Pastor Wilson Shares About Phil

 Karen and I firmly believe that empowering local churches to reach students can do far more than what we missionaries alone can do. I asked Pastor Wilson to tell me about some of the impact his church has had on students’ lives.  He told me this story about Phil…

Instead of introducing himself, he asked me if we had any new Christians that he could disciple and that he was a part of [a popular cult name] on our campus. I was preparing my proverbial shotgun when God said, “Hold on. Hear his story.” Phil told me he came from a Buddhist background, joined this cult on campus, and got excited to hear about Jesus and share about him.

We invited Phil to hang out with us [at Epic, Cru’s ministry for Asian American students]. We were going to the beach that week and invited him to come.  At the beach, we told him we believed he was a part of a cult and said, “You’re welcome to stay with us but you can’t invite anyone to your cult.”

He was very confused. It took about maybe four or five months for him to fully pull out of his cult because they take over your social life. He became Christian, we baptized him, and he became a leader as well as our greatest evangelist!  Over the next four years, Phil brought close to 20 people into the movement. He paid for people to go to retreats with us and, just yesterday, he told me of another one of his friends he led to Christ (and this is now three years after he’s graduated).

One of the friends Phil reached out to, Carl, was going through depression and thought about taking his own life. Phil called him every day, really became a support to him. Carl started coming to church, went to a  retreat, to Epic, and eventually I got to baptize him.

If it hadn’t been for God, I just imagine Phil being fully engrossed in the cult and those 20 people going to that cult with him. I think about the faithfulness of the Lord.  Phil’s a strong believer now, a small group leader, and just a great part of my church as well.

Karen and I are excited to follow God toward “each student on every campus” by teaching pastors, like Pastor Wilson, and volunteers how to get on campus to meet students like Phil, and we couldn’t do it without you!

Big Partnerships

Naomi and Peter

     God has given me a mind for strategy, and I’ve always been looking at how we could maximize our impact for the gospel. Yes, Karen and I can share the gospel with some students and disciple them to multiply that faith, something we love to do. But, what if we can ALSO teach others to do that? I can teach a handful of people around me and get them taking students out to share the gospel or sit down for discipleship. We’ve done plenty of that. But, what if we can ALSO teach denominational leaders how to teach church members how to reach students like that? Enter Peter and Naomi!

     Peter and Naomi (who are expecting their first baby any minute!) have been serving all of North America for the Anglican Church’s college ministries. He found out about what Karen and I do and reached out for what would become an amazing first conversation. On the call, he shared that there are 3 scenarios related to his churches and the local campus:

1. Distant – where churches & campuses are not near each other, they want to send students to our ministries and stay in touch with them from a distance.

2. Mega – big churches hire their own college missionary, potentially also connected and trained by us.

3. Pioneering – church plants or smaller churches can’t hire a college specialist so may have volunteers coached by my team, the Cru Coaching Center.

Please pray for Peter & Naomi, and for partnerships  like this with other denominations as well!

Cru and the Church

   Karen and I have always had the heart to bless the united body of Christ, so we are constantly on the lookout for ways Cru can be a resource to local churches. That’s why I was totally thrilled to participate in the Sent 6:7 training program this month. Imagine a team of incredibly experienced missionaries (who have planted churches and spread the gospel in some of the most hostile environments around the world) now dedicating themselves to work full-time with church leaders and volunteers in order to build and rebuild churches right here in the states with that same evangelistic heart. These folks are my heroes!

     All of their resources are freely accessible to everyone on their website, but the care and attention they put into the training and the ongoing coaching groups they offer is staggering. While a lot of their material was familiar to me (starting spiritual conversations, relying on the Holy Spirit, discipleship, and multiplication), I learned a lot of new things as well (like 3-Thirds Bible Studies and Oikos mapping).  What if every church in the US was trained and equipped like this???

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     I (Jeff) had the honor to lead a discussion with a church in Brooklyn, NY about how Christians should respond to Halloween. It’s an intriguing topic, and my own perspective has changed over the years, so I was glad to take part and even do a little scriptural digging in preparation. In general, there tend to be 3 typical postures Christians take toward the holiday: reject, receive, or redeem.

     Those who REJECT Halloween see dangers lurking under the shiny surface of the decorations and parties. Some have sworn off all secular holidays, while others cite scriptures that warn us against the wickedness and witchcraft of this particular day (for those who’ve experienced that first-hand, I recommend the Steps to Freedom in Christ).  They remind us to avoid the appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22), and declare “You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too” (1 Cor 10:21).

     Those who RECEIVE Halloween see it as harmless fun at worst and an opportunity to bond with family and neighbors at best. Each has their own line of comfort with candy, costumes, and creepy stuff (usually along an age scale), but those in this camp embrace the celebration, saying “If I can thank God for [the holiday] and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for [celebrating] it?” (1 Cor 10:30).

     Those who REDEEM Halloween agree with both the dangers and the blessings. They don’t want to wink at evil, but they believe the light is stronger.  They cite John 17 that we are not of the world, but have been sent into it to reach the lost, just as Jesus was (Matt 9:11-13; Luke 5:30-32; Luke 15). Learn more, including resources from this link, and “whether you [do Halloween], or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Students Together?

     Social distancing has been a challenge for all our campuses as far as keeping a momentum going for meeting, engaging the Bible, and sharing Jesus with classmates; but it is not a new challenge for our Coaching Center (our staff team!) members, who have been connecting with students online and over the phone for decades. 

     One of the biggest difficulties we face is helping new students grasp the vision to reach their campus for Christ if they have never seen a fully functioning Cru ministry before.  Telling people about Jesus doesn’t seem weird when your upper-classmen heroes have already set a culture for it.  Raising money to go on a summer mission or to a winter conference isn’t so scary when you have other classmates who have gone before, but many of these students are trying to start a new thing on their campus that they’ve never seen modeled before.

     I (Jeff) have been working to fix that with a monthly online gathering that has student leaders from all our campuses sharing with each other and cheering each other on.  Our first event (Oct 6th) will feature Rebekah, who feels a burden to speak boldly about Jesus to all her non-Christian friends out of an act of love for both them and for God.  Please pray for students to catch her enthusiasm and step out in courage with their own friends.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     Have you ever had trouble staying focused while you pray?  Attention deficit has been a long-standing challenge for me (Jeff) in a lot of areas, but prayer has always seemed like a particularly difficult time to stay on track.  I sometimes wonder if our enemy watches for these times, when we are looking to spend undistracted time with our Heavenly Father, and he seems ready to assault us with a barrage of busy thoughts to take our mind in different directions.

     I feel like Elijah, straining to hear the “still small voice” in the midst of earthquakes and storms and fires (1 Kings 19:11-13).  I want to follow the command to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and to meditate on God’s word day and night (Psalm 1:2).

     One thing that has really been helping me lately is to direct my imagination to really picture things.  Scenes from The Chosen, like Nicodemus on the rooftop with Jesus, really help me to picture Jesus actually sitting there listening to me and reminding me of what He has said to us in Scripture. 

     When we were praying in a team meeting recently, someone asked us to spend several minutes giving over to Jesus the things we were stressed holding onto.  With effort, I imagined Jesus and I in a row boat on a lake, and I took precious things out of some bag (like dolls of my family, my body) and, reluctantly at first, put them in Jesus’ hands.  Praying like this has helped me stay focused!

Partner Ministries

   When Jesus prayed (in John 17) that the Church be united as one, He knew we’d each bring different gifts to the body. I am so thankful that we don’t rely only on those “inside Cru” to shepherd students toward God’s mission in their lives. One great example of a powerful partnership is Sherri, who runs CollegeChurchConnection.org. Her organization’s role is to do all the research for parents, pastors, and soon-to-be college students to find out what churches and Christian communities are near each campus that could be a good fit for students to get involved in. Hear what one student’s mother, Anne, had to say…

     You said one time that who college students meet their first few weeks on campus can define their experience. We found that to be true and, because I knew where to help direct Katherine (who was interested in getting involved but not necessarily begging for ideas), she was able to plug in right away.  We went to church together during move-in weekend and she continued to go there all three years.  She has grown tremendously in her faith in college and has been able to get the best of both worlds — the resources of a large public university with a rich spiritual life and Christian discipleship.  

What God’s Been Teaching Us

  A friend shared this free new video series on anxiety with us, and we have been absolutely thrilled with the experience!  It’s like having two wise and warm counselors right in our living room.  The concepts they deliver in these 8-min videos are an excellent application of psychology research and practical life weighed against the timeless insight of God’s Word.

     One of the most powerful moments for me was found in their concept of “the Gap” in episode 5.  The fact is that God gives us a certain set of resources and abilities to address the threats and opportunities in our lives, but most of life still falls outside our control (James 4:13-15).  When we throw ourselves at this gap, we get frustrated and scared.  We fall into the idolatry of trying to do life apart from God’s sovereignty (adopting either a God complex or a victim mentality).  The counselors point out that the reality is that we’re not in control of either circle (Luke 12:25-31).

     God doesn’t want us to live in constant fear and depression, so He gives us the gift of trust.  Jesus said that He his gift of peace is not of this world (John 14:27).  As Christians, we can relax in the knowledge that God loves us, is wise, and is in complete control of both our resources and the outside circumstances and results (Phil 4:6-7).

     To see Bill Bright, founder of Cru, speak on the faithfulness of God, click on the teaching video at DiscoverGod.com/character/faithful.

TRAINING MISSIONARIES

     Hundreds of thousands of people visited our sites during the event above, and hundreds asked to be contacted.  I got to respond to any who were listed as church leaders instead of students, which led to an awesome conversation with dear Ginny (below). 

     Ginny is not someone you’d expect to see attending a college event or signing up to launch a campus, but God is not turned away by outward appearance, and I praise God He has given us eyes to see the power in people like her as well.  Ginny has several grandchildren who are running for Jesus at different colleges.  She substitutes in 10 school districts, and volunteers with her youth group. 

     She has traveled the world with her youth group on mission trips, counseling young ladies who really need a mentor.  She also travels the state, ministering to students right in the public schools, and her students form little hearts with their hands whenever they see her.  What a powerhouse!

     Would you pray for Ginny as she tries to connect her youth pastor to our high school ministry, joins our educators initiative, and equips her graduating youth and grandchildren to be a light for Jesus in college?  If you are or know of any more Ginnys out there, let us know!

UNSTOPPABLE STUDENTS

   At the beginning of the month, we were blessed to team up with other ministries and influential leaders to encourage new students in reaching their campus for Christ.  One of my favorite student testimonies was from Jabin, the student body president who was inspired to launch a new ministry DURING the quarantine! 

     Jabin reports: “I always knew that I needed it for myself, but I never thought that I would be the one to start it. When campus was closed, we were all in isolation, so I connected with a few friends and we just started connecting with each other in God’s word.  Shortly after we started the group, the video started circulating of George Floyd… Our nation is at an even greater crisis than we thought. One night, we stayed on this call for over four hours, talking about feelings, being in the Word, and seeing what God had to say to us in that moment.

     We started connecting with students from different campuses, with friends and family, anyone who needed a group like this. We were able to expand to other cities and states with students who need a community on their campus that doesn’t exist. We’re seeing God’s glory be revealed through all of this.”