Friday, January 4, 2019

Suffering and Spiritual Growth

It's easy to lose perspective as a middle-class, 21st century American. I'm reminded of a quote I heard years ago from a persecuted Christian in Romania: “Ninety percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while ninety percent of Christians fail the test of prosperity.”

As ministers, we don't have a magic exemption from this challenge. As I talk to the campus pastors on my team, I hear mostly the same middle-class American anxieties and worries that our peers and our students are expressing. We want to be well off and comfortable. We want rights and security. We often find true sacrifice and real suffering out of reach.

Each January, we prepare for the return of the students by retreating together as a staff to reflect and encourage one another. This year, we each read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in preparation. It was a chance to gain some perspective from a different time and situation. If you aren't familiar, Frederick Douglass was born a slave in the American South. He lived in slavery for over 20 years before escaping and becoming a prominent abolitionist leading up to the Civil War. He was a Christian, but he was also enslaved by those calling themselves Christians, and so he became a prophetic voice that still speaks today. He wrote, "I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others."

He exposed the hypocrisy of the church, a church that was all too often either silent or complicit in slavery. "Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference," and "they are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy."

As a staff, we reflected on what our own blind spots might be and whether repentance is in order. We reflected on men and women like Douglass who truly suffered for doing what was right, and how different their suffering is from what most of us experience.

We also spent time pondering and discussiong a number of scriptures that speak to our attitude and perspective on the difficulties and suffering we do face. James says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4). Paul writes "we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Rom 5:3-4). And in Hebrews, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children... If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all... but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (12:7-11).

These and others tell us that some of what God wants to do in us is only accomplished through pain and not comfort, calling into question how diligent we are in trying to create comfort and avoid pain in our day to day lives.

Suffering is integral to the Christian life. It's a part of our identity as people who follow and imitate a suffering Messiah. This is something we as pastors want to do a better job of communicating to our community and to ourselves. I highly recommend reading Frederick Douglass' book if you haven't before (or maybe haven't read it since high school :). I know this older brother in the faith would minister to you as well.

Student Testimony


Tim is such a neat young man. He's someone I've had the privilege of spending some time with along the way, and I've watched him take his stand on the gospel, willing to pay whatever it costs. Like so many others, he has a strong Christian heritage from his parents, but at the university, he's had to choose Jesus and get to know him for himself.


Thank you for supporting and praying for the mission to reach college students like Tim. Great things are happening!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Outreach Stories

This Month's Student Testimony



Outreach on Campus


My apprentice, Drew, told me these stories from outreach:

Drew and his wife Darby, who
is also an apprentice this year.
"One week while we were doing Questions on Display a couple of Muslim students came up and started talking to a couple of our students about how Islam and Christianity compare. It was incredibly encouraging, they were so respectful and just wanted to start a dialogue with us. I got the opportunity to talk with a student named Irslan. He had spent a whole year reading through and memorizing the Quran, so he knew his stuff and was very passionate. But he loved that we were doing outreach and starting conversations about religion on campus. I was able to talk to him about Jesus and what his conceptions of Christ were as compared to what Christians think. Overall it was just so encouraging to have an open and friendly dialogue with people who were not yet Christian, but loved to talk about and explore different ideas. Irslan ended up asking me for my number so that we could hang out and talk more later! God is really opening up opportunities to reach out to these Muslim students!"

The team has been doing creative things and the students are coming out in force to share their faith. On the left, some of our team are standing in front of "Questions on Display" where we engage students with spiritual questions. On the right, students are sitting at "Story Time," an event where they told compelling stories (including some of Jesus' parables), and students sat around and discussed after each one.
"This month, all of the UTD apprentices went over to the TWU Dallas campus to put on a Christmas event for the students there. TWU Dallas is typically very different than some of our other campuses. The average age is much higher, there aren't nearly as many students, its confined to basically one building, and there aren't many events that happen on campus. So the fact that we were throwing this event and reaching out to people was already a big shift from what seems like the norm on this campus. The event was simple, we were giving out free hot chocolate, coffee, candy, and cookies. Based on the reaction of the students though, we could have been giving away cars. They were just so blown away that an organization would put on something like that. So many of them shared that our little event made their whole day. Plus, our students had the opportunity to engage in spiritual conversations with them while decorating cookies! It was so encouraging to see how far even a little effort can go to spreading the love of Jesus on campuses like that."

One other cool story is that through these outreach events, a number of our staff and students have connected with members of the atheist club on campus, including some of the leaders. Meaningful friendships have been formed that have resulted in some of them consistently attending our Tuesday night fellowship meeting and also inviting a couple of our staff team to come and speak at their weekly meeting. Please pray for God's blessings on all involved.

Keep FOCUS Growing Fundraiser Thank You!


Our exciting news is that we exceeded our goal for KFG! We blew past our matching funds goal of $29,000 on Giving Tuesday and the students exceeded their matching funds goal of $5000 at our weekly fellowship meetings that week! In all, we are over $75,000 which puts us in a great position moving into the next year. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who gave, shared the posts or otherwise passed on the news, and prayed for us. I was blown away by your generosity!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Challenges for the Future

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the future of our mission to the campuses in DFW. There are a number of challenges ahead, but none more important than getting the right leaders in place. Each of our staff missionaries commits for 1-5 years at a time. This brings a lot of stability, which is important to the students, and it's rare that someone has to step out unexpectedly or in the middle of a school year. But it also means that in certain years, a lot of key staff members are considering whether to stay on at the same time.

This is one of those years, especially among our women. I get to work with some amazingly gifted women who use their gifts in powerful ways. My hope is to keep them on staff for a long time! Yet as our staff has gotten a bit older, our women are being pulled in multiple directions. Some are feeling the pull toward not working outside the home in a formal way to provide maximum flexibility to invest in their own kids. That will affect more and more of them in the next few years. Others are feeling pulled to invest more heavily where they see gaps in the women's ministries at their churches, knowing their experience could be very helpful and that they would enjoy working among peers. And, as our staff members get married (often to each other!), we have less flexibility to fill key needs across the Metroplex.

I know God will provide all that we need. Please, be praying for clarity and wisdom as we do our best to both plan well for the future and also to be obedient and responsive as God does things we haven't planned for!


A Change in My Schedule

A month or so into the school year, we decided we needed to shuffle some things to invest more resources at SMU. One result is I now get to meet up with an amazing pair of corefas! (This is wonderful because I was pretty sad about not doing that for the first month.)

I've been so impressed by these guys. They are thoughtful and purposeful and careful in their leadership. They're open and honest and bring great questions to our meetings. I've known William basically since he was born, and it's a joy to have him at UTD. In addition to leading core, he is the worship leader for our new Tuesday evening service. Mark came in as a freshman a little over 3 years ago not seeing himself as a leader, but God had bigger plans! Mark served as our organization president last year, and as a senior this year is setting the pace for our entire leader team.

Mark on the left and William on the right.
Please say a prayer for these young ministers! I hope for my time with them to bless their lives far beyond this school year.


Monthly Testimony

This month, I have a story from an alumnus. He's the youngest sibling from a set of three who were all leaders in FOCUS during their time in college. The legacy of faith from the Doty family is still growing!


Thank you for your support and encouragement!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reflection from Brady: All Quiet on the Western Front


A Quick Update

We had a great Fall Retreat a week ago with a record number of students, both of our weekly services at UTD (Tuesdays and Fridays) are off to a great start, and 27 cores have kicked off at UTD alone! We are working with the core leaders this month to help them assess the spiritual needs in their groups and plan things that will bless the students in those groups and lead them to Jesus. It's exciting stuff! Please be praying for the hundreds of one-on-one Bible studies that are starting up--for receptive hearts, eagerness to learn, and diligence on the part of the students and pastors who are leading those.

More broadly, our SMU and Richland ministries are operating as independent ministries this year, our UTA team is helping plant cores at DBU (Dallas Baptist University, where there is a surprising lack of campus-based ministry), Collin's expansion to the McKinney campus continues to expand, and the Denton team has had an incredibly smooth leadership transition. The Lord is doing great things. Thank you for your part in making it happen!

A Reflection from Brady

Many of you are familiar with Brady Bobbink, a long-time campus pastor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. He's had (and continues to have!) a tremendous impact on the ministry of FOCUS over the years. I read these words that he wrote and want to share them with you because I think they capture the current opportunities and challenges of campus ministry so well.
When Erich Maria Remarque wrote “All Quiet on the Western Front”  –– the book cover (see to the right) for one edition carried the phrase, “On the threshold of life, they faced an abyss of death…” 
The warfare image is used repeatedly in the Scripture to describe the nature of the clash between powers of alienation and spiritual death and the powers of the good news of Jesus the Messiah. The image is helpful and needful for those of us who live in the midst of the seductive influences of personal prosperity and general security. 
If you walk on any of our campuses right now, you would be greeted with a sense of quiet peacefulness. You or I might think it a bit melodramatic to think that a profound battle is being prepared for as we enjoy the vistas and vibrancy of the college campus setting. The sense of peace on our campuses is a deceptive picture and feeling.
The image of warfare reminds us to see deeper than the presenting picture of kindly professors teaching curious hearted and learning hungry minds in the quiet idyllic setting of grand buildings and carefully tendered landscapes. It is enough to put one into a stupor of contentment, forgetting that lives are at stake in the here and now and in the age to come.  Few think in terms of the phrase on Remarque’s book as applying to present day college student, but in fact they are on the threshold of adult life, while at the same time facing life and death choices.
One of our recently graduated interns wrote a lengthy and thoughtful note to the staff before departing to his new campus as a campus missionary. Below are excerpts from his reflections that touch on what is at stake and what is divinely possible as our student leaders, interns, and staff teams engage the minds and hearts of students.
“When I came to Western in 2014 as a scared 18 year old, I never imagined what was about to happen to my life. It genuinely had never occurred to me that my life could change; I was certainly wrong. I was proud, small-minded, and lacking courage. I was deeply hungry for a real God, that is, a God who was knowable the way you know an old friend. I was scared and lonely. 
As I arrived in Bellingham, I found myself afraid of what I’d left behind but ill-equipped to handle what the future held. I couldn’t go back, and it was unsafe to move forward. It was in that very spot that Jesus used CCF to turn my world upside down. 
I clearly remember a moment where I was sitting in my dorm room, Nash 112, trying to decide if I wanted to go to a CCF event or hang out with the friend group my roommate had acquired. I found myself appreciating the “freedom” I felt to be whoever I wanted with them, even to experiment with sin and not receive judgment. It was exciting. But for some beautiful reason, I decided to hang out with CCF people that night instead. I don’t remember what we did that night, but I know that the decision I made is what determined who permanently entered my sphere of influence. 
Throughout the year, I watched as my roommate’s friends became alcoholics, traded off sleeping with each other, got put on academic probation, and ultimately created so much interpersonal drama that the group imploded. Meanwhile, I was discovering through experience what it meant to be loved. 
I had learned to be afraid of my sin, afraid of my temptations, afraid of my questions, and afraid of my doubts. I had learned to be afraid of the struggles I had, because they might just separate me from God. But in CCF I learned to stare my sin square in the face and tell it NO. I learned that I could ask any question, because if I can think of a question God can’t answer, then God isn’t really God. I learned that I wasn’t the only person who was broken, so it was safe to ask my brothers for help. I was doomed for destruction, and because each of you answered the unique call on your life to love students, I’m still here. And I LOVE Jesus. In a very real way, the  WWU campus has become holy ground in my life. It is the place where heaven met earth.” 
This is my prayer for UTD and all the other campuses in the DFW area--that they would become holy ground for students to encounter Jesus--and I hope you'll continue to press forward with me in that hope.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Welcome Week 2018!

You may not have realized it, but you were a part of being the hands and feet of Jesus on college campuses the past couple of weeks. Your prayers and encouragements and financial investments made it possible for us to send out hundreds of missionaries onto these campuses for Welcome Week.

At UTD, we hosted 12 events in 12 days (and attended a bunch of others!) to welcome new freshmen and transfer students to campus. Our student leaders and staff met SO MANY PEOPLE at events like Field Day, board games, Zombie Tag, a pool party, United Worship, our FNF Kickoff, and many more. They're busy getting all these new people connected to cores and one-on-one Bible studies. Please pray for lots of "yes" answers to their invitations--this will determine how fruitful our year will be as it continues.

This story illustrates why we do what we do during Welcome Week. UTA had their first meeting outdoors, which allowed students just passing by to join in!


A few more stories:

  1. I met a new freshman at one event who was telling me how sad and lonely he'd been since moving in 3 days before. I introduced him to just one student leader, and now he's involved in a core, hanging out with a bunch of Christian guys consistently, and playing intramural football with some guys from the ministry. 
  2. One of our women leaders, a UTD senior, went back to a new freshman's dorm with her after our first Friday night meeting. There were pictures hanging everywhere of friends and family back home. When asked if looking at them made her sad, she said it probably would have if it wasn't for the new friends she'd made through FOCUS.
  3. Another girl who isn't a Christian visited our first FNF because she was invited. She came bounding up to the girl who invited her afterward saying "This wasn't what I expected!" She was blown away by how vulnerable and transparent the community is. Coming from a generation that hungers for authenticity, this was a powerful statement. She's intrigued and wants to learn more.

I could tell story after story after story like these. There are literally hundreds of them, and even I only get to see a small slice of all that goes on. Thank you for helping make it happen!

A couple of other exciting photos from UTD:

The UTD FOCUS staff hosted about 34 ministers from nearly all the different campus ministries at UTD for a reception in August. The unity among these ministers is so encouraging, and it's only growing! We estimate that about 85% of the ministries were represented. 
The night before classes began at UTD, we hosted a United Worship night with the other campus ministries. It was a great chance to showcase spiritual life on campus to new students and communicate that we are partners not competitors.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Encouragements

I started Old Testament class with the new group of apprentices this morning. Please pray for these 12 amazing young people as they begin the process of reading and studying through the entire Old Testament (and later the New) today.
I got this encouraging message awhile back and wanted to share it here. It's from a guy who was in FOCUS a few years back and was addressed to a number of men who lead or have led in the FOCUS ministry:

"This morning, on my way to meet a friend for breakfast, I was involved in a low-speed accident where someone rear ended me. As I looked in the rearview mirror I could see the guy obviously frustrated and profanity leaving his mouth. We pulled into the nearby shopping center and as he and I both got out, I found myself asking him “are you okay?” as the very first thing.

We both assessed the damage to our vehicles which was minor. Bent license plate for him and a negligible scuff to the hitch receiver of my truck. I told him that I’m fine with us not reporting anything to insurance and giving him a break. As we parted I shook his hand and told him to go have a better day. When I hopped into my truck and started driving away, I found myself praying for this guy. I’m not a person that prays as much as I should and more often than not I forget to pray about people who I don’t have a relationship with.

Afterwards, as I was processing the events that took place, I began to wonder where I learned these behaviors. Making sure the well-being of someone I got into a wreck took precedence over the damage of my replaceable property. Encouraging a random person to go have a good day instead of making it worse. And praying for this person when we parted ways.

I’m doubtful I learned any of these things from my parents. From past experience, my mom would criticize me for not reporting it to insurance and claiming money like “everyone else” would do. My dad would have probably have been annoyed and irritated, therefore been somewhat hostile towards the guy and certainly not concerned for his well-being.

It’s pretty clear that I have been very fortunate to learn these habits from the relationships I have had with all of you and many others. You guys have had an overwhelming, positive impact on my character is a result of the pursuit of Godly living in your lives.

I cannot thank you guys enough for being part of my life from the time that I first joined FOCUS, through the rigors of going and returning from war, losing faith and finding it again, family problems, and even now when things are good. Thank you for being there during of the most impressionable moments in my life, being guys that I can count on to work really hard on treating people well, and doing the right thing. Thank you for being role models, influences, peers, and friends that have shown me how a real man should act and behave. Thank you for not only displaying the good aspects of your lives to the other young men in our community but also openly sharing your own pitfalls and struggles so that others may learn from them. And above all else glory be to God for using you guys to keep me and other guys from straying too far away from Him.

Once again, thank you and love you guys."

And I think you'll find this story from a current encouraging as well. It's a testament to the importance of having a presence on community college campuses.


Thank you for your gifts and prayers and service and love and encouragement that lead to stories like these! Let's make even more happen this year. To God be the glory!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I Got Married! (Among other things)

So the biggest news of the past month is that I married Sarah on June 30, 2018. It was a wonderful day with so many of our friends and family in attendance. We spent the next few days in San Diego and Anaheim, CA, enjoying the much cooler weather. We've spent the last couple of days working hard at getting our new home put together. I'm looking forward to settling into some sort of routine.
Neil, my best friend growing up, came with his sweet family.
We spent a day at Disneyland and had a blast

Luke, one of the students I mentored this year, is from San Diego. He and his family hosted us for a wonderful dinner one night. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip!

Plans for July


This month, I'll be hard at work getting things prepared for the year. We're finishing up building our largest student leader team ever at UTD, which will be led by our largest staff team ever at UTD. We are planning to try out some creative things this fall--starting a second weekly service on Tuesday nights and having some cores meet at a variety of non-traditional times and places. Be praying for these experiments, that we'll learn a lot and that they'll help us connect with an even more diverse group of students. I'll have more to say about all of this in the next couple months.

Student Testimony


Harrison Wijaya, Collin College - Spring Creek, Finance Major, Freshman
"When I came to the United States from Indonesia, I was pretty concerned about what life would be like. I immediately assumed I’d have a pretty lonely time at Collin. I heard about FOCUS but wasn’t really interested since I didn’t have a connection point. Interacting with strangers had never been my strong suit. Little did I know that God was listening and was ready to meet my needs. My first day on campus I met Graham, who told me about his involvement with FOCUS and introduced me to his friends. He followed up with me, and that was a huge way God started giving me a vision for what my life could look like.

"Through one-on-ones and pastoral messages, this community has taught me the impact of
reflecting Christ in every word I speak and action I take. Through my friendships, I’ve been shown how we can best love one another by putting all our efforts into blessing strangers like me. I've also had the opportunity to honor God at home by getting to live with five other guys from our community. Being in FOCUS, I’ve learned that God wants to open my eyes and heart to truly be shaped into someone who loves Him and those around me in all areas of my life."

I want to thank you once again for sharing this vision and strengthening it with your prayers and your financial generosity!

Suffering and Spiritual Growth

It's easy to lose perspective as a middle-class, 21st century American. I'm reminded of a quote I heard years ago from a persecuted ...