Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Outreach Stories

This Month's Student Testimony



Outreach on Campus


My apprentice, Drew, told me these stories from outreach:

Drew and his wife Darby, who
is also an apprentice this year.
"One week while we were doing Questions on Display a couple of Muslim students came up and started talking to a couple of our students about how Islam and Christianity compare. It was incredibly encouraging, they were so respectful and just wanted to start a dialogue with us. I got the opportunity to talk with a student named Irslan. He had spent a whole year reading through and memorizing the Quran, so he knew his stuff and was very passionate. But he loved that we were doing outreach and starting conversations about religion on campus. I was able to talk to him about Jesus and what his conceptions of Christ were as compared to what Christians think. Overall it was just so encouraging to have an open and friendly dialogue with people who were not yet Christian, but loved to talk about and explore different ideas. Irslan ended up asking me for my number so that we could hang out and talk more later! God is really opening up opportunities to reach out to these Muslim students!"

The team has been doing creative things and the students are coming out in force to share their faith. On the left, some of our team are standing in front of "Questions on Display" where we engage students with spiritual questions. On the right, students are sitting at "Story Time," an event where they told compelling stories (including some of Jesus' parables), and students sat around and discussed after each one.
"This month, all of the UTD apprentices went over to the TWU Dallas campus to put on a Christmas event for the students there. TWU Dallas is typically very different than some of our other campuses. The average age is much higher, there aren't nearly as many students, its confined to basically one building, and there aren't many events that happen on campus. So the fact that we were throwing this event and reaching out to people was already a big shift from what seems like the norm on this campus. The event was simple, we were giving out free hot chocolate, coffee, candy, and cookies. Based on the reaction of the students though, we could have been giving away cars. They were just so blown away that an organization would put on something like that. So many of them shared that our little event made their whole day. Plus, our students had the opportunity to engage in spiritual conversations with them while decorating cookies! It was so encouraging to see how far even a little effort can go to spreading the love of Jesus on campuses like that."

One other cool story is that through these outreach events, a number of our staff and students have connected with members of the atheist club on campus, including some of the leaders. Meaningful friendships have been formed that have resulted in some of them consistently attending our Tuesday night fellowship meeting and also inviting a couple of our staff team to come and speak at their weekly meeting. Please pray for God's blessings on all involved.

Keep FOCUS Growing Fundraiser Thank You!


Our exciting news is that we exceeded our goal for KFG! We blew past our matching funds goal of $29,000 on Giving Tuesday and the students exceeded their matching funds goal of $5000 at our weekly fellowship meetings that week! In all, we are over $75,000 which puts us in a great position moving into the next year. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who gave, shared the posts or otherwise passed on the news, and prayed for us. I was blown away by your generosity!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Challenges for the Future

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the future of our mission to the campuses in DFW. There are a number of challenges ahead, but none more important than getting the right leaders in place. Each of our staff missionaries commits for 1-5 years at a time. This brings a lot of stability, which is important to the students, and it's rare that someone has to step out unexpectedly or in the middle of a school year. But it also means that in certain years, a lot of key staff members are considering whether to stay on at the same time.

This is one of those years, especially among our women. I get to work with some amazingly gifted women who use their gifts in powerful ways. My hope is to keep them on staff for a long time! Yet as our staff has gotten a bit older, our women are being pulled in multiple directions. Some are feeling the pull toward not working outside the home in a formal way to provide maximum flexibility to invest in their own kids. That will affect more and more of them in the next few years. Others are feeling pulled to invest more heavily where they see gaps in the women's ministries at their churches, knowing their experience could be very helpful and that they would enjoy working among peers. And, as our staff members get married (often to each other!), we have less flexibility to fill key needs across the Metroplex.

I know God will provide all that we need. Please, be praying for clarity and wisdom as we do our best to both plan well for the future and also to be obedient and responsive as God does things we haven't planned for!


A Change in My Schedule

A month or so into the school year, we decided we needed to shuffle some things to invest more resources at SMU. One result is I now get to meet up with an amazing pair of corefas! (This is wonderful because I was pretty sad about not doing that for the first month.)

I've been so impressed by these guys. They are thoughtful and purposeful and careful in their leadership. They're open and honest and bring great questions to our meetings. I've known William basically since he was born, and it's a joy to have him at UTD. In addition to leading core, he is the worship leader for our new Tuesday evening service. Mark came in as a freshman a little over 3 years ago not seeing himself as a leader, but God had bigger plans! Mark served as our organization president last year, and as a senior this year is setting the pace for our entire leader team.

Mark on the left and William on the right.
Please say a prayer for these young ministers! I hope for my time with them to bless their lives far beyond this school year.


Monthly Testimony

This month, I have a story from an alumnus. He's the youngest sibling from a set of three who were all leaders in FOCUS during their time in college. The legacy of faith from the Doty family is still growing!


Thank you for your support and encouragement!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reflection from Brady: All Quiet on the Western Front


A Quick Update

We had a great Fall Retreat a week ago with a record number of students, both of our weekly services at UTD (Tuesdays and Fridays) are off to a great start, and 27 cores have kicked off at UTD alone! We are working with the core leaders this month to help them assess the spiritual needs in their groups and plan things that will bless the students in those groups and lead them to Jesus. It's exciting stuff! Please be praying for the hundreds of one-on-one Bible studies that are starting up--for receptive hearts, eagerness to learn, and diligence on the part of the students and pastors who are leading those.

More broadly, our SMU and Richland ministries are operating as independent ministries this year, our UTA team is helping plant cores at DBU (Dallas Baptist University, where there is a surprising lack of campus-based ministry), Collin's expansion to the McKinney campus continues to expand, and the Denton team has had an incredibly smooth leadership transition. The Lord is doing great things. Thank you for your part in making it happen!

A Reflection from Brady

Many of you are familiar with Brady Bobbink, a long-time campus pastor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. He's had (and continues to have!) a tremendous impact on the ministry of FOCUS over the years. I read these words that he wrote and want to share them with you because I think they capture the current opportunities and challenges of campus ministry so well.
When Erich Maria Remarque wrote “All Quiet on the Western Front”  –– the book cover (see to the right) for one edition carried the phrase, “On the threshold of life, they faced an abyss of death…” 
The warfare image is used repeatedly in the Scripture to describe the nature of the clash between powers of alienation and spiritual death and the powers of the good news of Jesus the Messiah. The image is helpful and needful for those of us who live in the midst of the seductive influences of personal prosperity and general security. 
If you walk on any of our campuses right now, you would be greeted with a sense of quiet peacefulness. You or I might think it a bit melodramatic to think that a profound battle is being prepared for as we enjoy the vistas and vibrancy of the college campus setting. The sense of peace on our campuses is a deceptive picture and feeling.
The image of warfare reminds us to see deeper than the presenting picture of kindly professors teaching curious hearted and learning hungry minds in the quiet idyllic setting of grand buildings and carefully tendered landscapes. It is enough to put one into a stupor of contentment, forgetting that lives are at stake in the here and now and in the age to come.  Few think in terms of the phrase on Remarque’s book as applying to present day college student, but in fact they are on the threshold of adult life, while at the same time facing life and death choices.
One of our recently graduated interns wrote a lengthy and thoughtful note to the staff before departing to his new campus as a campus missionary. Below are excerpts from his reflections that touch on what is at stake and what is divinely possible as our student leaders, interns, and staff teams engage the minds and hearts of students.
“When I came to Western in 2014 as a scared 18 year old, I never imagined what was about to happen to my life. It genuinely had never occurred to me that my life could change; I was certainly wrong. I was proud, small-minded, and lacking courage. I was deeply hungry for a real God, that is, a God who was knowable the way you know an old friend. I was scared and lonely. 
As I arrived in Bellingham, I found myself afraid of what I’d left behind but ill-equipped to handle what the future held. I couldn’t go back, and it was unsafe to move forward. It was in that very spot that Jesus used CCF to turn my world upside down. 
I clearly remember a moment where I was sitting in my dorm room, Nash 112, trying to decide if I wanted to go to a CCF event or hang out with the friend group my roommate had acquired. I found myself appreciating the “freedom” I felt to be whoever I wanted with them, even to experiment with sin and not receive judgment. It was exciting. But for some beautiful reason, I decided to hang out with CCF people that night instead. I don’t remember what we did that night, but I know that the decision I made is what determined who permanently entered my sphere of influence. 
Throughout the year, I watched as my roommate’s friends became alcoholics, traded off sleeping with each other, got put on academic probation, and ultimately created so much interpersonal drama that the group imploded. Meanwhile, I was discovering through experience what it meant to be loved. 
I had learned to be afraid of my sin, afraid of my temptations, afraid of my questions, and afraid of my doubts. I had learned to be afraid of the struggles I had, because they might just separate me from God. But in CCF I learned to stare my sin square in the face and tell it NO. I learned that I could ask any question, because if I can think of a question God can’t answer, then God isn’t really God. I learned that I wasn’t the only person who was broken, so it was safe to ask my brothers for help. I was doomed for destruction, and because each of you answered the unique call on your life to love students, I’m still here. And I LOVE Jesus. In a very real way, the  WWU campus has become holy ground in my life. It is the place where heaven met earth.” 
This is my prayer for UTD and all the other campuses in the DFW area--that they would become holy ground for students to encounter Jesus--and I hope you'll continue to press forward with me in that hope.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Welcome Week 2018!

You may not have realized it, but you were a part of being the hands and feet of Jesus on college campuses the past couple of weeks. Your prayers and encouragements and financial investments made it possible for us to send out hundreds of missionaries onto these campuses for Welcome Week.

At UTD, we hosted 12 events in 12 days (and attended a bunch of others!) to welcome new freshmen and transfer students to campus. Our student leaders and staff met SO MANY PEOPLE at events like Field Day, board games, Zombie Tag, a pool party, United Worship, our FNF Kickoff, and many more. They're busy getting all these new people connected to cores and one-on-one Bible studies. Please pray for lots of "yes" answers to their invitations--this will determine how fruitful our year will be as it continues.

This story illustrates why we do what we do during Welcome Week. UTA had their first meeting outdoors, which allowed students just passing by to join in!


A few more stories:

  1. I met a new freshman at one event who was telling me how sad and lonely he'd been since moving in 3 days before. I introduced him to just one student leader, and now he's involved in a core, hanging out with a bunch of Christian guys consistently, and playing intramural football with some guys from the ministry. 
  2. One of our women leaders, a UTD senior, went back to a new freshman's dorm with her after our first Friday night meeting. There were pictures hanging everywhere of friends and family back home. When asked if looking at them made her sad, she said it probably would have if it wasn't for the new friends she'd made through FOCUS.
  3. Another girl who isn't a Christian visited our first FNF because she was invited. She came bounding up to the girl who invited her afterward saying "This wasn't what I expected!" She was blown away by how vulnerable and transparent the community is. Coming from a generation that hungers for authenticity, this was a powerful statement. She's intrigued and wants to learn more.

I could tell story after story after story like these. There are literally hundreds of them, and even I only get to see a small slice of all that goes on. Thank you for helping make it happen!

A couple of other exciting photos from UTD:

The UTD FOCUS staff hosted about 34 ministers from nearly all the different campus ministries at UTD for a reception in August. The unity among these ministers is so encouraging, and it's only growing! We estimate that about 85% of the ministries were represented. 
The night before classes began at UTD, we hosted a United Worship night with the other campus ministries. It was a great chance to showcase spiritual life on campus to new students and communicate that we are partners not competitors.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Encouragements

I started Old Testament class with the new group of apprentices this morning. Please pray for these 12 amazing young people as they begin the process of reading and studying through the entire Old Testament (and later the New) today.
I got this encouraging message awhile back and wanted to share it here. It's from a guy who was in FOCUS a few years back and was addressed to a number of men who lead or have led in the FOCUS ministry:

"This morning, on my way to meet a friend for breakfast, I was involved in a low-speed accident where someone rear ended me. As I looked in the rearview mirror I could see the guy obviously frustrated and profanity leaving his mouth. We pulled into the nearby shopping center and as he and I both got out, I found myself asking him “are you okay?” as the very first thing.

We both assessed the damage to our vehicles which was minor. Bent license plate for him and a negligible scuff to the hitch receiver of my truck. I told him that I’m fine with us not reporting anything to insurance and giving him a break. As we parted I shook his hand and told him to go have a better day. When I hopped into my truck and started driving away, I found myself praying for this guy. I’m not a person that prays as much as I should and more often than not I forget to pray about people who I don’t have a relationship with.

Afterwards, as I was processing the events that took place, I began to wonder where I learned these behaviors. Making sure the well-being of someone I got into a wreck took precedence over the damage of my replaceable property. Encouraging a random person to go have a good day instead of making it worse. And praying for this person when we parted ways.

I’m doubtful I learned any of these things from my parents. From past experience, my mom would criticize me for not reporting it to insurance and claiming money like “everyone else” would do. My dad would have probably have been annoyed and irritated, therefore been somewhat hostile towards the guy and certainly not concerned for his well-being.

It’s pretty clear that I have been very fortunate to learn these habits from the relationships I have had with all of you and many others. You guys have had an overwhelming, positive impact on my character is a result of the pursuit of Godly living in your lives.

I cannot thank you guys enough for being part of my life from the time that I first joined FOCUS, through the rigors of going and returning from war, losing faith and finding it again, family problems, and even now when things are good. Thank you for being there during of the most impressionable moments in my life, being guys that I can count on to work really hard on treating people well, and doing the right thing. Thank you for being role models, influences, peers, and friends that have shown me how a real man should act and behave. Thank you for not only displaying the good aspects of your lives to the other young men in our community but also openly sharing your own pitfalls and struggles so that others may learn from them. And above all else glory be to God for using you guys to keep me and other guys from straying too far away from Him.

Once again, thank you and love you guys."

And I think you'll find this story from a current encouraging as well. It's a testament to the importance of having a presence on community college campuses.


Thank you for your gifts and prayers and service and love and encouragement that lead to stories like these! Let's make even more happen this year. To God be the glory!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

I Got Married! (Among other things)

So the biggest news of the past month is that I married Sarah on June 30, 2018. It was a wonderful day with so many of our friends and family in attendance. We spent the next few days in San Diego and Anaheim, CA, enjoying the much cooler weather. We've spent the last couple of days working hard at getting our new home put together. I'm looking forward to settling into some sort of routine.
Neil, my best friend growing up, came with his sweet family.
We spent a day at Disneyland and had a blast

Luke, one of the students I mentored this year, is from San Diego. He and his family hosted us for a wonderful dinner one night. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip!

Plans for July


This month, I'll be hard at work getting things prepared for the year. We're finishing up building our largest student leader team ever at UTD, which will be led by our largest staff team ever at UTD. We are planning to try out some creative things this fall--starting a second weekly service on Tuesday nights and having some cores meet at a variety of non-traditional times and places. Be praying for these experiments, that we'll learn a lot and that they'll help us connect with an even more diverse group of students. I'll have more to say about all of this in the next couple months.

Student Testimony


Harrison Wijaya, Collin College - Spring Creek, Finance Major, Freshman
"When I came to the United States from Indonesia, I was pretty concerned about what life would be like. I immediately assumed I’d have a pretty lonely time at Collin. I heard about FOCUS but wasn’t really interested since I didn’t have a connection point. Interacting with strangers had never been my strong suit. Little did I know that God was listening and was ready to meet my needs. My first day on campus I met Graham, who told me about his involvement with FOCUS and introduced me to his friends. He followed up with me, and that was a huge way God started giving me a vision for what my life could look like.

"Through one-on-ones and pastoral messages, this community has taught me the impact of
reflecting Christ in every word I speak and action I take. Through my friendships, I’ve been shown how we can best love one another by putting all our efforts into blessing strangers like me. I've also had the opportunity to honor God at home by getting to live with five other guys from our community. Being in FOCUS, I’ve learned that God wants to open my eyes and heart to truly be shaped into someone who loves Him and those around me in all areas of my life."

I want to thank you once again for sharing this vision and strengthening it with your prayers and your financial generosity!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Back from SICM

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

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

SICM


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

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

Summer FOCUS


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


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

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Bittersweet End of Another School Year

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

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

Thank you!


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

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

Student Testimony

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

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

One More Cool Story

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


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Three Cool Things From March

Just a quick reminder that Spring Showcase, our annual fundraiser concert and art show to raise money to send students to SICM, is this weekend! If you are in town, it's well worth your time. There will be both an afternoon and an evening show this Saturday (the 7th of April). Go to anyfocus.org/showcase for more information.


Student Testimony

I had the privilege of being at Sienna's baptism a couple of weeks ago. She has a neat story!

Sienna Walter, UT Dallas, Business Administration, Freshman
"When I first came to college, I was worried about finding a good, Christian community on campus. Luckily, I had a friend from home invite me to FOCUS at the beginning of the year, introducing me to a community that radiated acceptance and spread God’s light throughout campus. Right away, I felt immediately included and got involved in a small group, which provided me a great community of believers and friends. Establishing this strong base at the beginning of the year eventually helped me through the tough times I faced later on; I was confronted with many things I had never been tempted with before during my first semester. That semester, while in a musical, I was around many older people who frequently drank. I drank a couple of times and justified my underage drinking while judging others for falling short in the same way. In my family and high school, I had been labeled the “good kid”. I had never built up the self-control against these inclinations and felt ashamed when I gave in to temptation. However, with the help of my Corefas and friends in FOCUS, I was able to stop these bad habits before they became too serious and find forgiveness through Christ. Now, rather than judging others who struggle with that temptation, I can empathize with them and share how God used FOCUS to help me overcome my own obstacles!"


The FOCUS Podcast


Have you listened to an episode of our podcast yet? Sirak and Sarah are doing a great job of bringing content that will minister to you far beyond college. Recently they interviewed Dr. Jeremy Bergstrom, the Episcopal priest who is our main contact for starting the ministry at SMU. Their conversation about church tradition and liturgy really ministered to me, especially as someone who is generally unfamiliar with so much of that. Jeremy didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition--in fact, he has attended Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican seminaries after growing up Methodist, so he has a broad and grace-filled perspective on much of the Church today. 

You can find it at anyfocus.org/podcast or under "The FOCUS Podcast" on iTunes or Stitcher, among others.


Spring Break Service

A bunch of UTD students made time over spring break to serve others. These projects were totally student planned! They:
  • baked for sick kids at the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas 
  • sorted enough food for 4,000 meals at North Texas Food Bank
  • created and distributed 100 care packages and over 100 sandwiches to the homeless in Dallas and Plano
  • sang to and chatted with some sweet elderly people
  • helped organize warehouses for two different organizations
  • ministered to over 100 inner city kids with Dallas Metro









Thanks for your support to keep me on campus developing young leaders. It's a joy. It's important. And I couldn't do it without all my financial and prayer partners!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

You're Invited to Spring Showcase!

The 2018 Spring Showcase is coming up in just a couple weeks, and it's shaping up to be an amazing show! If you're going to be in the Dallas area, we would love for you to join us as we showcase some incredibly talented young people in a concert and art sale. This year, we've moved the event to Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, and we'll be having 2 shows instead of just one on April 7, at 3pm and 7pm.

All of this supports students who will be going to SICM in May but can't afford the entire $715 price tag on their own. We use this event to supplement and make the trip possible for all of them. We have around 115 prospective student leaders going to SICM this year. Our biggest group yet!

You can buy tickets online here or at the door. I hope to connect with you there!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Teaching about Christ's Return

We had 475 students show up for 4 hours of teaching past Sunday!

Pizza Theology - Ready or Not... Here He Comes!

We had a great night of teaching this past Sunday looking at what the scriptures teach about Christ's return and what it means to live in light of that. Sarah King took us through the entire story of the Bible, showing how it all anticipates an ending where God shows up to make things right again. Then I had the privilege of talking through Matthew 24 & 25, Jesus' last great sermon in Matthew's gospel and his most sustained teaching on his coming back. Miriam Freeman from our Denton team then spent an hour helping us understand how to approach and think about the book of Revelation. And, of course, we had lots of pizza and fellowship in the middle!

If you'd like to listen to it, you can find it here.

The students were eager and engaged the entire time; they took lots of notes! They also had lots of questions afterward, and we are looking forward to addressing some of them in a future episode of our podcast. I'm consistently amazed that so many students consistently attend these 4-hour lectures. It shows that they have a deep desire to understand the Bible and the implications of their faith! Please pray for us as we are already thinking through what to cover in the two Pizza Theology events next school year.

Student Testimony

Devin Rardin, Junior, Journalism, UNT
"When I was growing up, I was too afraid, timid and shy to make many friends. My parents encouraged me to join the swim team in high school, and I finally found a group of consistent friends there. That time brought a lot of confusion about my own sexuality. My attempts to figure out my own sexuality caused me to have a selfish outlook on those friendships. I had a group of friends that I was grateful for, but I still never experienced deep and true relationships. My main goal as I began college was to make new friends. During my first week at UNT, Pedro Paz befriended me and started to build a relationship with me while introducing me to the FOCUS community. My desire to find friends kept me coming back to different FOCUS events, and I began to see God work in my life. Even though I didn’t know Him at the time, God was chasing after me. I saw myself start to change as I obtained a new understanding of friendship and sexuality. I saw God use people like Matt Clark, who was shy like me, to impact hundreds of people. God taught me how to be expressive while still using my quiet nature as a tool for discipleship. I have friends that have sacrificed so much to help me through my struggles. God’s love shone through these people and I was able to see that my own desires, deriving from my sexuality, would not bring the joy I searched for. I realized that I was searching for love, but God was always with me. He offers the most intimate and greatest love."

Final Note

We are also putting together what might be our biggest group yet for SICM, certainly our biggest yet from UTD. I'll have more on that in future months. Thanks so much for your prayers and encouragement and support. It means so much to me and this ministry!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Some Big News!

Winter Camp Updates

The UTD Students at camp Whooshing. We had an amazing group from UTD this year and our biggest overall group ever!
Me with the 4 corefas I get to mentor this year (Austin, Jesse, Casey & Luke). I have fallen in love with these gifted young ministers. 
I got engaged in front of 600 screaming students! You can probably find the video on facebook if you haven't seen it yet. Sarah and I are planning to get married this summer.
A couple of my wonderful donors came to camp this year. Eileen has been a friend of my family since I was a very little boy, and she has been a big encouragement to me as a minister. Eric Anderson also came out, but I failed to get a picture with him!
I don't think Winter Camp could have gone any better. Geoff and Jessica Mumley came down from Washington State to share with our community about what it means to be "Sent." All the talks are online, but so many were especially touched by Jessica's first talk. I highly recommend you take the time to listen to it here.
Geoff and Jessica in front of the main building at Sky Ranch.

A Winter Camp Success Story - UNT Dallas

One of our students from Richland recently transferred to UNT Dallas (a newer campus in south Dallas). After hearing the messages at camp about living as a "sent one," she started reaching out to other people in her dorm. She realized that there is not a single Christian ministry on that campus, so she found a faculty advisor and some students and signed us up for an organization fair on campus. So I guess FOCUS is on 12 campuses now! Please be in prayer with us as we pray about which staff person can reallocate some time to support this excited young lady. I love when the Lord does our strategic planning for us.

An Update on Our Friday Night Teaching Times at UTD

Last semester we gave the students a pretty extensive survey about theological beliefs. As we looked through and prayed over the results, a few key areas of confusion and uncertainty stood out. So we have designed our sermons this semester to address these. Here's what we have planned:
  • We're almost done with a 4-week series from Laurence on God's heart for Justice. We've been studying how justice in the scripture is most often about God's expectation for his people to defend the rights of vulnerable people--in the Old Testament, these are most often orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor. We've been focusing on certain vulnerable groups in our own society and reflecting on how God would have us treat them--the mentally ill, the poor, the incarcerated, and the elderly.
  • Next, Sirak will be talking about how to think about the relationship between faith and science. At the end of the series, he'll be interviewing some Christian professors from the natural sciences about how they have navigated that cultural schism.
  • Later in the semester, Sarah will be teaching a series on the Holy Spirit, perhaps the least understood member of the Trinity.
  • And for our Pizza Theology this semester, we'll be diving into the topic of the second coming of Christ. I'll have more about that next month!
Please be praying for those preparing to teach and for the students preparing to hear, that we would listen carefully to what God wants to say to us on these topics. Thank you for your prayers and support. Lives are being changed, and hearts are being turned toward God!

Student Testimony (from SMU!)

Candice Fudzie, Southern Methodist University, Freshman
Math, Environmental Engineering, and Sociology 
"This past semester, I was a 17-year-old girl who felt very overwhelmed with all that college had to offer. I deal with depression and anxiety. Throughout high school, these disorders tore me apart and made it extremely easy to block out my friends, my family, and God. I was going down a destructive path and, frankly, it’s by the grace and love of God that I am even alive. FOCUS has given me a community where I’m allowed to be vulnerable and transparent. FOCUS has helped me emphasize my personal relationship with God; now I’m sure to let him know how I’m feeling (something I couldn’t accomplish in high school). Due to my growing relationship with God, I’ve been able to see a clear and healthy path towards dealing with my depression and anxiety where He is a part of my journey. PRAISE God! Whether it's lying on the floor listening to “Build My Life” by Housefires, writing out my negative thoughts and turning them into positive ones, or calling my mom to tell her how I’m feeling, I remember the Spirit is with me to give me strength."

Saturday, January 6, 2018

It's 2018 Already!

Updates

We're gearing up to leave for Winter Camp on Friday, so please be praying for that event. I'm sure I'll have more to report on that after the fact.

Our Keep FOCUS Growing Fundraiser was a huge success! Thank you to all of you who participated and spread the word. We have such generous and passionate donors!

We're already remodeling our classroom space for the apprentices, and we started offering health insurance and a 403b retirement plan to our staff on January 1! I'm excited to be able to look out for the needs of these young men and women as they look out for college students.

New Testament Foundations

This past semester we conducted a ministry-wide survey on the students' theological beliefs. We asked about 60 questions on a huge range of topics. It was encouraging to see where our community is united around historical Christian beliefs, but it also exposed considerable confusion around a number of key doctrines.

After 20 years on campus, I have seen that in some areas, the church has really improved in the way we train and equip our high school students. They are so much more open and vulnerable, willing to talk about tough topics like sexuality. But I've also seen a marked decline in biblical literacy. So many of the students who grew up in church haven't read even a few books of the Bible. They know what they know from sermons and lessons, but don't have a larger framework to connect those lessons to. And that doesn't even address the many students who have little to no church background in our community.

I say all that to emphasize how incredibly important it is that our staff ministers have a solid foundation in the scripture, able to read and use it effectively in our ministry and in our own lives, and to be able to answer the questions that students are constantly asking. This spring I'll be leading our apprentices and young staff members through a New Testament Foundations course. We'll be reading the entire New Testament (of course!), listening to lectures by Rikk Watts, reading a graduate-level textbook titled The Writings of the New Testament, and meeting to discuss the material each week. Please pray for these young ministers to make the most of this time, and that the Holy Spirit would empower them to hear God's word so they can share it effectively.

I look forward to continuing to actively address the needs that we identified through the survey. These classes for our apprentices are just one small part of that!

Student Testimony

Graham Spencer, Collin College, Illustration, Sophomore
"FOCUS showed me what a real relationship with God is. Coming from a Christian private school, I thought I understood God pretty well but I didn't have a relationship with him at all. Through the example of my Corefas, staff members, and just so many other students, I saw what it means to earnestly seek God. One of my favorite moments from freshman year was a talk with my friend, Pedro. We were good friends at this point in the year, and I had become pretty vulnerable with him. We got into a serious conversation about our current walks with God, what that looks like, and why. After poorly answering how my relationship with God was "pretty good", Pedro really pushed my ideas of why I was Christian. I ended up realizing most of my faith was blindly following the laws God had given us, and not really seeking him out. Pedro then opened up to me that he had struggled with the same problem early on in his faith. I'm beyond thankful for Pedro and so many other friends like him who have spurred me on in love. Before FOCUS, this community, I was living half the life I am now. Now, I am living life with God, not just for him."

I look forward to sharing about Winter Camp and how the Spring semester kicks off. We've got some busy weeks ahead! Thanks for your prayers and your support. I couldn't do it without you!

Outreach Stories

This Month's Student Testimony Outreach on Campus My apprentice, Drew, told me these stories from outreach: Drew and h...