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!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Back from SICM

Javi's experience speaks to the experience of many who have grown up in the church--what will college hold for me in terms of my faith?

Javiera Pinochet, Richland College, Sophomore, Social Work
"I was very hopeful for what God was going to do during my first semester in college. I did, however, have a lot of anxiety about my professors, whether or not I would build Godly friendships, and how I would find a good Christian community. In the past, I’ve struggled with making friends--I think because I feared rejection. My fears made it hard for me to actually open up and connect with others, either in a spiritual or non-spiritual way. When the Club Fair came around at Richland, I went up to the FOCUS booth and talked to Sandra, one of the campus ministers at Richland. I found what I was looking for! I have built spiritual relationships that have become a second family to me. I have made unexpected friendships through serving on the worship team at UTD and doing a one-on-one Bible study. That’s the beauty of FOCUS--they love on you and challenge you to be more like Jesus. This year, the theme was ‘'Send Me'. This has become a theme for my life because I feel the need to share the love of Christ. Thankfully, I was able to attend SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) where I was trained to do just that! Top-notch teachers taught us all sorts of things about what it looks like to be a missionary to our campuses. I want to thank FOCUS for believing in me and equipping me to be a “sent-one!”

SICM


As Javi mentioned, we recently took an amazing group of young students to the Student Institute of Campus Ministry for a week of training. It was a GREAT group from FOCUS and has filled me with excitement for our leadership team this coming school year. Please be in prayer for our staff and these students as we have conversations about whether leading a core this coming school year is a good fit for them. That's one of the most important things that happens during the summer.

Peter, Laurence, and I got to stay in a really nice house and be "dads" to this great group of guys during SICM this year. I think every one of them will be a great leader to impact others for the kingdom!
At the end of SICM, I had the honor of baptizing Charlie in Lake Whatcom. Someone caught this epic hair toss on camera afterward.

Summer FOCUS


During the summer, we have one meeting for the students who are still in town. I missed the first one, but a friend sent these encouraging pictures. You can always check out the sermons to hear what we're teaching on the website under resources and media.


Thanks for your prayers and financial support--you guys make this all possible! Another big prayer request: we're making plans to start a second weekly service on a different night of the week at UTD this fall. We hope this will help us reach a wider group of students, especially commuters who aren't on campus on Fridays when we meet. Please be praying for wisdom and discernment as we plan the details and for all the complicated room reservations that will have to fall into place!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Bittersweet End of Another School Year

We've spent the last few days saying "thank you" and "goodbye" and celebrating all the cool things the Lord Jesus has been doing in our midst through his Spirit this year. Friday night we had a time of open sharing where the students told story after story of how lives were impacted through this community. You would have been so encouraged to hear all of them!

Meeting weekly with Luke, Austin, Casey, and Jesse has been a highlight of my year!
All of our cores have been having their last meetings as finals get underway. The four student guys I had the pleasure of mentoring in their leadership have done such an amazing job! Both cores are sending potential leaders to SICM next week, and all four of these leaders are planning to serve in leadership again next year--two at UTD, one at UTA, and one on our staff at Richland. I don't think I've ever had such an actively sweet group of young men in my peer team. They have each purposefully and consistently encouraged me this year. My heart is full just thinking about what a blessing they've been to me and what a blessing they've been to the other students they reached out to and loved in the name of Christ this year.

Thank you!


So many of you invested in our next generation of student leaders through the Spring Showcase or otherwise giving scholarships for SICM. The Showcase raised $17,759.20 in one day! We should be in great shape paying for everyone who needed help.

We leave for SICM in Washington next Thursday, May 10, with a group of 135. So please say a prayer for safety and that God will work mightily as He always has!

Student Testimony

Bekwele Wodi, Texas Woman’s University, Psychology, Sophomore
"I first became involved with FOCUS when I was just starting out at Collin College. I had been living in Nigeria for a few years, so I was walking into a college experience where I didn’t know anyone. I worried a lot about not being able to find any meaningful friendships while I was there. So it came as a surprise when some old friends of mine, LorĂ© and Gibby Yessuff, invited me to a Thursday Night Fellowship. From that first night of fellowship, I made more friends than I could have prayed for. People asked me to sit with them, scheduled time to hang out with me, got to know me, and challenged me as a disciple. It became clear to me that this was not only an example of authentic Christian community; this was the way Jesus called us to do friendships—intentional, genuine and loving.

Through the many friendships I’ve been blessed with in FOCUS, God has changed my fear and worry of not having any friends into a desire to grow and develop friendships at TWU. I am beyond thankful when I see what he is doing in the lives of students here and for the example of Christian friendship that I’m now able to extend to others."

One More Cool Story

One of our alumni works on a missions team in Thailand, and she sent us this picture of some of her team listening to our fall Pizza Theology on the Sermon on the Mount together and taking notes. So your investment is making an impact overseas as a piece of FOCUS goes to Thailand!


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, bu...