Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative

I've been reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for this week. I'm thankful for the country I've been blessed to grow up in, with all its freedoms and opportunities. I'm thankful for the family I was born into, that I could "from infancy know the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). I'm thankful for the great schools I've gone to and for finding a home in Dallas. I'm thankful for the Lord always providing plenty for me and my family, and even more than we need.  I'm thankful for God's grace through Jesus and for His presence through the Holy Spirit. I'm thankful for my many incredible friends, for my health, for meaningful work, and for a mission field ready for harvesting. I'm thankful for every one of you who has joined my support team through prayer and through your finances--it's such an honor to partner with both you and God in the lives of college students.

When I reflect on those blessings and so many more, I'm reminded of Jesus' words: "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" (Luke 12:48). We are blessed to be a blessing!  And having been blessed so much, I want to "live a life worthy of Lord and please Him in every way" (Colossians 1:10).

The thought of starting new kingdom work at UT Arlington and North Central Texas College is daunting. But I see God moving and inviting us to join Him. Will you consider joining in this special initiative? Some of you already give consistently and might want to give a special gift toward this new mission. Others of you have been waiting for a specific opportunity, and this might be the one! Or maybe you know a student at UTA or NCTC who has been looking for a Christian community to be a part of.  I invite you to be in prayer for these campuses and to pass along any message you hear from the Lord. Watch the video below that some of our students made--they're catching the vision too!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Something to be praying about--FOCUS @ UT Arlington

One of the convictions that I started college with is "Look to see where God is working and join Him." It comes from Jesus saying in John 5:19 that "the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing." If Jesus can't do anything meaningful on his own, then it's a good bet Brandon can't. It was with that conviction that I joined FOCUS at Richland College my freshman year, even though I was a UTD student. It was because I saw God working in their lives that I chose Leah Farmer (Lorenz), Mandy McWilliams (Lanciani), Kris Green, Beth Johnson (Lynas), and Tiffany Palmer as my close friends that first year, even though only Mandy was a fellow UTD student.  But, the Lord brought them all to UTD at the start of my sophomore year, and FOCUS at UTD was born.

Fast forward to 2014, and that UTD ministry has helped start ministries at 5 other campuses and trained scores of leaders for the kingdom. God always knows what He's doing!  Over the course of this year, I've started seeing His hand moving toward UT Arlington. I've had at least 10 people call me or one of my staff to ask about the possibility of starting a ministry there--students who plan to transfer there or go to grad school there, students with friends or siblings going to UTA, alumni interested in doing the FOCUS internship if they could help start a ministry at UTA.

UTA has been on our radar for a long time and has always been a part of our vision--to launch campus missions at every campus in the DFW area. But the timing has been up to God. Over the past few years, I've only been asked about UTA a handful of times, so having so many people talking and praying about it this year definitely has me asking if now is the time! 

I recently met with the InterVarsity director at UTA, and he was super excited about the possibility of us sending a team. He said the various campus ministries are working closely together in unity to reach the campus for Christ, but he estimated that they are impacting about 1% of approximately 33,000 students. The need is great and the workers are few!

Will you join with me in praying and seeking God's will for FOCUS concerning UT Arlington? You might use this page of UTA facts to focus your prayers and get to know the campus. This would be a big move across the city. We would need to send the right team of staff and student ministers. We would probably need to start planning in January in order to be ready for the 2015-2016 school year.

Also toward that end, we will launch our first annual "Keep FOCUS Growing" Initiative in the second half of November. Our staff has fundraised to get us through this year, but we are asking God to provide the resources if He wants us to launch a major new campus ministry. So we'll be inviting our students, alumni, current supporters, and anyone else to consider giving a special gift to help us grow our impact in 2015. Keep an eye out for #FOCUS140 in the coming weeks. 

Thank you for joining me in prayer and for joining with me financially in this work. You are making a difference in students' lives!

I want to end with a picture from our second annual Church and Campus Leadership Conference yesterday. We spent the day training hundreds of leaders and future leaders on visionary leadership. We had a lot of new students (including many freshmen!) invest a whole Saturday in order to become a better leader.  That's a good sign for what's to come! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Coming off of Fall Camp

About a month into the school year, we take the UTD students out to a camp to deepen relationships and help them catch the vision of being followers of Jesus in college. This year our theme was "Defining Moments." As you know, life is full of moments, but some are moments of disproportionate influence on our present and future. When we were planning the weekend, one of my staff members said, "When I look back on my defining moments in high school and college, I wish I'd been better prepared."

I wish you could have heard the four students who shared their testimonies of defining moments. They all did an outstanding job of ministering to their peers! Raquel, who transferred from Richland College, shared about moments leading up to answering the call to leadership, something she had never envisioned for herself--"My biggest defining moments were when I gave up."  Gave up control. Gave up on her own plan.

Kimberly shared about a defining moment when she asked God for friends at UTD. But He told her He would give her more than that, a Christian community that reflects the love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13! She grew up not being loved and not being loving toward others, "But now I get to be a leader and love others!" Your prayers and financial investments help build this community that gives students the chance to catch the vision themselves!
Kimberly and Raquel are the two in the middle.
Jalen shared about growing up as a good Christian kid, but not really getting what Jesus was all about. He talked about looking down on and judging others, and about how he wanted Jesus to save him, not tell him what to do (anyone identify with that? :). But after facing his own sinfulness, he realized, "I have the capability of being obedient to Christ one small step at a time." What a powerful message! Sometimes what Jesus asks of you may seem too big and too hard. But with His Spirit, you are able to obey one step at a time.
Jalen. I'm not sure whether he made this face during his talk.
Stephen reflected that what has defined him was a series of seemingly small things--deciding to attend a conference, a conversation with a friend about his purpose in college, showing up at an event. Maybe you are holding off on doing something "small" because it scares you for some reason or because you just haven't made a final decision. I encourage you to decide right now to be obedient. You never know when something small might end up being one of the defining moments of your life. If the Lord wants you to do something (this, of course, must be tested against His will already revealed in scripture), then you can know with certainty that it's good.
Stephen sharing in front of the group.
For so many students, a camp like this is a defining moment--when they make a friend or a decision that changes their life, when they hear the good news of Jesus for the first time, or when they get their first taste of real Christian community. Thank you for helping prepare these young people for the defining moments that are racing toward them. My prayer is that each of us will be purposeful in investing in young men and women. They aren't just the church of tomorrow; they're the church of today, and the world is in desperate need of men and women of God.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stories to Start the Year

Over the last month, I've heard some stories that I know you'll find so encouraging.

The first was in an email from Amy Knoles, a FOCUS alumna. She has played many roles in our ministry, but one of the most important was that she took the challenge a decade ago to help start our ministry outreach at Collin College. She was the first women's leader for FOCUS on that campus, and she felt very unqualified. But she stepped out on faith and did it anyway. One other key thing to know is that Amy has always had a soft spot in her heart for her much younger cousin Crysta. She has made major life decisions around being able to be near and invest in Crysta.  Crysta recently started college:

The other day Crysta was talking to me about going to Collin FOCUS for the first time and meeting people. A lot of people asked her how she learned about FOCUS and .... she proceeded to drop my name and tell them I was her cousin. Haha! Not that any of those students would have a clue who I am, but she liked getting to tell them I helped things get started at Collin. When I got off the phone it really hit me how amazing it all was. She has a ministry to go to on that campus because of something FOCUS did all those years ago...something I got to be a part of. For the first time it was really personal. It wasn't just amazing to look at the ministry...Crysta is actually in it! My family gets to experience God and family on that campus. It's because of people ... who have visions for people and hearts that follow God. God has rocked my world lately. This really encouraged me! So excited for what God has planned for Madison and Evan when they get to college ;-)
Thanks for everything, 

Amy's twins Evan & Madison--future FOCUS student leaders!
The second story is a little more sensitive, so I'll leave out some details and names. We recently got this message from an outstanding young lady we were planning on having as a new student leader this fall, explaining why should wouldn't be able to come back to school: 

After graduating in 2006 I focused on helping my family and began working ... until I got the opportunity to be the first person in my family to pursue a degree and go to the University of North Texas. My family has always struggled financially, and with me no longer working the strain has become even harder on my mother. Last year she got a title loan to help pay her rent, and recently her car, which is the only car my family had, was repossessed. Unable to pay my housing balance from last semester of $4,502.55, I thought I would be able to use my financial aid for the Fall 2014 semester to go towards that. I recently found out from the school that this isn’t possible and that the balance would have to be paid before my financial aid could be released. This past summer my family was basically homeless as they couldn’t afford to live in the apartment I had been renting before I left my job. We moved from hotels to inns and finally my sister’s house, so this amount isn’t something my mother can pay. My brother (who is also unable to attend college because of our financial situation), my mother and I were blessed to be able to move into a one bedroom apartment where I share a room and bed with my mom while my brother sleeps in the living room. The biggest loss for me isn’t just the opportunity to finish school but that I was able to make such great relationships with people and really start walking on the mission I feel God had set forth for me. One of my best memories was getting the chance to organize a conversation evangelism walk with one of my good friends. Five years ago when I was working for a company that made me feel trapped I never thought I would have the faith to go out and talk to people about God and the grace he gives us. I feel no matter what, that God has shown me so much in the small amount of time I spent in college, I’m just hoping and praying for the opportunity to continue that. I do feel that delayed doesn’t mean denied.

We started praying, and before we could come up with a response, another STUDENT who heard about the situation anonymously paid the $4500 bill. When we said we'd try to find others to help pay part of it, she told us "no," that God asked her to pay it all and that's what she wanted to do. So that young lady is back at school this fall and is leading a group of young women to know Jesus better!

I know many of you give financially to this mission, and I want you to know these students don't just take--they're becoming extravagant givers. They see your example and have taken up the challenge. And if you want to be a person who we contact when a worthy student is struggling financially, I'd be happy to put you on that list!

I could tell so many more stories from these first few weeks. I met with one of our incoming student leaders for UTD near the end of the summer, and he shared with me about how he's been praying for months for a past girlfriend, that she would have godly women reach out to her. That girl goes to TWU, and guess who our TWU minister met while she was out "randomly" approaching students? 

And at our first UTD Friday Night Fellowship, I met a young lady who came to UTD because God called her to. She applied and moved from Florida this summer in obedience to that call. I asked if she had any idea why He wanted her here, and she said "not yet." Pretty impressive faith! One of the principles I live by is "look to see where God's working and join Him." Well, it's obvious He's working in this young woman's life, so I'm getting involved.  We started studying the scripture together last week, and I hope you'll join me in praying for that study.

Our first FNF.  That's me preaching down at the front. Look how tiny I am!
God is always at work, and He's doing powerful things through your financial gifts, your prayers, and the ways you minister to the students and staff who are taking the gospel to these campuses. Thank you!

Monday, August 11, 2014

49 and 3

49! That's the number of of corefas (student small group facilitators) we have committed for UTD this school year. Each one of them will be a missionary to UTD--a missionary in the class rooms, in student housing, in the dining and common areas. We don't assign them a small group; they go out in the first weeks of the school year and meet as many as possible and invite them to be a part of the community they are building (think Jesus' parable about inviting people to the banquet in Luke 14). They will involve people, mentor them, teach them the Bible, and ultimately raise some of them up as leaders to replace themselves. And there are 49 of them! That's up from 36 last year. This is the fruit of your prayers and support from last year!

Our UTD staff will spend a huge chunk of our time this year mentoring and supporting these 49 young leaders. We'll help them plan their core meetings, equip them to mentor their peers, and plan all the events and services that support their mission so they can focus their limited time on reaching students.

That's the strategy we learned from Jesus--to give them lot's of real ministry experience before sending them out into the world. We hope they leave UTD with a clear vision for Christian community, with the skills to think pastorally and minister purposefully, with a heart for the people around them (not just their family and friends), and the experiential knowledge that, with Jesus, they can change someone's life.

It's exciting stuff, and it's snowballing!
There are a few missing because they are out of town, but this is the bulk of the UTD Corefa Team.
I remember when our whole ministry wasn't this big!
And 3. That's the number of email letters I got from recent FOCUS alumni over the weekend. You would be so encouraged to read about the impact your partnership has had over the past few years in these guys' lives, so I want to share some excerpts with you from each. Warning: These are kind of long, even after I cut them down.

1. The first is from an international student from India who recently took a job in another city after graduation. I was so encouraged by the way he sees his faith intersecting with every area of his life:
Initially when I left there was a lot of uncertainty about where I would go and who would be in my social circle and most importantly who would become my spiritual family. What I experienced through FOCUS was life changing and to call it one of the best spiritual experiences would be an understatement. So I did my research and with an open mind tried Lakeland Community Church... I felt welcomed into the community and immediately joined a small group led by one of the pastors. I got myself into an informal young adult's ministry and I am happy to say that I am part of a spiritual community...

Work had a rocky start but is challenging and I love it. I am indeed working hard and I am trying to learn more about the industry and contribute to make healthcare better. I find that even if this job is not as high paying I find it comforting to know that this is something I could do to help people and society as a whole... When I first got into the training program most of my friends told me that this company was tough and was not worth the effort, but I found out that God had a plan for me like He had one for Joseph in Egypt. He stood by me through my trials and helped me reach a place I could not get to by myself. I am happy and grateful for my job and I wish to excel in it.

I started training for triathlons and I find that the challenge that comes with it helps me to grow strong physically, mentally and spiritually. I enjoy the beauty of God's creation when go out on my bike and run. When I am in a lake I am overwhelmed by the resources that God has given us to protect and preserve.

2. The second is from an international student from China who gave his life to Jesus this Spring. After graduation, his company changed directions and he was laid off. That started a new phase in his walk with God:
Last two weeks was quite interesting for me. First lost my job, I am kind of freak out inside, calling everyone to see if they have any job information. It was a bad bad news to me. But now I do not think it’s bad, actually I feel happy about it. Without job, I do not have distractions, I have so much free time to read bible, to talk with more experienced Christians, and to seek god. It was wonderful to me that I feel god is finally revealing himself to me, or in another phrase, god is always with me, it was me who was obsessed with other things. I feel so strongly that god is calling me to evangelism, to make disciples. So here is me, honest and open to propose to be a corefa.

I will serve others without condition. I know I am not qualified to be a corefa, and probably never will be. I am only baptized two month ago, did not read bible from cover to cover, did not even finish FOJ, nearly no experience in doing evangelism. I’m probably the last person to be a corefa. But I cannot hold the feeling to be one. Be a Corefa is an honor with great responsibility. I was arrogant but I didn’t know (from Joe), but god made me humble. And I will humbly serve people. Without a servant heart, without the strong faith, it just won not work when things get hard, when I get tired, when everything goes south.

...[I'm cutting a lot here to be brief]...
I understand that it is tradition corefa are being selected, and it is kind of late to ask now. But I can not ignore the voice in my head, so I wrote this to you to show you that this decision has been thought through and I will stick to it. I know it is a risky move to let me be a corefa. But without risk there is no faith. So here I sincerely ask for the consideration. Make decision based on what’s best for the team.

"Without risk there is no faith." Whoa. Needless to say, this young man who is returning for grad school this year is our 49th student missionary!

3. The last is from a recent grad doing the FOCUS internship. The interns are in the process of reading the entire Old Testament in 7 days! He wrote:
The Old Testament reading had been extremely insightful. I've never read these books. It's great to get a understanding of what the Israelites went through. I also start to understand something Brad used to always say about reading scripture when he would say, "ask 'what does this teach me about the heart of God?'"... In terms of character growth, reading the OT and the other books has changed my attitude towards reading in a way I always hoped for but never achieved... I bought 3 books yesterday at the Plano book sale and already put a dent in those. Soon I'll need something I never thought I would: a book shelf... Discussion with the other interns is full of excitement. I can compare those conversations to those which I had with people the first time I studied FOJ [that's Focus On Jesus, our one on one Bible study]. It's certainly rejuvenated my first love. I feel like an Israelite with how much anticipation I have for the Messiah and New Testament to enter the picture.

Are you excited now?! I sure am! Thank you--your prayers and your missionaries are changing lives and changing these campuses for Jesus.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Work

I've been reflecting on the main two things I do in the summer--fundraising and putting together a leader team for the next year.

Forming a Leader Team
One of the most important things we do as campus pastors each year is select, equip, and launch the student leader team for the next school year. I ask myself, how was Jesus able to accomplish so much in only 3 years? And the answer always comes back to His ability to develop leaders who would carry on and expand His ministry. It's out of that conviction that we are always working to develop leaders. We realize that problems and conflicts are actually opportunities to teach students how to minister. We understand that our example is always being watched and followed by the students. They will examine not only how we act, but how we think through things. With a constant stream of students enrolling and graduating on only a few years, it is doubly important that we equip our student leaders to train up their own replacements so that the mission can keep going.

This summer the FOCUS staff has been meeting up with all the students we've identified as prospective leaders. And it's an outstanding group! I wish you could be a fly on the wall in some of these discussions and get to hear these students' passion for the Lord and desire to bless their peers. Holding a "core facilitator" role in FOCUS isn't the right fit for everyone, but every one of them can minister this year in meaningful and fruitful ways. Please pray that all of our leaders will remain in Jesus and bear much fruit (John 15:5).
Just a few of the great UTD students we've been talking to about leadership this summer. We expect to have more than 40 student leaders at UTD alone!
I wanted to share a couple reflections on what makes a great leader--the kinds of things we are looking for as we put together our 2014-2015 leadership team:

1. Character matters. I believe the axiom "Character is more caught than taught." A question we ask ourselves as leaders is this--if everyone in the ministry actually followed my example, what would the ministry look like? How often would we be together? How many visitors would be welcomed? How many people would be prayed for? How many lonely people would find new friends? How many students would be invited to real community? How many students would we share the scriptures about Jesus with this year? How unselfish would we be with our money, our time, our friendships, our dating? How many people would be encouraged? How many problems would be addressed? How many damaged relationships would be reconciled?

And on a more personal level, if everyone followed my example, how devoted to Jesus would we be? How much would we know His Word? How serious would we be about repenting of our sin? How kind, gentle, compassionate, thoughtful would we be?

We know none of us look like Jesus in all of these areas. The question is more about direction than perfection--where are we heading. I encourage you to consider these questions about your own ministry in your family, social group, church, etc. Our hope and prayer is for a leader team who will set the pace for the whole community this year.

2. Commitment matters. It's so easy for us to live with double standards. So many students would never think of missing work or class, but it's easy to justify skipping the opportunity we have to minister when the body of Christ comes together. At UTD, a student in Student Government automatically loses their seat if they miss more than three meetings, and Greek organizations charge large monthly membership fees.  These things are expected, but we don't expect the same things of ourselves when it comes to serving Jesus. (Of course, being in Student Government or a Greek organization can be a great opportunity to serve Jesus in and of themselves--that's not my point.) My point is that for so many, consistency is only present in our lives when it comes from one of two sources: threat of external consequences (failing my class, losing my job, getting kicked out of my club) and what sounds fun (I don't have much trouble getting students to consistently play video games or watch movies!).

But there's a more important source of consistency when it comes to Christian leadership--conviction. We are looking for students who make decisions to serve because they are convinced it's what God wants for them, because they are convinced that to have a deep, lasting, positive impact on another life, you have to show up. We are looking for young adults with the ability and willingness to make and keep promises, because it is our conviction that God is rarely spontaneous in His love for us, but is a planned and purposeful God whose love is expressed in making and keeping promises (2 Peter 1:4).

Lewis Smedes wrote a great meditation on this called "Controlling the Unpredictable--The Power of Promising" that I highly recommend. It would make a great personal devotional time! He writes, "When a man makes a promise, he creates an island of certainty in a heaving ocean of uncertainty. Can any human act, other than the act of forgiving, be more divine?"

Raising Support
The second thing I've been reflecting on is fundraising. I've been reading a booklet called The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. He has some powerful insights that have been banging around in my head. It's been great to consider both as someone who gives money to other organizations and as one who asks people to invest in the vision I have been given for campus missions.

"Fund-raising is also always a call to conversion. And this call comes to both those who seek funds and
those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration (see Isa. 43:19). To be converted means to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act. To be converted is to be clothed in our right mind."

"If we raise funds for the creation of a community of love, we are helping God build the Kingdom. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as Christians."

"As long as our real trust is in money, we cannot be true members of the Kingdom."

I love the idea that God is calling me to be converted in my relationship to money.  I know that will be a lifelong process, and I'm praying for continual growth and renewal in that area.  I want to say "Thank you" to those of you who have contributed funds to create "a community of love" on campus.  It's so needed, and it's making a huge difference.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Another baptism video

Just wanted to add this in.  Charles is one of the international students at UTD who has been investigating Jesus for the past couple years.  It's exciting to see the changes in his life as a result!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I Will Always Be the Prodigal Son

So the quick update is that SICM was outstanding, as always.  It somehow gets better each year.  The group we took was really special, and the teaching staff up there said the same.  All of that bodes well for our next school year!  I've had a number of young men ask to be student leaders in the fall at UTD, and I know the other staff are getting the same.

Another quick story is that one of our alumni just graduated from medical school and Mandy (my counterpart for the women) got to go to her graduation party.  When Mandy met this young lady's father, his response was "Oh, you're from FOCUS?  I'm so thankful for FOCUS.  It was one of the biggest blessings in my daughter's entire life."  Wow!  I wish you (and I) could have been there.  What an honor to be a part of someone's story in that way.  Thanks for all the ways you support me and this mission to the campus--it keeps making a difference.

I wanted to highlight this month the two guys on my staff that I work most closely with.  They are both outstanding examples of what a young man of God should be--humble, teachable, and growing.  They are both very gifted in different ways and they have chosen to use those gifts to serve and bless UTD students.

Laurence, Sirak, and me.  I'm the really handsome one on the right.
Sirak is gifted musically and intellectually.  On the side, he teaches Sociology at Richland College, and his students love him because they know he loves them. (see his reviews on Rate My Professor) He oversees the worship teams for both universities, but he is especially gifted as a mentor for young men.  He's evangelistic, insightful, and encouraging.  He's entering his second year as a full staff member, and I'm so blessed to work alongside him another year.

Laurence just finished his internship with us last week.  At the end of the internship, each intern preaches a sermon to our entire staff about what God has taught them over the course of the year.  You would have been so encouraged to hear the kind of transformative work the Lord has done in those 9 lives through the FOCUS internship. Those sermons might be my favorite part of the whole year.  Laurence started by having us look up a painting on our smart phones and spend a few moments contemplating it.  It's called The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt.

He went on to share 3 personal axioms that sum up what God has been teaching him this year:

1. If I want to change, I have to choose to.
2. I've got to let myself be put on display. [think Jesus hanging on the cross, not a celebrity on stage]
3. I will always be the prodigal son.

That last point really ministered to me.  He shared about learning at a deeper level that he will always need God's grace, that he won't graduate from the cross.  He said, "The cross is it--you either kneel or hit the road."  The sermon was a powerful reminder to me that God wants to use us in our weakness, not once we get strong.  I encourage you to take it to heart--you will always be the prodigal son or daughter, but He will always be the ridiculously extravagant Father, hitching up his robes to run and meet you!  He doesn't start that way and then become like the older brother.  (Hopefully us older brothers become like Him.)  You won't graduate from the cross--God wants to use you as you are, where you are.  Obey Him today, and you'll end up where you need to be tomorrow.  That's the very nature of the faith relationship.

I'm so excited about Laurence bringing that spirit to our men's ministry.  He's an excellent teacher, but I'm always mindful of another leadership axiom: Character is caught, not taught.  Laurence is coming on as a full staff member to work with the men at UTD, and I'm really excited about what he brings to the table.

It's guys like these that have me more excited than ever about campus ministry.  It's on campus that we can find the best and brightest and give them a vision to spend their lives on things of eternal value, things of Kingdom-importance.  I could tell stories like these about everyone on the FOCUS staff, and so many more besides.  I appreciate your prayers--God is moving!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

UTD Testimonies

We had an open mic night at UTD for our last Friday Night Fellowship of the school year.  So many really meaningful stories were shared of people coming to know Jesus and having their lives changed by Him.  The prompt was "What have you seen God do in your life or in the lives of people around you this year?"

A lot of students shared, so the audio is almost 90 minutes, but if you'd like to listen to some or all of it, I know you'll be encouraged.  It's at:

Friday, May 2, 2014

The End of Another School Year

We've been in the process these last few weeks of wrapping up the school year--debriefing the year, cementing lessons learned, prepping students for summer and beyond, and saying goodbye. It's always a tough time of year for our staff.  Since it's our conviction that Jesus ministered in the context of friendships and that we should minister like He did, we get close to these great young disciples just in time to send them off. I know Jesus had to do the same thing and experienced some of the same emotions. I ask you to pray for our hearts this time of year, because they tend to take a beating!

But even as things die down, others are ramping up. We are about to head to SICM with 80 people--70 potential student leaders and 10 pastors and interns from our 6 different campuses.  That's up from 65 attending last year.  SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) is one of the most important things we do every year to prepare our upcoming leaders for ministry and help them catch the vision of reaching these campuses with the good news about Jesus.  Please pray for safe travels, for lots of deep friendships to form, and for the things they learn to plant deep in their hearts and bear fruit in the right time.

Also in May, our incoming intern class will start assembling their support teams for the coming school year.  It's an outstanding group!  Will you say a prayer, right now, that God will provide plenty of financial and prayer partners to commission these young campus missionaries for the 2014-2015 school year?

I also wanted to share this testimony from Ana, who will be an intern for us at UTD next year. She's awesome!

Breaking Chains - Ana from Matthew Wills on Vimeo.

Thanks for your prayers and thank you to those of you who partner with us financially. Together, we are helping raise up a generation of passionate and mature leaders for the kingdom, workers sent out into the harvest field.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Past Two Days

The last week of March, we hosted 20 students and interns from Washington State for SSI (I'm not actually sure what that stands for--some mix of student, spring, strategic, impact, initiative, etc :).  It was an amazing week but was covered well in other staff updates. To get an idea of what you would have seen our students doing every day on campus, you can read Laurence's blog about it.

Last night we had a great event called Banquet on the Bayou, which is a fundraiser for our annual SICM leadership training.  SICM costs each student who goes around $800, and this fundraiser is for those who can't afford that.  We also use this as an opportunity for our interns to learn how to plan large events.  It was so great!  For those who couldn't be a part of it, you would have loved hearing students from our various ministries performing, many of the songs written by the students!  We raised over $6000 to help about 16 of the 68 students going to SICM.  If you'd like to help scholarship a student for SICM, let me know!

The interns made everything look amazing.  So elegant!
One of the many unique bands that played.  This one is made up of Collin students.
After the event, one of our UTD girls was baptized.  It was such a sweet moment. Nikki didn't know Christ coming into the year as a Muslim, but He has made such an impact on her.  I wish you could have seen her tears up close when she shared about the spiritual family He has given her.  Hopefully some of that comes through on the video!

And at our UTD Friday night meeting this week, Sarah Hubbard, one of the students, got up and read a poem she wrote about discipleship that really ministered to me:

It seems so impossible to carry- weighing me down, having become so unbearably heavy
Just keep moving-please just a few more steps
But it's too hard-there's too much sacrifice and pain
That right nows becomes more important than all there is to gain
I can't breathe- it's choking me
I can't think-it's consuming me,
Why was I unable to conceive
How incredibly difficult this decision would be?
I should've realize when I first began considering the continual command
For us to pick up His cross
And give up everything else as loss
but instead I reduced this ,
Devaluing our part in the relationship
To some symbol on the wall
Until I thought only he had to be humbled and fall
For our soul to be saved
Completely missing the gift of his grace
See he didn't die to just cover our sins
But to start us on a journey of redemption
With a promise of us ending in completion
So I'll keep on walking- ignoring the worlds stares
As I continue struggling in my effort to bare
This wooden plank digging into my back
As the enemy watches closing in for the attack
 I've finally begun to count the incredible cost
To be among the found instead of the lost

This is all from two days of campus ministry--I could tell so many more stories from the past month.  It's all so encouraging, exciting, and inspiring.  I'm amazed that this is what I get to do with my life.  Thank YOU for making it possible, with your prayers and your financial investments and all the other ways you support me and God's mission to these campuses.  Our partnership is helping make the Kingdom vision a reality!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

More Interns!

Back in October, our leaders heard a talk from Oscar Muriu that was given at the 2013 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.  Muriu leads a church planting church in Nairobi, Kenya, with a vision to plant churches on every inhabited continent.

He shared 5 key convictions:

Conviction #1 -- The size of the harvest depends on how many leaders you have. (Matt 9:37-38)
He said, "The impact of my life will depend, not on how hard I worked, but on how many leaders I raised up."
Conviction #2 -- Live for the next generation. (Psalm 71:18)
Conviction #3 -- Identify the budding leaders around you and take them to God in prayer. (Numbers 11:10-17)
Conviction #4 -- Instill the 5 loves into your budding leaders. (Mark 12:30-33--Loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor)
Conviction #5 -- Never do ministry alone. Always have budding leaders around you. (Acts 4:13)

I can't think of a better way to capture the drive behind the FOCUS Internship.  If we are going to plant vibrant Christian communities on every campus in the DFW area (not to mention that UTD alone could easily use 50 more full-time Christian missionaries), and also send out well-equipped, pastorally-minded men and women leaders into the church-at-large, it's imperative that we continually invest in young leaders, giving them extra time to study, think, experience, and minister.  Sometimes I'll have students ask if there is a cap on how many student leaders we need.  The answer is a loud "NO!"  There are over a hundred thousand students just on our few campuses, and we need as many qualified leaders as we can get.

It's out of that conviction that we have recently accepted 9 young disciples into our internship for the 2014-2015 school year.  They are an outstanding bunch, and I'll be introducing them further in the coming months.  We also have three of this year's interns returning for a second, more focused year of internship exploring campus ministry as a career, and two of this year's interns joining our longterm staff.

I know that sounds like a lot of people!  But we are confident that we can give each and every one a great experience, and that they will produce lasting fruit in the lives of college students on these campuses.  They have already proven themselves to be discerning, fruitful leaders.  I'd ask you to start asking God to provide the money to make it happen.  He always has, and I'm confident He will again!

I also wanted to share with you an anonymous letter that came in the UTD student offering last week.

My thanks to you, for helping make this possible for students like that one, through your friendship and prayers and financial support.  This is truly a team effort!

P.S.  I was invited to two UTD student baptisms this month.  I've included videos below if you'd like to watch them!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Great Winter Camp and Saying Goodbye

We had an outstanding time at Winter Camp over the extended MLK weekend.  Brady Bobbink came down from Bellingham, WA, to share with our students about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and community.  You would have loved watching the students worshipping, playing, listening, and serving over the weekend.  The very first night they had a cheering competition for each of the 6 schools represented...except the competition was to see which school the other five could cheer for the loudest!  So our smallest groups, working hard to see God's kingdom take root in new places, got the loudest cheers.  It brought to mind Romans 12:10, "Honor one another above yourselves." Throughout the weekend, students boldly stepped in front of the community to minister, not from their strength and preparation, but from their weakness and fear, and the Spirit moved powerfully.
The UTD students whooshing.  Altogether around 430 people were at camp.
Brady shared so many powerful truths and challenging thoughts about the Spirit, what it means to be a Spirit-filled person, and what it looks like to love one another with Spirit-given gifts.  I can't even begin to capture all of those here, but if you're interested, you can find his talks here.  But on Saturday morning, he asked the question, "Why do revolutions fail?"

As someone committed to revival, renewal, reformation, and kingdom revolution, I leaned forward to hear what answer he would put forward.  He proposed two reasons:
1. "They fail to grasp how long it's going to take."  We all like the idea of quick, easy, cheap, painless change.  We balk at the reality of staying in the process, paying the price, and making the necessary sacrifices.  Even if Jesus' followers thought His mission was nearly done when He came back from the dead ("Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"- Acts 1:6), He knew that they would need His continued power and presence through the Holy Spirit to take the mission to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
2.  "They don't equip and train their followers effectively."  This is what Jesus spent all His time doing, and it's what we spend all our time doing in campus ministry.  Raising up leaders who can raise up leaders is the key to seeing this through.

I hope you'll reflect on these two pitfalls in your own life and ministry.  Change is hard, and sustained change is even harder.  My prayer is that our partnership would produce lasting change for good in you, in me, on these campuses, and in the lives of thousands of students in the years to come.

One last note: one of the hardest parts of campus ministry is consistently saying goodbye to students as they graduate and move away.  I got a letter from an Indian international student who graduated from UTD in December and is moving away for a job this week. I wanted to share a few encouraging lines with you. "It's amazing how God works with different people. I guess I had to learn a lot about faith in a foreign country. When I chose UTD I really didn't think it would have a significant impact on my spiritual growth. I guess I was wrong... I will always be grateful for this community and the friends I have here. It has been a great two and half years." Thanks for helping make this kind of impact possible--it's repeated over and over each semester on these campuses.
Saying goodbye at Ignateus' going away party.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Please Pray for Richland College!

Over the past few years, I've had the privilege of working with Travis Jones, a great friend an co-worker in the kingdom.  We led a small group together when he was a student.  He came through the FOCUS Internship and then stepped up to the most difficult ministry assignment we have--Richland College.  When we sent Travis over there, we didn't know any college students there.  He just walked on campus and started meeting people.  He's done an amazing job planting a ministry, leading people to Jesus, and building leaders there, but this year has been a little discouraging as some of his best leaders are moving on to lead in our university ministries (great for us, but sad for Travis).

Travis is one of my favorite people!
Richland is one of the Dallas Community Colleges, not out in the suburbs. Many of the students don't have cars and there's no on campus housing. Most of them need jobs on top of their classes to get by. But there are over 15,000 students on that campus, and God is seeking after each and every one of them. He has big plans for them, and we want to take part!

Richland has a beautiful campus with a brook running through the middle.
What could be more intimidating than a Thunderduck!?
So I want to ask you to pray for Richland. God has been faithful in answering our prayers so far, and we want to get a lot more people praying for the Spirit to move in power on this campus--that it will be a place where people come to know Jesus as Lord and are sent out on mission for Him in their families, careers, and further schooling.

I asked Travis to detail what kinds of prayers he'd like us to pray, and I've included his response below. I hope each of you can join me in prayer.

Dear Friends,

I live to see the hearts and minds of college students turned toward Christ. Having a Christian community in college really deepened and cemented my shallow faith in God and changed my life forever. I want nothing more than to do the same for others, especially to bring Christ to those who don’t know Him. Starting a campus ministry at Richland College has probably been the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life. We’ve been on campus for over three years now, and it is still an uphill battle. We’ve won many victories along the way, and they have all been very hard fought. This semester has really reminded me how strong a grip Satan still has on that campus--Richland is still very closed off to the good news of Jesus.

I want to look back and see this semester as a huge turning point for the Kingdom at Richland. To that end, I am renewing and redoubling my efforts in prayer, and I’m inviting you to join me!  If you have a heart for college students, please pray for God’s purposes to be accomplished at Richland College.

There are two key things I’d invite you to pray:

1.     For an end to student apathy.  Many students at Richland don’t care about much of anything. One of my student leaders asked a fellow student what accomplishments he was proud of. He couldn’t think of a single thing! When asked by my student leader “aren’t you proud of getting into college?,” he just answered “I guess so.” A lot of the students don’t have many goals; they just float through life. It’s very hard to reach out to a student body that just doesn’t care.  Pray for God to grow passion among the student body.
2.     For the administration and faculty.  The administration still proves to be a large barrier to building vibrant Christian community on campus. Rules, regulations, and red tape staunch the growth, not only of Christian community, but of any sort of student community.  Pray for wisdom for the administrators, openness to change, for the Christian ministries to gain favor among campus leaders, and for faculty and staff to come to know Jesus through our work.

Will you join me in praying for the Focus student ministry at Richland College?  I know He can do even more than we ask or imagine.

Yours in Christ,

Travis Jones

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's Winter Camp Time!

One of the most important events of our calendar year is our annual Winter Camp.  It falls at just the right time--far enough into the year that we can get new students to come spend three days with us, but early enough to help build momentum for a great spring semester.  This year we'll be heading to Sky Ranch in Van, TX, from January 17-20.

Here are some things you can do to bless this camp:
1.  Pray for all of our students to attend!  The ones who need it the most are often the hardest to get to come.  Pray for wisdom and boldness for our student leaders as they talk to each person in their cores about signing up.
2.  Help scholarship a student who can't afford to come on their own.  A full scholarship is $135, but even $5 helps.  Most students will pay at least some of the cost, but we don't ever want to leave a student home because of money. You can give at
3.  Pray for our speakers.  Brady Bobbink, from CCF up in Bellingham (where we go to SICM), is our special guest speaker.  He's talking about "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom."  Some of the FOCUS staff will also be sharing at key points throughout the weekend.  We serve a God who reveals himself through words and as the Word, so we know the spoken word is powerful.  I'm praying that students will have encounters with God that weekend.
4.  Come out for a session and see what Winter Camp is all about.  If you're in the DFW area, Sky Ranch isn't too far a drive. We'll have sessions each evening and morning from Friday night to Monday morning.  Contact me or Debbie for more details.

In other travel related notes, Matt Clark (our UNT Campus Minister) and I were able to travel to New York City for a few days before Christmas to visit his sister.  We also got to have dinner with an amazing FOCUS alumnus, Christian Sommerhalder, who is in med school up there.  It's great to see our alumni being salt and light all over the nation.

Christian and his girlfriend, Savannah.  She's great!
We had a blast on our very cold visit to the Statue of Liberty.  Matt is such an amazing friend and co-worker in the Kingdom.
Thank you so much for your ongoing love and prayers and support. Spring is when we work to harvest a lot of what was planted in the fall.  I'm praying the God of the harvest will send out lots more workers in 2014!

Developing Our Pastoral Team

We are back in August and ramping up for the school year! We have an amazing pastoral staff, and an outstanding group of student leaders. At...