Kicking Off 2021-2022!

September 2021

The last weeks have been a blur of camps, events, trainings, and lots and lots of new students, and there is so much to tell! As you all are getting back into the swing of this time of year, I hope you have had restful summers with lots of time to rest and prepare for life in this busy season.

Staff Retreat

Each year, our FOCUS staff take a few days at the beginning of August to pray, plan, discuss, and prepare for the upcoming semester. Since we do not work in an office together, our teams have few times like staff retreat where we can have concentrated work time and also little breaks together. It was meaningful to get to know the 3 apprentices we have at UTD (out of 19 total--our biggest apprentice class ever!). They fit right in with our group! Lailah, Michelle, and Taylor are already contributing great questions and ideas, and they each have a passion for God's work in students that is revitalizing to all of us. 

UTD Campus Ministers' Lunch
As a larger group, we spent time considering what it means that we have been "crucified with Christ" and that it is "no longer [we] who live, but Christ" in us. We prayed and shared about what it would take to live that out with our students this year. This year more than any in recent memory, we are building our culture anew. The values, relationships, and experiences that 2 decades of students have known in their time with FOCUS are all but gone from our current groups of students. Our seniors are the only ones who have really experienced a full year of normal campus ministry this year! So as a pastoral staff, we spent a lot of time praying about the extra effort and care we would need to pour in for our 2021-2022 community. Please join us in praying that the students who are a part of FOCUS this year will still experience what we strive to embody: a Jesus-loving community that lives to make and mature disciples to the glory of God.


SICM, Limited Texas Edition

One experience that has dramatically shaped the culture of our ministry the last 20 years is SICM: The week-long Student Institute of Campus Ministry put on by our friends at Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF) in Bellingham, Washington. For years we have invited students who lead in our community to come be trained in peer discipling at this one-of-a-kind institute. But because of COVID, we were not able to go to Washington for SICM either last year or this year. So in 2021, we brought SICM to Texas! We all drove out to Rocksprings, Texas to Camp Eagle and stayed there for a week learning, hanging out, and enjoying the stunning surroundings.

At SICM, students learn to think pastorally about their relationships; they learn to consider the aspects of a small group that make it relational and how to develop those aspects in a group they are in; they learn to read Scripture with critical reading skills and to put things into words that even a student from Bangladesh would be able to understand; they learn to write and ask good questions that stimulate discussion; they learn to think about faith as it flows into every area of their lives, not just church; they learn again to love as they have been loved by Jesus.

Hiking with Cathryn and Jessica!
We had the largest group of students we've ever taken to SICM this year, and the Lord showed up in their midst! One of the most touching moments of the week for me was when a very shy, unassuming girl I'd met with a few times over the year asked if she could talk with me. We'd already had a little bit of a conversation at the beginning of the week just about how she was feeling and what she was learning. She'd told me then that she was surprised that she'd been invited to SICM because she wouldn't be able to lead a core (small group). But at the end of the week, what she wanted to share was how she was so thankful for having been invited and that now she understood why. Tears rolled down as she told me she understood that discipleship was so much more than having the title of leader and that she felt God had really seen her and valued her through us. It still brings tears to my eyes as I think about it! She's right; she might not ever be a titled leader, but I know she will continue in her heart to "lead" like Jesus. She loves people so well and invites people into community with no fear! I think now she sees how intentional and powerful that is. I have watched her come onto campus this year with a new sense of purpose, and I've praised God for all the stories like this one that he has worked out of the last couple years!

At UTD this Year

UTD has historically been the least social, most studious of our FOCUS communities. Life on campus has been ...quiet, one might say. But this year, it is like it's a whole different campus. There were hundreds of students at our events! We could not keep up with meeting them all because there were just so many more than we could handle! The image of the disciples pulling up the nets bursting with fish came to mind at just about every event I was at.

We host 2 weeks' worth of events at the start of each school year to try to welcome and meet as many freshman as we can. Those events those weeks are in a way our most concerted push to reach out to the campus each year. It's an ideal time because students are trying to get to know the campus, make friends, and get involved in something. Lots of them make friends and get involved in FOCUS! 

One event I was especially excited about was the LatinXplosion we did for Latino/Latina students. We hosted a few ethnic-specific events this year, but this is the one that I helped coordinate and that I have a soft spot for considering my own Cuban heritage. We played a couple rounds of trivia and loteria, had a few fun snacks like sweet bread, and then we did a short time of sharing about places at UTD where we'd been able to find community. My friend and fellow FOCUS pastor, Andrea, shared with the whole group about her experience in FOCUS. She told me at the end of the night that the president of one of the other clubs was so touched by the whole event that he asked if he could join FOCUS, too!

As we start off cores and continue building on the relationships we've started with these new students, please be praying for the ways God wants to provide for, grow, and bless them. Please be praying for our student leaders who are pouring so much time and energy into their peers! Pray that God would fill them up and guide them to love these new friends how he would have them be loved.

I'll share more about the 6 girls in my peer team and more exciting happenings next time, but for now, that's all! Thank you all so much for your continued investment in me and this mission field. God is working powerfully already this year. I can't wait to share more with you about what he does!


Much love,

Victoria

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