilled when Ernesto responded: “I just did last night!” (at a church service he attended while visiting his cousins). Now, Alden is being trained in how to mentor a new believer to grow in their relationship with God.
Please pray also for Lalo (pictured here). Just like Ernesto, Lalo has been intentionally coming every week to these hangouts right after Bible study. He enjoys playing games and community, and he is open to talk about faith but unsure about what he wants to believe. Thank you for investing in these students who are taking bold steps of faith so that their friends and classmates can come to know Christ!
Empowering Christian students to reach their friends with the gospel is the core of what Cru is about, but some students have bigger hurdles than others. During our week-long Design Sprint, we decided that one of the hardest students to reach is the female gamer (we named her “Zelda”). Gamers in general often have stories of having felt rejected by the Church, but women who play games are frequently hurt by other gamers as well!
So, we designed an event intended to deepen a trust-based relationship between “Zelda” and her Christian friend who’s involved with Cru (named “Peach”). The event is called #LFG-IRL, because gaming students experience isolation and are “Looking for Group – In Real Life.”
Please pray for us as we seek to experiment with this and other strategies to meet students of all kinds whom God is calling to be part of His family forever. Pray that we can work out financial, logistic, and manpower hurdles, and that we would learn quickly how to honor these folks and point them toward Jesus!
Frequently in life, forces beyond my control throw off my plans (can you relate?). I don’t want to ignore or fail to process the hard things that happen to me—it’s important to grieve and bring those pains to the Lord. On the other hand, we sometimes dream of being some big success, then get stuck in a rut of blame when reality doesn’t turn out as we hope. What we choose to focus on grows bigger in our minds and in our lives, so we need to be careful not to focus on what is not up to us.
In his book The Great Divorce, CS Lewis imagines how Napoleon spends eternity in an enormous empty house, “walking up and down—up and down all the time—left-right, left-right—never stopping for a moment. The two chaps watched him for about a year and he never rested. And muttering to himself all the time. ‘It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English.’ Like that all the time. Never stopped for a moment. A little, fat man and he looked kind of tired. But he didn’t seem able to stop it.”
Later, he explains: “it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”
By contrast, Daniel from The Karate Kid is taught to diligently and faithfully serve in humble tasks with no glory (Luke 16:10). There’s no better example of this than Jesus (Philippians 2:3-11). Instead of dwelling on blame and regret, I want to be thankful for every breath, be content with what God gives me, and focus on being faithful with what IS my responsibility in the moment. Will you join me?
We are praising God that both Karen and I had the opportunity to serve high school students at FastBreak. As a freshman in high school, our son was able to attend as well! FastBreak is an overnight winter conference that takes place in multiple sites around the country for a weekend filled with fun, training, and worship.
While each location looks a little different, they’re all designed for teens to grow closer to Jesus and their friends as well as to learn how to share Him with their friends. Our son reported that he did not get a ton of sleep, but bonded with his friends and grew deeply during some tearfully powerful sessions.
Karen and I were honored to prepare and present for two different breakout seminars that were a HUGE hit! The first taught students how to identify their feelings and bring them to Jesus. The second discussed how God feels about how we spend our leisure time. Praise God with us!
Both Karen and I have also been blessed to take part this year in an Innovation Residency, where we learn how to move a group of people to strategically solve the most important problems in an organization. The centerpiece of the year-long program is called a Design Sprint, where think-tank teams will spend a full week researching, developing, and testing prototypes to solve what are seen as the most pressing issues facing our ministry.
All residents were asked to pitch what they believed most needed a Sprint. Karen planned to pitch on helping Christian communities be a safe place for people to be authentic and thrive emotionally. I hoped to pitch on engaging the 3.2 billion video gamers in the world. Though we were prevented from presenting by a pretty serious health scare (more on the back), I put together this video. Leadership awarded me a Sprint to explore how we might create an event experience that draws students from the gaming community into trust-based relationships with their Christian peers for the sake of the gospel. We are so excited to see how God will use this time of collaboration!
Mid-January, I (Karen) started experiencing intense pain that was diagnosed as mastitis (very rare when not lactating) and needed an ultrasound to examine a painful bump. That bump turned out to be a cyst (harmless, and apparently very common), but they found “something” nearby that required a biopsy. I suddenly found myself surrounded by prayer, encouragement, and solidarity from friends near and far. Though I know God answers His children in many different ways—and whether He says yes or no does not define His love for us—I believe prayer is the reason my test results were benign and no follow-up is needed.
I am grateful for the clear test result, of course, but also struck by how God carried me through the whole situation. Medical stuff usually freaks me out, especially waiting on answers. This time, I felt at peace during the waiting. I kept thinking, “if it IS something, I am so grateful we found it early by looking at something unrelated.” The day I found out I needed the biopsy, God helped me write a whole list of things I was grateful for.
High on the list was my experience in the waiting room. I was there for hours (they wanted additional testing after the ultrasound showed “something”) and I connected with some other ladies there. One lady eventually teared-up and expressed that she was scared (she needed extra testing as well). I went over and put my arm around her, and she cried and opened up to me. I was thankful to be a comfort to her, even though her English and my Spanish were both very limited.
After the biopsy, I was surprised by how difficult the recovery was. Jeff and the kids were amazing at holding down the fort and letting me focus on resting and recovering, and some friends and family cared for us in various ways. I was able to rest and be “okay with not being okay,” which is also pretty new for me because of issues related to some chronic medical stuff I’ve dealt with. I felt like I was able to process it with God and be more okay with it than I ever have been.
Students are definitely the heroes of our ministry. They take great steps of faith to shine Jesus among peers who may judge or even ostracize them for it. Still, there are faithful prayer warriors behind the scenes in the form of Cru missionaries, pastors, mentors, and parents who believe even in students who don’t believe in themselves. Check out Bailey’s story: