Friday, December 7, 2012

Sorry I'm late...

So sorry I'm a week late getting this up.  These past two weeks have been pretty crazy dealing with unexpected issues.  Sadly, a freshman who was actively involved in our UNT community passed away in an auto accident on his way back from Thanksgiving break.  Another car caused the wreck trying to pass in a no-passing zone and sped away from the scene.  Ryan Schutze died at the scene.  I didn't have the privilege of knowing Ryan personally, but all those I have talked to say he was a very godly young man who had a positive impact on a lot of people.  That has been comforting to the students in our ministry who are confident in the relationship he had with the Lord.  1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 has been on my mind: "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."  Paul doesn't say that as Christians we don't grieve.  But he does say that we don't grieve like others grieve, because we have great hope.

I don't believe God causes such accidents, but I do believe He is able to work these tragic events and choices to the ultimate good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).  Through these events, students are inspired to examine their own lives, are reminded that tomorrow isn't a guarantee, and examine what legacy they would leave behind if they were taken suddenly away.  Through the grace of God, Ryan leaves a powerful legacy with only 18 short years here.  He will continue to bear fruit in the kingdom.

In happier news, Mandy put up another international student baptism video at mandy.anyfocus.org!

And we had 250 students attend our Pizza Theology class this semester entitled "Rethinking Sex and Marriage."  At these events we have 2 hours of lecture, 1 hour of pizza, and 2 more hours of lecture.  It allows us to go much deeper into a topic than we could in a typical sermon.  You would have been so encouraged not only by the turnout, but by how serious they were about taking notes and asking questions.



Thanks for all you do for the kingdom and for me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

International Student Conversions!

Thanks to years of saving up credit card points, my brother Casey and I had the chance to go to three countries in Europe during the first part of October, so I don't have as much to report on my personal ministry.  I basically spent my time prepping to be gone and then trying to get back into the swing of things.  But the ministry is in such a healthy place and our time away was just a blip on the radar for the students--though a much needed rest for us!  Going together we had a lot of fun and also had the opportunity for some great conversations about our Lord and ministering to students.

Us at Neuschwanstein Castle outside Munich on a very rainy day.

This is overlooking Florence on probably the most beautiful day of our trip.
In the past week we've also had two exciting conversions with International Students.  To give you an idea of the pace of this ministry, we've been reaching out to both of these students for over a year.  David started studying the Bible with Lingxiao last fall.  Debbie (our FOCUS admin) teaches an English conversation class.  Penny joined last fall and they became good friends.  Then, about a month ago Debbie got the opportunity to study the Bible with her.  Surely lots of other Christians (both inside and outside of FOCUS) have taken part in both of their lives--truly a kingdom effort.  And this is your fruit too!  Thank you for having the vision to invest your prayer, your time, your heart and your money into this mission field.






Penny gave an awesome testimony that you need to hear, but I'm still trying to get a copy of it.  I'll post it if I can get it fron the church she goes to.  So many cool things are happening.  Thanks for partnering with us!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Enjoying my new flexibility

We just finished up a weekend of fall retreats.  I wish you could have been there because you would have been so excited to see them.  We took record groups to both the UTD/Richland retreat and the UNT retreat.  Richland took about 3 students last year but around 15 this year.  The overall UTD/Richland count the day before the retreat was 145 (compared to 96 last year).  That included a LOT of international students.  They brought so much to the weekend, and we are delighted to have them as a part of our community.  It's so exciting to experience a small piece of the Bible's cosmic vision as people from multiple nations and languages come to learn about God.

Bill Bright (1921-2003)
I'm spending the bulk of my time supporting, equipping, and encouraging young campus ministers, but I've also carved out time to work on starting a faculty fellowship at UTD.  My heart is growing for this ministry as I begin to see how faculty can ultimately play a much larger, more long-term role in seeing kingdom transformation on these campuses.  Compared to student leaders, they have far more influence, a natural venue to influence students, and are often still on campus decades later.  Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, said this toward the end of his life: "If I could start Campus Crusade for Christ over again, I would begin by working with professors."

Regardless of their role in the university and society, professors are humans who face the same challenges, opportunities, disappointments, and tragedies that all other people do.  For various reasons, they are often isolated and disconnected from spiritual community.  And on secular campuses, Christian professors may feel there is no appropriate forum for their faith.  I hope you'll join me in praying for leaders to step up to this ministry and for spiritual renewal and revival on campus.  And if you know any professors at one of our campuses, let me know!

I read this quote from Eugene Peterson (translator of The Message) the other day about another minister:

"Faced with the massive moral disintegration of our times, we are commonly intimidated into passivity. [He] is not intimidated. He doesn't take on the entire ruined culture--he simply stakes out a modest claim and begins. But it is exactly this kind of obedient beginning that so often turns out to have large Kingdom consequences."

I found that encouraging for my ministry, and it is my prayer for yours--that you will not be intimidated by the spiritual forces ravaging our culture, but that you will stake out your own modest claim and start something beautiful. I'm so thankful for the way each of you has blessed my life!

A silly group picture from UNT's fall retreat this morning.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A LOT happens in August!

On August 20, we had our first "Corefa Class" of the school year with about 94 people in attendance.  That's 94 people who are either leading small groups or mentoring small group leaders.  You would have been so encouraged to be there.
I couldn't quite get everyone in the frame, but this will give you an idea of what that leader training looked like.
We started teaching the leaders some basic axioms that we find useful in our ministry.  If you get to be around FOCUS you'll hear these pop up.  Here's a sampling of what you would have learned that night:

1. The dullest pencil is sharper than the sharpest mind when it comes to remembering things. (So write things down!)
2. Two-on-one is how it's done. (We usually say 1-on-1, but we are stressing bringing someone along with you this year.)
3. Think pastorally.  (What's really best for the people you minister to?)
4. A disciple too lazy to plant in the fall has nothing to harvest in the spring. (Ministry is a process and the sooner you plant, the sooner you harvest.)
5. People won't always live up to your expectations, but they will usually live down to them. (Jesus has high expectations of us and so should we, tempered by grace.)
6. If you love enough people, enough people will love you.
7. Use your problem solving skills. (One my dad had to say to me a "handful" of times growing up!)
8. Be a fool for God, not cool for God. (Very few of our heroes of the faith were "cool" by the world's standards.)

Thank you for believing in me and this community I get to serve,
Brandon

PS  You should virtually attend these 3 on-campus baptisms by student (or alumni) leaders!




Thursday, August 9, 2012

It begins...time to PRAY!

In 3 weeks freshmen will be walking on to all four of our campuses ready to start a new phase of their life.  On one hand, they are adults--legally accountable for themselves and, for many, living on their own for the first time.  On the other hand (as I once heard Brady Bobbink say) freshmen are just high school seniors with a summer vacation.

It is our goal to be there to welcome them, invite them into meaningful community, and help them encounter the Living God.  

Please Pray for the class of 2016, that many will encounter the life-transforming grace of Jesus while at Richland, Collin, UTD, and UNT.  Pray that authentic disciples will form influential relationships with them.

Pray for FOCUS's student leaders, that they will be bold in their love and generous in their hospitality.  As they welcome new students on campus, pray that God will give them the courage and gifts to influence many!

Pray that the missionary staff and alumni volunteers of FOCUS will have big vision and supernatural creativity.  Pray that God will provide the resources, energy, and grace for us to bear much fruit.

Here are some key dates.  Could you mark them on your calendar or enter them in your phone so you'll be reminded to pray?

August 24 - Freshmen move in at UTD & UNT
August 27 - Fall Semester starts at UTD, Collin, & Richland (We'll be reaching out all week)
August 29 - Fall Semester starts at UNT
August 30 & 31 - Our kickoff nights for FOCUS

This is what our t-shirts for the year will look like.  I'm excited about our new theme--Everything New--celebrating God's promise to redeem all things, including us!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Frantic Summer

June has been crazy with another trip to SICM while trying to get our entire summer program rolling.  A couple of highlights on what I'm working on now:

1.  Staff transitions.  Brad is shifting off staff to finish his PhD and pursue his career teaching (he may end up as our advisor at one of our campuses).  Casey is moving to UTD to work with Mandy.  Garrett Davis (Brad's brother and a past intern) will be coming back on staff to lead Collin in Casey's place along with Tyler and Brianna Marble.  Matt Clark is moving up to Denton to take Brad's place at UNT along with Amy Knoles (another past intern).  My role, at least for this year, will be shifting slightly away from UTD to work with all the staff and interns.  I'll be mentoring those who are mentoring student leaders, supervising two interns, and driving the overall mission and vision of our ministry.  This is a lot of change to bite off for one school year!  But after praying and talking and thinking about it, we decided that these moves will get us in a better position for the next few years of ministry and mission and that we'd rather get it all done at once rather than a little at a time.  Please say a prayer for my changing role.  It's tough to let go of some of the things I love, but I'm confident this is the path the Lord wants me to take.

2.  Support raising.  Our entire staff is spending some time raising financial support and getting prayer commitments for the new school year.  Our goal is $30,000/month.  Sounds like a lot until I remember that supports 14 staff members at two universities and two community colleges.  It also allows us to scholarship students who can't pay for events and do creative outreach to all four campuses.  My staff works cheap! Seriously though, I hope over the next couple of years to increase our support raising to the point that some of these young men and women can reasonably support a family before I start losing my best and most experienced people to economic necessities! $1500 a month for someone with an MBA is a great deal for FOCUS--in the short run.  Please pray that God will hook us up with the right people and groups who share our vision and can partner with us moving forward.  God has always provided and I know He will in the future.  Our support team includes individuals, families, churches, and private foundations.  If you have a contact you think might be a good fit, drop me a line!

3.  My vacation/second SICM trip.  I got to travel through 12 states (plus a little Canada) in two weeks with a few great FOCUS people.  Most of the June group flew up, but 5 of us rented a van and drove, visiting lots of great people and places along the way.  I get such a bigger chance to influence and minister to key people when I travel with them.  A few pictures I took:

Kelsea at the Grand Canyon.  Breathtaking!

We got to stay with Eileen in Phoenix.  We took this right before we locked her out of her house.  Thank goodness Kelsea can fit through a dog door!

The beach at Coronado in San Diego.  By the time this was over, Maria had both Matt and Paulo completely buried.  We had dinner with Julie and Laura Schimpf, but I forgot to get a picture.

Eric gave us a tour of the Google campus.

And later in the day we went to Muir Woods.  The Giant Redwoods were huge!  I wish Charlie could have joined us.

Some of you may remember Jim and Patty Roberts who were on staff at Northeast Church back in the late 90's.  We had breakfast at their coffee shop in Portland, OR, and it was awesome!

Once we picked up the other 6 students at the airport in Seattle, a couple of the CCF staff joined us for a Mariners baseball game.  

Met up with my old friend Robby (from UTD) who is working in Vancouver.  We visited the University of British Columbia.  Regent College, where this summer's school of ministry originates, is on that campus.  If you want to grow and be challenged in your love of scripture, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Old and New Testament Foundations on regentaudio.com.

Our last day in Washington, Matt and Kelsea and I kayaked out to an island in the bay with Matt's host family and had a picnic.  A great ending before we started the long drive back.

When I report in again, it will be with new interns and we'll be ramping up for the arrival of thousands of freshmen!  Until then, thanks for your love and support.  Let me know if there is something I can be praying for you about.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Equipping Student Leaders


There's probably not anything more important that I do than training and equipping student leaders.  And SICM is probably the most important thing we do in a given year toward that end.

I've been going to this conference at Western Washington University since 2002 when I finished graduate school.  That year I took three others with me and the things we learned and the vision God gave us there has grown into so much!  This year I (along with 4 other staff) took 49 students in May (and we send another 8 in June).  This isn't a conference that we take the same students to year after year; it's an intensive week-long training that they go to once.  That means that this year we are taking 57 students who we have decided can be new student leaders in the fall if they make that commitment.

This is how our ministry grows, by making disciples who can make disciples.  The group in May was amazing.  They made us proud.  The staff up there who teach the conference said our group was one of the best they've ever seen--serious about learning, loving one another, and being excited about the Lord.  I look forward of many more years of taking serious young disciples to Bellingham, Washington, to allow Spirit-filled men and women to invest in them and help equip them to make a huge impact on DFW and beyond!

These are just the UTD students from the May SICM.  They are "whooshing" in Canada.  The US border is in the background.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Wrapping up

Cores are having their last meetings, we only have a party left for the student leaders, and we're in the middle of banquet season--one for each campus.  It's been a great year and now we're celebrating what God has done.  I've spent extra time this last month up in Denton with our UNT ministry, and I'm so encouraged by the faith of the students up there.  So many of them have a heart for their peers and their campus.  I even talked to two who have a heart to be campus ministers after college!  Over the summer and fall, I'll be spending even more time up there raising up leaders for the harvest.  God has done great things--and He has so much more planned in the lives of these young disciples!

Me and Ana, one of the UNT student leaders at their banquet.  Note that after 2 years, I got my braces off this week!  Now maybe I'll look closer to my age. :-)

This month I'll be traveling with a group of 4 other staff and 49 students to the Student Institute of Campus Ministry in Bellingham, Washington.  The Lord has trained and encouraged us through this special trip each year.  Please say a prayer that He'll do mighty things in this group of students too!  You might mark down the dates May 17-26 to be praying for the Spirit to move and work powerfully in all of our hearts.  You can check it out at www.ccfministry.com/sicm.

I'll have lots more to share in the months to come as we prep for another awesome school year!  Thanks for your love, prayers, and support.  I couldn't do what I do without them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's been a busy month!

A few updates on some of the things we did in March:

1.  We have mostly wrapped up our invitations to SICM and purchased plane tickets.  5 of our staff (Mandy, Debbie, Casey, Matt, and I) will be taking 47 students to Bellingham, WA in May.  And in June, Travis and I will be taking another 8-10 students for the second session.  These are all first time attenders who have the potential to be leaders in the fall!

2.  We interviewed applicants for our internship program for the 2012-2013 school year and have selected 4 great disciples to join us on staff next year!  Sirak Asfaw, Katy Jordan, Melissa Kenfield, and Courtney Atherton are all awesome students who have been a part of our student leadership for years.  Katy and Courtney are both pursuing masters degrees and Sirak and Melissa will both complete their graduate degrees this summer before their internship starts.  We continue to pull in some of the brightest and best to take the gospel to university students.  We aren't sure about campus placements yet, but you will hear a lot more about these four from me in the months to come.
Sirak

Katy
Melissa

Courtney

3.  We had a 3-day campaign on campus at UTD (along with 4 other campus ministries) to raise awareness about Human Trafficking and share the good news about God's heart for justice and His mission to make things right.  Did you know that there are over 27 million slaves in the world today?  That's more than all the centuries of the African slave trade combined.  Even here in the United States, the Department of Justice estimates 100,000-150,000 people being trafficked, most of them children.  And 25% of them are in Texas!  God cares deeply about these people, about the captives and the oppressed.  Jesus announced his ministry with these words from Isaiah, which we would do well to not over-spiritualize:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18).

In these days when so much of our comforts and luxuries are made by people in terrible conditions overseas, when children are forced to be soldiers in terrible civil wars, and when girls and young women are forced into prostitution all over the world (so that men from Western countries can fly in and rape them), we need to make sure our voices are heard.  Will God be pleased with us for choosing ignorance about these things he cares so much about?  We worked with International Justice Mission (IJM.org) and they have a great website full of resources to learn and to help.



Students painted the "Spirit Rocks" on campus to raise awareness.

We had three of these 2-sided displays.  Students were on hand to start discussions with people who stopped to read.  A group of our students planned and built these displays all on their own!

The "sex mattress" drew plenty of attention all by itself!
4.  I started studying the Bible with a young guy back in November of 2010.  He was referred to me by his sister who had been a student leader at UTD during her time there, though he lived on the other side of the metroplex.  Since then, he's made a serious commitment to God, moved up to our area for school, and become a consistent part of one of our campus communities.  But he's also had a lot of forgiveness issues within his family, particularly with his dad.  They haven't really been speaking for years and this young man was really struggling with having a hard heart toward his father.  It's one of the topics we've come back to again and again as I saw (and got to be a part of) God working on his heart.  Well, a few weeks ago I got a text message at 1:10 am saying that he had called his dad and apologized and told him he wants them to have a relationship.  That woke me up for sure!  He said he was laying in bed and couldn't sleep but kept thinking about his dad and what God wanted him to do.  And he did it!  I know his dad was so thankful to get that call in the middle of the night.  Isn't God good?!  He has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

5.  Last one!  Sorry to be so long-winded, but one of the baptisms I attended this month really touched me.  Matt is a young man (now a grad student) at UTD who happens to be in a wheelchair.  He's grown up in church and has loved the Lord for a long time.  Well some of the guys were talking to him and found out that while he's wanted to be baptized in water for over 10 years, it just never worked out because of logistics!  How sad is that.  And so these young student leaders made it happen, and quickly.  I'm not sure I've ever seen someone literally beaming until that day.  I'll post the video so you can share in that moment.


Matt's mom got to be there.  You can hear her share in the video.
Thanks for your prayers and support.  Together, we are making a difference for the Kingdom.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thinking about next year

It sounds a little crazy, but I'm already doing a lot of thinking and planning for next school year.  Our main event for student leader development is the SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) conference that we take students to in Washington State each May.  Between our four campuses we have invited over 60 students to attend!  These are all students who have not been before and in whom we see the qualities necessary to lead in our ministry.  Actually appointing student leaders may still be months away, but the ball is rolling!  I'll have a lot more to say about SICM in the future.

February 29 was the deadline for graduates to apply for the FOCUS internship for the 2012-2013 school year.  We've had a number of graduating seniors interested in the internship and have had a lot of conversations about whether being on staff with us for a year is a good fit.  After all the applications are in, we'll start interviewing them this weekend.  We've also been having conversations with our five interns from this year about what next year looks like for them.  One of my main roles now is leading the staff, so thinking through who will be on our senior staff and who we will accept into the internship (and also which campuses each person will work on) is one of my primary strategic decisions for the year.  I'd love for you to join me in praying that God will give me clear direction on this.

A couple cool things from February--First off, I had the opportunity to attend a couple of baptisms.  My intern Andrew had the chance to study with and baptize one of the guys in his group last week.  Taylor is a great example of how ministry can work.  He was invited last year as a freshman by one of the girls in our group.  He came around some but more than anything began forming friendships with some committed Christians.  This year he came around more, but it was at Winter Camp that he decided he needed to be a disciple and asked Andrew to baptize him.  So they've been doing some intense Bible study these past few weeks about what it looks like to be a disciple and about the meaning of faith, repentance, and baptism.  He's counted the cost and decided make Jesus his Lord!  He is serving on our tech team and planning to live in my house next year so he can be surrounded by strong Christian influences.  Ministry is a process and can take a long time, but the good news is we have lots of people in that process!

Andrew got to baptize him.  He did a great job!


Taylor's family got to be there for his baptism.  It was great having them join us on campus.

We also had a joint worship night with some of the other campus ministries at UTD.  It was awesome to join together and share what the Lord is doing.  Every year, more people are catching the vision of reaching these university students with the good news.  I got to meet a young man who just moved here after college for work.  He has a heart for campus ministry from his years as a student and has hooked up with a local Korean church who wants to reach Asian-American students on campus with the gospel.  He emailed me some thoughts about seeing our fellowship that were encouraging and I want to  share them with you:

First off, I want to say it was truly a blessing to meet you and attend the praise night last night. I was encouraged to see God moving through your fellowship and I really felt like God was doing something great at UTD.

I also wanted to relay that your members were awesome. I was so blessed by Jonathan, Kendall, and the young man that introduced me to you (I forgot his name!). They made me feel welcomed and really showed the love of Christ to me.

Last night, gave me a nice burst of energy to continue to serve ... with a fervent heart.


This was our combined praise team from three ministries that night.  They enjoyed working together and I was pumped about the diversity (Only 2 white people! :-) as we work to reach a diverse campus.  

Thank you for all your prayers and support.  The Lord is doing great things!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's already February?!

UTD Students at Winter Camp doing the Comet "Whoosh"

We're back from Winter Camp and going full-force into the semester.  We took a great group of students out to Bridgeport (the picture above is just the UTD students, not Collin, Richland, or UNT!). Eddie Howard, who has spoken at Winter Camp a couple of times in the past, joined us again this year sharing lessons looking at the character of Joshua in the Old Testament.  I think one of the most impacting lessons for me was when he talked about being "bud-nippers."  He was sharing how avoiding problems today just leads to bigger problems tomorrow.  The Israelites weren't completely obedient to God when entering the promised land and generations of their children paid the price.  Eddie talked about how when we don't nip things in the bud, the monsters we face today can become other people's monsters in the future.  As we came back from camp, I've started seeing how that message of urgency has spurred some students on to dealing with tough issues and sins in their lives.  Sin is never fun and is always messy, but it's always better to deal with it today than tomorrow.  One of my dad's many repetitive quotes is, "Sin will always take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."  We all need to deal with stuff now--be bud-nippers!

A quick story about the day I came back from camp: I got home, unpacked, and took a nap.  I woke up at 5:01 pm and saw a text message from a student saying he was getting baptized at 5:00 and wanted me to come.  Thank goodness everything runs late in college ministry!  Michael is a guy who was pretty inconsistent last school year, but this year he moved in with some committed disciples and it's been great for him!  He's been studying the Bible and building deep spiritual relationships.  He was so impacted by the "walk & talks" at Fall Retreat that he's been setting up his own walk & talks with guys in the ministry every since.  His roommate Jonathan (who leads our tech team and plays drums sometimes on our worship team) has been studying and talking with him for months.  Had I done this baptism, it might have been a bit more polished, but our impact is really limited if everything has to go through me.  I know I'm doing something right when I just get a text message that exciting things are happening and I can be a part if I make it in time!



We have a lot of students visiting for the first time with the start of a new semester, so be in prayer that our students will be faithful, loving missionaries and will demonstrate the love of Jesus to each and every one.  The enemy is at work as well, but "we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Cor 2:11).  We'll continue living out the message of a crucified God who deeply cares about every student, even those who have set their hearts against Him.  Pray that we will look more like Jesus than all the false images of God that the world has offered.

I'm so thankful for each of you and your heart for the campus.   God is good!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A New Year

Happy New Year!  It's time to kick off another busy semester of ministry!  We leave for Winter Camp on Friday and we have 250 people signed up to go.  Compare that to last year when we took right at 200 people--I think every campus is taking more this year than last!  I'm sure I'll have more to share about camp when I write again in a couple weeks.


The last few weeks have been a needed break for all of us on campus, staff and students alike.  I've used the time to rest, be with family and friends, read some fiction, work on curriculum, write letters to students, and study more deeply into the New Testament.  It's been great!  I spent the last weekend with my staff at our second staff retreat of the year.  What an amazing group!  Every one of them is gifted and intelligent and has a huge heart for God and for people.  Every one of them could be incredibly successful in the marketplace because of their education, character, and experience.  And every one of them has carved out a place in their life to love and serve college students because of their conviction that Jesus loves those college students.  I feel so blessed to be on this team.


We spent the weekend talking about thinking strategically--looking beyond the next week or month or semester and making sure we are ready for what God has in store for us 5 or 10 years from now.  We wrestled with finding a balance between planning for the future and staying open to letting God lead us each step of the way.  I don't know if we came up with the right answers, but I think we were asking the right questions!  So much of it comes down to being faithful with the work we've been given and letting God prepare us through that for the work ahead that only He sees.  It's easy to read the scripture and skip over the long periods of preparation that are dealt with in a sentence or two--the first 80 years of Moses' life, the first 30 of Jesus' life, the 10-15 years between Paul's conversion and the beginning of his missionary ministry, etc.  But those times are crucial to accomplishing His purposes.


I've already heard from a few students about their reflections on last semester and the goals they are setting moving into the next.  One guy wrote in an email that, "This past semester has largely been about seeing what following Jesus looks like when the rubber meets the road."  What a great lesson!  Our goal for these students is a lifetime of ministry.  I told one of our women small group leaders this last month that we needed to cut back on how much ministry she had taken on--an unhealthy amount--because our goal for her is to be mentoring women into spiritual health 50 years from now, not burning out in a one-school-year blaze of glory.  God is preparing each of us for tasks He has ahead--you too!  He "knows the plans he has for us."  He has good works that He has "prepared in advance for us to do."  And He using life as teacher and disciplinarian, that we might experience a "harvest of righteousness and peace" once we've been trained by it.  


One quick story, this time from a FOCUS alumna who is doing ministry at a university in another part of the country.  I found it an illustration of something my dad always says--that there are lots of open people out there; they just aren't open to us yet.


She took a friend who had always been reluctant to discuss anything spiritual to a lecture about assisted suicide held on campus:  


After the lecture, Amanda and I went to a coffee shop to enjoy live music as 
we embarked on possibly one of the most engaging 2 hour conversations I have 
ever had.  Our conversation was lively as we discussed our thoughts and feelings 
about the practice of assisted suicide.  Then, Amanda grew quiet as I proceeded to 
explain to her that I believe there is a purpose in absolutely everything, even 
suffering and pain.  It took her a few minutes, but she finally confessed to me that 
she could not agree.  After a few more minutes of silence, Amanda explained that 
she was an atheist.  As we continued our conversation, she stopped me and 
declared, “Wait, wait.  Iʼm sorry.  I just need to understand.  I just told you Iʼm 
an atheist, I donʼt agree with your spiritual beliefs... and you still want to be 
my friend?  You are not like the Christians I know!”
In that moment, I could feel the giant wall come crashing down.  What a 
crucial opportunity I had to embody Godʼs unconditional love and truth in her life!  
This was a crucial moment that deepened our friendship and caused her to open 
up to me about spirituality and life in a way that was unprecedented for us.


I'm reminded of the deep and explanatory evangelism instructions the Holy Spirit gave Philip in Acts 8: "Go to that chariot and stay near it."  So that's my challenge to myself and to you this new year.  Go stand next to someone who needs God and be ready for the opportunities that come up.  They may not be open to you yet, but that doesn't mean they aren't open to our amazing, loving, forgiving, life-saving God.  Thanks for your love and prayers and support.  I'm one of the most blessed people on earth.  


"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." - Jesus

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