Every Good and Perfect Gift
A Very Personal Gift
The Gift of Student Life
As I mentioned in my last blog, we had one of the most successful starts to the year ever! So many ministries on campus last year were unable to continue any sort of meeting or investing in students because of being primarily led by non-student staff. We were so fortunate in having the majority of our ministry led by our trained student leaders, which means that they were able to keep up some of the momentum. When the UTD Weeks of Welcome came around, our student leaders were able to go out and invite students into a thriving community of disciples and friends! So even after a year of NO student life on campus AT ALL, this year we were able to start TWENTY-SEVEN small groups for a student body hungry for community!
Of those groups, I mentor 6 of our women student leaders (3 small groups total). I was thrilled to have one of the leaders from my group last year, Janelle, in my group for this year, too. It has been really sweet seeing how different her experience of ministry is this year as compared to last. Janelle is a student who has taken Jesus at his word when he says "People will know you are my disciples by how you love one another." She builds deep, meaningful friendships easily, and with such a variety of people! I think what people are drawn to in her is her genuine desire for the other person's well-being. She wants others to have the very best life. She wants them to know God--truly, authentically--and she is not impatient in the process of their discovering him in that way. She is also just a lot of fun!
Janelle and Tania (her co-leader last year) had an online small group, and Janelle faithfully spent time investing in the relationships of the girls in her small group in whatever ways she could. I remember her deciding to use her lunch break between hours-long Zoom classes to jump on yet another hour of video in order to just chat and have some relational time with some of her girls. Despite all this, her small group had a really hard time building a collective sense of community and friendship. Online relationships are just not the same! She was faithful to what God gave her then; but I am so very thankful that for her senior year she has gotten the gift of in-person ministry again!
This year, Janelle and Sarah's small group has quite a few of the same girls that were in that group last year (in addition to several new ones!), but the difference it has made to be meeting in person is almost unbelievable. Their group is a hodge-podge of underclassmen, upperclassmen, Christians, non-Christians, you name it. Janelle and Sarah have worked hard to thoughtfully plan experiences and small group discussions that would help foster true friendship in their group, and it has worked! I laughed when they told me toward the beginning of the semester that they actually found out the girls in their group were doing all kinds of hangouts throughout the week, but just hadn't yet invited either of them to join.
Though leaders like Janelle were faithful with the ministry God gave them in the midst of quarantine last year, we have all been thanking him for the gift of student life we have seen again this year. In just one semester of being back in-person, a non-Christian girl in Janelle and Sarah's small group has been so drawn to the love she experiences there that she has decided to study who Jesus is and what Christianity is really all about. Another girl in that group has been in FOCUS for several years, and now as a senior, she is stepping into a true ownership of her calling as a disciple and has started leading a 1-on-1 Bible study with another small group member. Most of the small group was able to go to Winter Camp, and it was there that one of the girls--who has been dating her Muslim boyfriend for several years--felt convicted for the first time to really talk with her boyfriend about their differences in faith. There was much to be celebrated last year even as a lot of ministry happened virtually, but there is no denying the power of consistent, tangible Christian community in our lives. God works through it powerfully! We are thankful to be experiencing that gift again.
The Gift of Teachers
As a ministry settled on college campuses, one of our values is to build challenging spiritual teaching into our annual routine so that the spiritual ideas students are engaging meet the level of their academics. (We don't want students to have Masters degrees in their professional life and only a high school understanding of their faith!) God has gifted us over and over again with relationships with incredible teachers and pastors to call on.
We started off the semester with a training day for our student leaders, and our friend Jessica Mumley from the Chi Alpha chapter in the northwest called in to teach our students about gender identity and help us think through the ministry implications of that. This is a part of our everyday reality more and more, so it was a blessing to have someone who has spent many years reading and pastoring on this come teach us!
Rikk Watts, a theologian and professor from Canada by way of Australia, came out of his retirement for a weekend to teach our students at Winter Camp! It is continually mind-boggling to us that a world-renowned teacher would come to Texas and take time for such a small ministry of college students! But he did, and it was a powerful start to the year for our community. He focused on the veracity of the gospels and the incredible hope we have in Jesus through these eye witnesses.
Other Gifts (News) to be Celebrated!
- For the 2021 run of our annual Keep FOCUS Growing campaign, God provided us over $100,000 in donations and matching funds this year!
- We will be returning to Washington this year for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM) put on by our friends at Campus Christian Fellowship. This is the training that all our student leaders have gone to through the years, and we have sorely missed it the last 2 years.
- We are gearing up for Showcase, the fundraiser we put on for our students to be able to go to SICM. If you're in town February 26, you've got to come check it out. We have some pretty amazingly gifted students!
Thank you all for your continued support of my missions work at UTD. I feel honored to be able to do this job, and I know it is only because of your generosity. Much love to you all!