Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Meet Our New Apprentices at UTD

Each August we accept a group of college graduates onto our staff for one school year. They come to serve the community, to learn and grow in their own faith, and to explore the possibility of becoming a campus pastor long-term. As usual, we have an outstanding group this year! There are 12 in all, but 7 of them are serving at UTD. I'm going to let them introduce themselves. There's also a student testimony and a picture from Fall Camp below. We had a great turnout!

Thank you to all of you who pray for this mission and to those of you who give financially to support it. I'm so encouraged by your partnership!

My name is Cort Thomas. I graduated from UT Dallas with a BFA in Arts & Technology. I am very excited to be doing the FOCUS apprenticeship at my alma mater. I am excited to get to grow as a person, to serve the community at UTD, and above all to deepen my relationship with Christ. Something interesting about me is that I have been married since August of 2018!

(Another Fun Fact is that Cort is our only male apprentice at UTD this year.)

My name is Ashley Obregon. I graduated from The University of North Texas #GMG with a bachelors in Social Work. I love being with people, the enneagram, and being loud. I have always been someone who felt like they needed to advocate for people so social work made sense to me. When I was a student in this ministry, I saw the way people loved and fought for me. When it comes to the apprenticeship, I am excited to have the opportunity to learn the things that I loved most about social work within the world of ministry. My life would be very different if people hadn't fought for me, and I look forward to getting to be that for someone else. I pray that this year God uses me to be a fighter for someone.
My name is Erin Campbell, and I am from Plano, Texas. I recently graduated from The University of North Texas with a degree in integrative studies concentrating in social work, psychology and women studies. I am very excited to be doing the FOCUS apprenticeship! I loved being in FOCUS as a student at Collin and UNT, and I am thrilled to be able to serve this ministry and the people in it. I am also looking forward to learning from talented ministers and to deepening my relationship with God. God used FOCUS and the people in it to change the trajectory of my life. I cannot wait to see what He does with the staff and students this year.

My name is Kylie Von Runnen. I am a Texas native and graduated from UTD this past Spring with a degree in Business Administration. It is super special to get to be on staff at this campus that was so integral to my growth in my relationship with God throughout college. I'm using this season to learn more about God and fall more in love with Him as I love His people on this campus. I am so excited to be at UTD and can't wait to see what God does in and through me in this season of life! Fun Fact: I love Disney and cats.

My name is Maria Stufflebeem! I’m originally from Recife, Brazil but have grown up in the Dallas, Texas area. I graduated with a BS in General Studies with a double major of Nursing and Business Administration from TWU. I felt a fire in my heart for the FOCUS apprenticeship, and am so excited to be a part of it! I absolutely love the opportunity to dive deep in our classes, readings, and discussions as well as study with and mentor students, putting into practice what we learn from our classes! It’s an exciting experience getting to grow in the knowledge of the Lord and see Him at work in the campus!  I’m so honored to get to do the apprenticeship this year! Fun fact: I’m fluent in three languages and love listening to other languages, even if I can’t understand them.

I'm Hannah Diaz, a native Texan. I completed my B.A. in English at Texas Woman’s University in 2019. It was there that I found Christ through college ministry. After going to my first core at the beginning of my freshman year, I knew I had found a home with FOCUS. Since then, I've committed my life to discipleship and haven't looked back! I decided to apply for the apprenticeship with FOCUS, knowing that I want to spread the amazing news of Jesus and love other students the way I had been loved throughout my years in college.

My name is Hanna Mason! I graduated from UNT with a bachelors in Special Education, and have been teaching for the last two years. I chose to do this apprenticeship because I felt God calling me to explore campus ministry as a career. I hope to learn how to better minister to college students, how to think pastorally, and how to grow in my faith and trust in God. A fun fact about me is that I am the youngest of around 36 grandchildren.

The crew from our UTD Fall Camp! We had a great weekend talking about making decisions and persevering through obstacles and challenges.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Welcome Week 2019 was STRESSFUL and SUCCESSFUL!

Welcome Week is a bit of a misnomer since it basically stretches from the beginning of freshmen moving in on August 13 to our last welcome event this past Sunday, September 1. UTD has it right: they're now calling it Weeks of Welcome!

FOCUS at UTD hosted 3 board game nights, 2 nights of zombie tag, 2 Field Day events (Ultimate Frisbee, Speedball, Bubble Soccer9-Square in the AirSpike Ball, and more!), Take A Freshman to their Classes (campus tour), carpools to church on 3 Sunday mornings, a United Worship night with the other ministries on campus, Games on the Mall (with 4 square and frisbee and spike ball), our FNF and TNF kickoffs, and 2 ethnic specific outreach events. We also helped with 2 huge international student outreaches, the Garage Giveaway furniture drive and the Big Howdy, which had over 1000 international student in attendance. We got 350 interest cards at that event alone!

The 2 ethnic-specific outreach events were a new experiment this year, and they went great! On the first Tuesday of school, we hosted a Latin American social. Then, on Thursday, we hosted an Asian American social. We had over 70 students come to each! Our hope was to communicate to the campus that we are a diverse ministry with a desire to welcome all ethnicities into our community. We also wanted a chance to tell them that while we know being in a monoethnic group might be more comfortable, participating in a diverse group like FOCUS has the potential for greater growth all around.

Part of the circle at our Worship & Boba Tea Asian American social.

Part of the crowd at our LatinXplosion event playing a Mexican Bingo game.

Some sweet stories from our core leaders after the LatinX event.
Looking back, our weeks of welcome were a huge success, and both our large fellowship night and our cores are off to a great start! We took some time as a staff to go out on Lake Lavon and play for a morning--no work involved! It was really relaxing and rejuvenating. My good friend John Von Runnen was kind enough to take us all out on his boat.

The full-time UTD staff members and apprentices right after we got off the lake.

Student Testimony

And just in case you want to see a pic from our FNF Kickoff...

Thanks for all you do to make this mission a success! We couldn't do it without many prayers and generous donors!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Introducing our 2019-20 UTD Pastoral Staff!

This is our amazing staff team for UTD this year! 5 full-time staff, 4 adjunct staff, and 7 apprentices!
Back row: Erin, Peter, Maria, Kylie, Hanna, my beautiful mother Tana, and me
Front row: Amy, Sarah, Hannah, Ashley, Rhett, Cort, Jesse, Melissa, and Mandy
I spent last weekend on retreat with our new and improved staff team for UTD. This year brings a number of changes:

  1. First off, the Richland and SMU and TWU Dallas staff members have formed their own team working independently under Sirak's leadership. It's sad to not work as closely with them, but it's exciting to see those ministries flourishing and becoming self-sustaining!
  2. We made the decision to pull all the apprentices back to UTD and Collin and Richland. We hope this will give them an improved experience--more consistent, more access to our most experienced staff, and MUCH less time in the car! The result is our largest ever group of apprentices at UTD.
  3. We are continuing (and refining!) the Tuesday night service that we started last school year, so our staff and student leadership will be split between Tuesdays and Fridays. The topics will be the same week to week, but they'll be taught by pastors who are present in those services and know those students.
  4. Melissa Kenfield, who was an apprentice way back in 2012-13, is coming back to volunteer a few hours of her time weekly to working with our student officers, the ones who manage all of our many room reservations, event approvals, service projects, and campus staff relationships. We're so excited to have someone who is excited to mentor those students and help them be successful.
  5. Briefly about our apprentices: 
    • Kylie Von Runnen and Cort Thomas grew up at Northeast Church. I remember holding both of them in the church nursery! They were both great leaders in FOCUS, first at Collin and then at UTD. 
    • Hanna Mason came from the Northeast Church teen ministry and went through Collin and UNT as a student leader. She's been teaching special education in a public school for the past couple of years.
    • Maria (Lefki) Stufflebeem has served at UTD and TWU Dallas. I once went on a 2-week road trip across the western half of the US with her and her brother! She loves God's word and will be an amazing addition to our team.
    • Erin Campbell and Ashley Obregon were leaders at Collin and then UNT. Hannah Diaz also comes down from Denton but from TWU. I don't know these 3 as well, but I'm excited to have them on the team. I know God has big things in store!
  6. As for the other adjunct staff, Tana will continue supervising apprentices, Amy will be mentoring corefas, and Jesse will be driving evangelism along with the apprentices. They've set a goal to go out one on one with every single corefa and returning member to do conversational evangelism on campus at least once a semester!
  7. (In case you're curious, Mandy and I will continue to co-direct and oversee UTD as well as our staff across all 12 campuses. Peter is our assistant director and manages the week to week operations of our UTD ministry on top of leading a core and mentoring some corefas. Rhett and Sarah will mentor many of our student leaders and will also be leading the Tuesday night service.)
If you have any questions about the team, I'd love to answer them. With our biggest pastoral team ever, we have some exciting plans for the year!

Thanks for all you do and give to make all this possible!

Alumni Testimony

In August, with no students around, we usually do a testimony from an alum about the long-term impact of campus ministry. Chelsea continues to be a blessing to our students in Denton!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Partnership in the Gospel

I've been reflecting on the partnership I share with many of you who pray and financially support this mission to the campus consistently. I'm reminded of Paul's words:

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building." 1 Corinthians 3:7-9

The mission to change the lives of college students with the good news of Jesus is truly a team effort. People have been praying for these campuses and these students for decades by the time they reach us, and many more join in those prayers as they arrive. God blesses some with financial resources to share, and they send and resource campus pastors like myself to be on campus full-time. We get to not only reach out to new students but also equip students who are followers of Jesus to be pastors and evangelists to their peers. They go out every day into classes and residence halls and dining areas to be the presence of Christ. And I could go on with parents and grandparents and siblings and pastors and youth pastors and teachers and so many others who live out some part of God's mission. We each play multiple small parts, but none of us deserves the real credit. We've all been invited into this work by God, the same One who used others to bless us into his kingdom. Thank you for the myriad ways you love and serve people, and thank you especially for the ways you invest in the lives of university students through FOCUS. I'm so thankful to have you as co-workers in God's service!

Student Testimony

SMU is a tough campus for many reasons, but God is answering our prayers to raise up leaders for the harvest! Please say a prayer for Brandon and his friends as they prepare to go out on campus this fall!


I'm getting to spend this week in Breckenridge, CO, with 4 staff guys and 3 student leaders. It's been a great time to share in the Lord together, experience some beautiful creation, and take some time off before we start gearing up for 2019-20 on August 1.

A few of us went on a long hike yesterday. We may have gotten lost, come partway back down, and then actually found our way to the top.
I walked about 20 feet from a huge moose today! We were very careful to slip by without disturbing him.
And for those of you who are concerned, my wonderful wife Sarah is on a cruise with a couple of friends this week. She planned her trip without me first. :)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Hello Summer!

As of Friday night, our FOCUS staff officially ended year 9 of our apprenticeship! We had 12 wonderful apprentices this year who were faithful ministers to their various campuses. Two of them have made 3+ year commitments to our staff team, five of them have made a commitment to stay at least 1 more year, and 5 of them are going out as ministers in the marketplace! In addition, we have 10 new apprentices planning to join the team on August 1 for year 10! Please say a prayer for their support raising season this summer.

I had the privilege of mentoring Drew Cleveland this year. He's a phenomenal young minister with huge potential. It's a bittersweet ending--he's staying on staff but transitioning (along with his wonderful wife Darby) to serve on our Denton staff team. UTD's loss is their gain!

Drew and me at SICM this year.
We also said goodbye to 4 of our senior staffers who are moving on to new opportunities. Brittany Tydlacka will be focusing her attention on motherhood and ministry within the Denton North Church. Aaron Hollingsworth is planning to engage his passion for art and creativity, starting his own interior design business. Sloan (Cannedy) Asfaw is going to serve in the women's ministry at the Northeast Church. Kelly Schlitz is off to law school at UT in Austin.

Each one has been an incredible blessing to this mission and will be missed. They've also all raised up multiple leaders to replace them during their time with FOCUS, so the mission will continue advancing!


The UTD group at May SICM. We're sending a couple more with the June crew!

SICM was once again a wonderful experience. We have so many bright young disciples who have caught the vision for reaching their peers on campus with the good news about Jesus! Right now we're in the middle of all the conversations recruiting student leaders for the fall. Please pray for us!

Student Testimony

Thanks for your gifts and service and prayers toward the end of reaching these campuses with the gospel. It's making a difference and does not go unnoticed!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Wrapping up 2018-19

I finished up a year of mentoring this great group of guys alongside my apprentice Drew.
They've done some really meaningful ministry this year!
This time of year is always bittersweet for me as students graduate and transition out of FOCUS. The relational style of ministry we do means we often form deep connections with students over the course of years, and then those relationships have to change. But it's also exciting in that it opens the door for new relationships when thousands of new students flood our campuses in just a few short months.

Thinking Ahead

We're already in planning mode for the next school year, and to that end, we've been debriefing some of the experiments we tried this year. We've been reflecting on our second weekly service at UTD on Tuesday nights (a big success!), but also on whether we have the staff in place to sustain it. We've looked at how our goal of being a more visible community on campus through conversational outreach displays has gone (another big success!), but also whether some of the time we put into that might be better spent in other types of evangelistic outreach.
One of our biggest questions for the long-term is how to grow a ministry without losing the relational element that we value so highly. When a group gets about 200 or so, it's so much easier for students to hide in the background, coming to things but remaining unnoticed by leaders. It's so much harder to pick out the visitors in a crowd. Doing the second service this year has helped with that, but also created new challenges with maintaining unity and direction when we're never all in the same room at the same time!
One idea we've considered over the years is splitting into more than one ministry on the same campus and allowing them to grow independently. Until recently, I'd never heard of anyone trying it, but then we found out that Chi Alpha at Sam Houston State did just that this year. They actually split their 800ish person ministry into FIVE ministries on the same campus!
Last week, my senior UTD staff went down to ask them a million questions about the experience. They were so sweet to us and excited to share what they are learning. We aren't looking at trying this out next year. In fact, we may still be years away from taking such a major step (if ever). But these are the kinds of conversations that put more tools in our toolbelt for the future and that forge new connections with others who share our mission and values.
We had some good BBQ in an HEB with Jason Bell and a couple of key people from his Chi Alpha team!

Spring Showcase & SICM Update

We raised around $22,000 to help send students to SICM, up from around $16,000 last year! Thanks to all of you who participated, prayed, or attended, and to all who give and pray regularly to make this possible. Please be in prayer for the SICM trip that leaves this Friday!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Baptisms are so cool!

This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to baptize one of the guys I've been studying the Bible with for about a year. I met Pieter last March when he moved to the US from Belgium to get married to one of the girls in UTD FOCUS. Pieter's parents don't believe in God, so he was raised without any biblical teaching whatsoever. He met Marla, his now wife, online and they started having spiritual conversations. Over the internet, she taught him our Foundations of Faith study that we use with international students as well as much of Focus on Jesus. After Pieter decided he wanted to follow Jesus, they got engaged and he moved to Dallas a couple months before the wedding.

Pieter and me after the baptism. I had already changed back, but the family was taking the opportunity to have a pool party!
I got involved to help with pre-marital counseling and to officiate the wedding, but I quickly fell in love with Pieter. He has such a sweet spirit and is so eager to learn. Each week I would give him a book of the Bible to read (or multiple if they were short), and he consistently shows up having read it all and with a list of written questions for me! He's read well over half of the Bible at this point and we're still going strong! He's been thinking through baptism for the past couple months, but he wanted to wait until his sweet parents would be in Dallas so they could be a part of it and see the gospel in action.

Don't Forget about Spring Showcase!

This Month's Student Testimony is So Sweet

Meet Our New Apprentices at UTD

Each August we accept a group of college graduates onto our staff for one school year. They come to serve the community, to learn and grow i...