Monday, November 28, 2011

No One Left Behind

With Winter Camp fast approaching, I've been pondering our long-term policy that with anything we do, we don't let anyone not participate because they can't afford it.  We don't have a lot of expensive events.  Most never top $5.  But Winter Camp is about $135 for a four-day, three-night experience and SICM in May can run over $500 for 9 days in Washington State.  These are expensive trips, but as I look back over the years I realize that they are the two most impacting times of our calendar year.  There's something about getting away from our regular routines for a few days to study and pray, worship and play, and build deeper relationships.  Students that go into these times lonely come out with friends; students that go into these times wavering come out having made solid decisions.  Emotional camp experiences aren't our goal, but when added on top of months of one-on-one and small group Bible study, mentoring, and relationships, these times away can engage students' hearts in a way that is hard to do in one hour in the middle of a busy school week.

And so back to our policy--we don't want anyone to stay home because of money.  And the Lord always provides richly!  It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality."  I always tell students who allow someone else to pay for them to make a commitment to pay for someone, somewhere to go to camp in the future (not necessarily through FOCUS).  The result has been more than I expected, as is usually the case with our God!  Some students who received such a scholarship once now pay for someone to go every year.  A couple years ago, we paid in full for a sophomore who had recently committed her life to Christ to go to SICM--a few hundred dollars.  She was so impacted by that trip that the next year (her junior year), she got a part-time job on campus and wrote me a check for the full amount to pay for a freshman to make the same trip.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the girls approached me and said her family just didn't have any money to pay for camp because things were really tight right now.  I was blessed to get to tell her, "no problem!"  Literally within 10 minutes a grad student approached me and said he wanted to pay for an extra student to go.  Last week I had a community college student say he couldn't even afford the $5 for pizza at our Pizza Theology event.  About 30 minutes later, a sophomore told me he wanted to scholarship 4 or 5 people for Winter Camp!  An alumnus who we have helped attend events before just paid for a student to attend Winter Camp and told me to let him know when more events come up.  These young disciples are learning, as the Philippian church did, to share in "the matter of giving and receiving" (Phil 4:15).  

Christ has truly brought us a better way, a different way to live within our culture.  My prayer is that these students will take this willingness to invest in the spiritual life of their brothers and sisters out into their families and churches and workplaces in the decades to come.  This is exciting stuff!  

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd also like to say thank you for all the many ways that each of you has blessed my life and ministry.  Reaching universities for the Lord is a community effort, and I feel so blessed that He has put each one of you in my life and let me be some small part of yours.

Last year's Winter Camp crew.  We're expecting even more students this January!
If you'd like to help pay for a student to go to camp (in part or in full), feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Busy October!

This past month has been crazy but awesome!  I have so much to report so I'll jump right in.

October 1-2, we took a little over a hundred people down to Mt Lebanon Baptist Encampment for an overnight retreat. This is an awesome time for new students to plug in and build friendships in the ministry.  In fact, we significantly discount the retreat for students who are new to the ministry to encourage them to come.  We had 96 people sign up and ALL 96 showed up (plus a few extras), which may be the first time in campus ministry history that we had zero no-shows!  That's a testimony to all of our student leaders working hard to get people there and make it a great experience.  Our theme was "Everyone Has a Story" and my favorite part was when 4 of our students shared their stories with the whole group of how God has brought them to this point.  Two came from Christian families and two grew up not knowing about God, but it was amazing to hear how Jesus used peers to bring each of them to know Him and begin living for His kingdom!  Then we split up in pairs and let everyone share their own stories.  It was a great experience.

UTD Fall Camp!
Another major event this month was a staff wedding!  Tyler, who has worked on staff with us first at Collin College and now at UTD, married my sister Brianna, one of our interns at Collin this year.  This has obviously been in the works for awhile, and we are all delighted.  From a family standpoint, one of my favorite people in the world has joined our clan.  From a ministry standpoint, they set the pace for our students of what done-right looks like.  They sought wisdom and asked advice; they kept their relationship pure; they spurred each other on spiritually and encouraged one another to keep serving and ministering to others; and they used this season of dating and engagement to serve the Lord and grow their friendships.  We couldn't ask for a better example!  They are moving into a little house about 5 houses down from the "Allen House," one of the main gathering places for our Collin College ministry.

If you haven't watched the baptism linked to on the main page, you can view it at  Sam is a student from China who came to FOCUS and started studying the Bible last school year.  He's been a faithful student of the word and has been seriously counting the cost of this decision for months.  He and his girlfriend Rachel (who was featured in our student testimony last month) are starting up our pre-engagement counseling because they want to have a godly marriage.  Just as exciting to me is Stephen getting the chance to baptize Sam.  Stephen is a grad student who is leading a small group for the first time.  He grew up in a Catholic tradition that really stressed knowing the Bible and being serious about faith, but he had never made the jump to finding out what truly being a disciple was all about.  It's been amazing to watch him transform from someone who thought he knew enough into a disciple who knows he has a lifetime of learning ahead of him and finally into a disciple-maker!  What a Jesus-story!  Some of my favorite conversations over these past few months have been with Stephen as he shared his heart for Sam and sought wisdom on how to help Sam become a Christian.  And after the baptism the other night, Stephen told me he has started studying with a couple more Chinese students who want to know about God that Sam introduced him to!  Opportunities like this can really snowball in campus ministry.

Lots of students laid hands on Sam and prayed for his new life in Christ right after his baptism.
Over the past weekend we had our All-Church Retreat.  When Northeast Church started that tradition back in 1998, it was just a great time to take everyone from every age group out to the lake and build the kind of family relationships God had laid on our hearts to build--a community where you don't just know a few peers, but where everyone has relationships across the age spectrum.  This year, it served as a gathering point for people from 2 churches and 4 campus ministries.  It was a good time for me to reflect on how ambitious the Northeast family was all those years ago with our 2020 vision--50 churches by 2020, including vibrant campus missions on every campus in the metroplex.  We always said we wouldn't force it and that we didn't know what that would look like.  We wanted to let God drive that and see where He would take us, but we also wanted to dream big for Him.  Now here we are in 2011 and we have 2 awesome, growing churches and exciting, growing ministries on 4 campuses.  We have visions for churches in Greenville, Richardson, and Denton in the near future.  The statistics are clear that most people coming to Christ for the first time are coming through smaller, newer churches where it's easy to build real relationships.  And so we are doing what we can to stay small and new and relational.  We're praying about sending missionaries to UT Arlington, Texas Woman's University, North Central Texas College (the community college in Denton County), SMU, 6 more Dallas County Community Colleges, 3 more Collin College campuses, and Texas A&M Commerce--and that's not all the campuses in this city!  There are multiple FOCUS alumni and past interns who have a heart for campus ministry and are waiting for the right time and place to answer the call as a campus missionary.  I say all that to say this--God is doing His deal and we are getting to take part in it.  I hope each of you will continue to pray about your role in impacting these campuses and these cities that are strategically placed to impact our world.

One final random piece of encouraging information.  Every year at UTD, one of the service fraternities (Alpha Phi Omega) has a big event called Trick or Treat for Canned Goods to benefit the North Texas Food Bank.  They send out small teams of students from other student organizations to go house to house collecting canned goods on Halloween night.  They count up the totals for a little friendly competition.  We usually do pretty well, but here's the email I received this morning about the results:


First off, I want to thank you for coming to out to support Network Community Ministries and Alpha Phi Omega. Without your participation, we couldn't have made this event such a success. Together, we collected over 2,800 lbs of food for them! This was well over our early expectations, so congratulations to you all! 

Now, I know you have all been eagerly awaiting the results, so, without further ado, here they are:

Top Teams
  • In 3rd Place, with 250 cans collected... Sons of Faded Glory!
  • In 2rd Place, with 256 cans collected... Kooky Core!
  • And, in 1st Place, with a WHOPPING 365 (yes, you read that right) cans.... JESUS SWAG!
<All 3 of those teams are FOCUS discipleship groups!>
          Top Organizations
  • In 3rd Place, collecting 206 cans with just one team... ODPhi (AKA Team Unimaginative)!
  • With 207 cans and barely securing 2nd Place... Pre-Pharmacy Association!
  • And... the grand prize winner... with 1426 cans and easily securing their spot as the Champions of TOT...
Isn't it cool to see how hard these students work when working for the Lord and not for men?  What a great witness to the campus community and beyond.  God is good!  Let me know if there is anything I can be praying for you this November.  For the kingdom,


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