What God’s Been Teaching Us

     As we read a book for our Innovation Program, I (Jeff) was shocked by a truly ugly reflection. It started with a discussion of the healthcare system’s culture of evading blame and covering up mistakes.  The author of Black Box Thinking writes, “In health care, competence is often equated with clinical perfection. Making mistakes is considered to demonstrate ineptness. The very idea of failing is threatening.” I could sympathize. I mean who wants to go to a doctor who has accidentally amputated the wrong limb?  Then it got a little too close to home…

     “Society, as a whole, has a deeply contradictory attitude to failure. Even as we find excuses for our own failings, we are quick to blame others for the same mistakes. We have a deep instinct to find scapegoats. It destroys the vital information we need in order to learn. Studies have shown we are often so worried about failing that we will create vague goals so that nobody can point the finger if we don’t achieve them. This represents the essential anatomy of failure-denial. Self-justification, allied to a wider cultural allergy to failure, morphs into an almost insurmountable barrier to progress.”

     I’m afraid of looking bad.  I’ve spent a lifetime afraid that I am incompetent, and working very hard to ensure myself and everyone else that “I didn’t screw up” or “it wasn’t my fault.”  I want to hide my sin under fig leaves and want to believe I have earned God’s love, but that’s not what God says (1 John 1:8-9).

     The world doesn’t need another pretend perfect person.  Every human being longs to be known and loved as we truly are.  To be unconditionally loved in a conditional world. This is the beautiful answer of the gospel: that, as Tim Keller says, “we are more sinful than we dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”  This message rings truest when authentically, sincerely, genuinely shared through flawed and imperfect people (2 Cor 4:7).  Nobody will see Christ in me while I am engaged in image management, so I want to work toward Paul’s example & boast about my weaknesses so the power of Christ can work through me (2 Cor 12:9-10).

HQ Summer Mission

     This amazing batch of student interns came from as far as Zimbabwe, Finland, and Japan.  Karen got to bond with and encouraged them while I trained them to engage students and churches at 64 campuses that didn’t have a Cru ministry yet. 

     Through Instagram, they found key student leaders on many of the campuses whom God is calling to launch a gospel movement.  They also frequently found churches right near those campuses who said “we’ll help those student leaders succeed,” and often introduced us to their own students or faculty to build that core team.  During non-office hours, they went on campus or to the beach to share their faith every week and saw at least 20 people put their faith in Jesus!  You can read a full newsletter written by the students right here!

Playing to Win… Souls

     As part of our gaming ministry summer mission, each student & missionary was challenged to find a community they identify with in order to build relationships that can lead to sharing the gospel.  One father/son team decided to host a tournament outreach with a popular game called Rocket League.  They met students we might never have come into contact with otherwise, receiving glowing reviews from those who competed and a desire to continue to plug in.  Please pray that God would open doors in these students’ hearts to talk about the love of Jesus.

     We also had the opportunity to present gaming ministry training to campus staff from all over the country during our bi-annual staff conference in Milwaukee. We invited Sam, our pro eSports athlete ministry partner, to help lead the discussion. Please pray that the campus leaders would take what they learned from us back to their schools this Fall, reaching a new batch of students with the gospel.  Pray also that this would be the start in building a network of gaming missionaries both nationally and globally!

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     We had the opportunity to hear powerful messages during our US Staff Conference this month.  One that stands out was from Heather Holleman, a professor at Penn State, whose husband is a friend.  She spoke from their upcoming book called Sent.  She said that “the #1 way Jesus describes God in the book of John is ‘the Father who SENT me.'” She then quoted John 20:21 where Jesus said, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 

     Just as all people build their motivation and decision making around “core principles,” Prof Holleman taught that God’s “sent ones” have these 3 core principles in common.  They believe that: 

1. God is ALWAYS at work to draw people to Himself (John 5:17; Ecc 3:11; Luke 19:10).  “You are where you are because the Father is always at work.”

2. He uses us to lead people to Jesus (Acts 1:8; 2 Cor 2:14; 5:18-20). God’s power for us is so we will be His witnesses “to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere!”

3. God continually invites us into the work of evangelism (Matt 4:19; 28:18-20)

     Prof Holleman went on to say that because of these Core Principals, “any situation I’m in that I don’t want to be in, the Sent Identity says ‘you’re here because someone here doesn’t yet know Jesus.’  My dishwasher breaks?  That’s not the real story.  There’s probably going to be a repair man who needs to hear about You.  Every situation is a supernatural adventure.” 

     You can click here to read what else she taught (7 ways the Bible teaches us to pray for the lost, 5 great questions to ignite spiritual conversations with non-Christians, etc), but she said the most powerful tool God has given us are our powerful, quick stories of how God has saved, matured, and provided for us (see this podcast and template).

Video Games for Jesus?

     We broke absolutely new ground this month, as 5 students, 9 staff, and 9 volunteers learned from each other about how to live in a healthy balance with video games as well as how to share the gospel with video game players online and how to host tournament outreaches.  We heard from expert believers who are filmmakers, game designers, professional eSports athletes, psychologists, ministry leaders, and animators.

     We worked together to build an online community where new students who share this interest can make friends and learn from those who feel the call as video game missionaries.  We also put together a toolkit for campus staff around the country to learn how they can reach the gaming communities on their own campuses.

     Please pray that this work will continue to grow after the summer, so that we can truly reach each student on every campus with the love of Jesus, by bringing the gospel to where the students spend their time!

Teaching to Partner

Adonis and Pastor Sam

     What a blessing it has been to work with 9 students from all over the world who gathered at Cru HQ to serve this summer.  They have been faithfully working with me to find Freshmen on dozens of campuses in the US that have no Cru (many of whom have no gospel presence at all that we could find).  Once they find the key “people of peace” on a campus that God is calling to act as missionaries to their school, our students are gathering them for a vision meeting and helping equip them to launch!

     At the same time, I’m teaching these 9 intern-students to look up churches near each campus and start a dialogue about how God could use us together.  This is so vital because the local churches have a regular presence in the community and the opportunity to get into the lives of the students to a degree we never could.  A perfect example is Pastor Sam in Utah.

     Our student, Adonis, has found several believers at the university, but very few have been willing to be outgoing about their faith, especially in such a heavily Mormon area.  Pastor Sam, however, was thrilled to put us in touch with the 15 students that have been coming to his church right across the street.  We are incredibly blessed to have found a partner who can be our guide in an area so strongly represented by a different religion!

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     Have you ever had people look down on you because of something you do, wear, or like?  This is the essence of what I’m learning is called “Cringe Culture.”  It can be as simple and innocent as a surprised reaction, “Ew!  You eat that?!”  Sometimes, though, it can be deeply hurtful to someone, especially when the thing being criticized is central to one’s identity: maybe a speech impediment, or an activity from which they have gained a lot of life.

     Cringe Culture was the topic (during the “Gaming Summer Mission”) of one of our guest speakers: Bubba Stallcup, the president of a ministry called Love Thy Nerd.  He spoke about the heart of people judging what they don’t understand, which can happen with cross-cultural challenges in lots of ways.  InterVarsity made an excellent video teaching us how we can overcome these differences by leaning in with curiosity instead of pulling back in fear or judgment.

     Bubba went on to discuss just why being the victim of cringe culture bullying (which truly can reach bullying or abusive levels) can be so devastating to those who fall into a “geek” or “nerd” category.  Often, these kinds of interests (comic books, video games, sci-fi, fantasy, STEM, anime, etc) draw those with deep creativity and intelligence combined with an atypical social style or lack of natural social graces.  They pull into themselves when they feel condemned by the community at large, and sometimes find great relief and even social connection with others who share their interest.  Those interests can be their greatest source of life and hope, so when others tear it down or call it “weird,” it forcibly reminds them that they don’t belong.

     Jesus left the 99 to find the outcast (Matt 18:12-14).  He told us that He is the judge while we are to treat others the way we would like to be treated (Matt 7:1-3, 12): as part of the body, even if we are different (1 Cor 12:21-22).  Let’s lean in and learn from those who seem weird!

Sharing Jesus on Campus

Colleagues Clayton and Dan with a student they talked to about Jesus

     It was a beautiful day to be on campus!  Karen and I were able to spend time at one of the biggest colleges in the nation last week.  Our goal: to talk to students and faculty about Jesus.

     We got to meet many people with the simple question, “would you help us with this survey about spiritual things?”  Billy, an AC contractor, was wary, having been approached several times in the past by people who only seemed interested in pushing their faith.  Steven, a Math professor from Canada, acted deeply content in his atheism, though he struck us as almost dead inside. 

Karen and Jeff talking to students about video games and Jesus

Peter, a student from the Philippines, voiced his pain over being tied culturally to a religion that always acted unloving, but showed great interest in the gospel booklet we gave to him (students LOVE paper things)!  Mike, a marketing professor, was fascinated by our presence and has been texting Jeff ever since!  Please pray for our team that will keep reaching out on campus all summer!

Summer Team Training

     As our staff team gathered from around the country to prepare for leading our students on summer mission, we had the chance to spend extended periods of time in prayer, build team bonds, and get oriented to the mission work ahead. 

     We also got to learn from some of our expert leaders about Innovation, At-Risk Leadership (warnings, prevention, and resolution), the Abundant Life offered in Christ, and some awe-inspiring doors to ministry opening up in a part of the world we’re calling “The Crescent Window.”

     All of these were powerful times, but it probably isn’t a surprise to you that our favorite was the segment on innovation.  Building relationships between Cru and other ministries and local churches, ministry to board game and video game community… yeah, we’ve always been “outside-the-box” thinkers, but I can’t remember the last time I saw Karen get this excited!  She was so full of creative ideas, and free to inspire and be inspired.  Edison set a personal quota of one invention every 10 days.

     The innovation team extends an invitation once each year for staff members to attend their residency program in the Fall.  Please pray that we are selected to take part in helping to shape the future of Cru with the innovative wiring God has given us.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     During our time working with missionaries these past few years, we have seen how they, like the rest of us, have been challenged with added stress, fatigue, and anxiety.  Fueled by her own journey, Karen has been learning and collecting resources that can help us understand what’s going on “under the hood” and walk with the Lord toward healing and healthy habits. 

     The Bible has a lot to say about how important it is to pay attention to both your mind and your heart, and how to take good care of them in order to thrive for the long run (Ez 36:26; Rom 12:2, 15; John 15:4-11; Prov 4:23; Prov 15:13-14a; 1 Peter 5:7-8; Phil 4:6-7; Ecc 3:1,4; Eph 4:26-27), and Cru has even developed a mental health outreach!  We’ve been greatly blessed by these resources, and many have voiced their own appreciation as we share the best we’ve found, so here they are.

Our Missing Peace ·  How to Process Emotions ·  Doctrinal Affirmations

Journaling out Chronic Pain ·  The Welcome Prayer ·  Abiding in Christ

Cinema Therapy ·  The Daily Examen

     Please pray for how God might continue to use Karen to empower missionaries around the world with an intimate relationship with the Lord and their own hearts.  While we highly recommend investing in a licensed therapist or counselor, Karen and I want to let you know that we are available to talk and pray with you as well!