Friday, July 6, 2012

Not the end

This is my last official blog post as a Focus intern.  It's a bittersweet moment as I look back on the past year of my life.  This internship has opened my eyes to new aspects of God's character that I had never considered before, and it has revealed aspects of my character that I am only just beginning to understand.

I think the most meaningful part of my internship has been my growing understanding of Jesus.  Intern class with Ronnie and a close reading of the New Testament have really helped me get to know the Jesus I call Lord.  He is loving, gentle, fierce, demanding, meek and bold all at the same time.  Jesus is not the baby-faced, jolly-looking guy in a white robe that I see on the cover of children's Bibles.  The Lord I worship healed the blind and the lame.  He fed multitudes.  He condemned hypocrisy and sent pious people away angry.  He ate at the same table with prostitutes, in the homes of sinners.  When the barrel ran dry, he made wine to keep the party going.  When the chosen people of God had rejected and forsaken their longed-for Messiah, he died for those who cursed him.  He died for us who hadn't even been born yet.  The Lord I worship is beyond comprehension, but I know this: He loves his people.

I have never cried before as much as I have this past year.  I have cried in staff meetings, one-on-ones, sermons, and even just conversations about ministry.  I don't know exactly why the tears come, but I am beginning to accept them.  I get emotional when I think about our God.  He is the almighty creator of the universe.  He placed the stars in the heavens, he created the oceans, the trees, and every squirrel, bunny, and bird.  He created his people in his image and breathed life into them.  He sustains life by his majestic power; without him there is no life.  That same God, eternal and all-powerful, chooses us.  He delights in us.  He knows his people intimately and he loves us deeply.  He chooses us to join with him on  his mission of bringing life and light to the world.  The same God who commands armies of angels, who tells the waves and the storms what to do, chooses us as his co-workers in his mission.  Of all the ways God could make himself known, he has decided to accomplish his purpose through us.  And to equip us, God gives us the most powerful tool of all: himself.  The Spirit of God lives in us and empowers us.  God chooses not only to use us, but to live inside of us.  We are his temple and his priests.

As people chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Spirit, we have a big responsibility.  But we are not alone in this work.  The Spirit works through us as much as we will let him.  Obeying God and fulfilling his mission are not goals we must achieve.  They are realities to which we must surrender.

That is the God I worship.  Now, at the end of the internship, I have to figure out what life looks like without assignments and checklists of ministry tasks.  Now, I surrender to God and ask him for the assignment.

My first assignment is shaping a strategy for ministering to international students at UTD.  They come in droves from India and China to earn Master's degrees in Accounting, Computer Science, and other majors that sound fairly boring to me.  These countries send their brightest students overseas to study in American universities, hoping that they will return with new skills and a competitive edge to strengthen the national economy.  I want those students to return to their home countries with something more powerful than an American degree.  I want them to take God back with them.

I will probably never be a missionary to China.  I know two phrases in Chinese (Where is the bathroom? and Bottoms up!).  I don't understand the culture.  I am white with curly brown hair, which makes me an oddity in China.  Even if I conquer the language barrier, earning the trust of people so different from me would be nearly insurmountable.  Instead, just by going to UTD, I can engage with hundreds of people from China.  Those students at UTD aren't just your average citizens, either.  They must study for government administered exams to get visas for foreign study.  Their families must be able to afford the tuition at an American university.  The students who come to UTD from China are smart, wealthy, young, and the most likely demographic to change their culture.  And they are coming to our doorstep hungry to hear about Jesus!

My task is just to introduce them to the true God and watch as he changes their lives.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Fun

A lot of things change in Focus as we transition from school year to summer.  Many students have left to spend the summer with their families.  Others find themselves with lots of free time now that classes are over.  For students who still want to learn over the summer, Focus offers School of Ministry.  Since none of our students attend college level classes on theology or the Bible, School of Ministry offers college-level education on various topics relevant to Christians.  This year, School of Ministry groups are listening to audio lectures from a seminary in Canada about either the Old or New Testament.  The groups then meet during the week to discuss the lectures.

Matt Clark and I are facilitating a discussion group over the New Testament Foundations class.  Even though we've only been at it for two weeks, I feel like I have already learned a lot, and it has also been beneficial to our students. 

One of the things discussed in the lectures is the difficult process by which our scripture has gotten to us here in the twenty-first century.  It always amazes me to think about scribes copying the Bible by hand in order to preserve it for the future.  The lecturer for our New Testament class makes the point that those scribes faced a lot of challenges, most notably flies drinking ink from their inkwells.  It was those scribes, often monks, who preserved the Bible even through the Dark Ages, when pretty much no one outside the clergy could even read and write.  My point is that God has been active in keeping the scripture intact for us - without his protection, the biblical manuscripts surely would have been lost or destroyed. 

Translation has also been a significant issue for our understanding of the scripture.  Translators are forced to make thousands of choices during the translation process.  Some are small - which synonym should I use? - and some are bigger - should I aim for word-for-word accuracy or try to convey ancient idioms through modern equivalents? - but every choice affects what we, as English speaking Christians, read in our Bibles.  Many human hands have touched our holy scriptures, but I am amazed at God's guidance throughout history.  Our current translations still deliver the truth of God to us no matter which version we read.

So next time you sit down to read a Psalm, think about all the faithful Christians throughout history who have participated in getting the scripture to you, and think about God's guiding hand making sure that you can hear the truth today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wrapping up the school year

Every May brings mixed feelings for college students and those of us who work with them.  There's the excitement of finishing classes, summer plans, and, for some, graduation.  Then there's the sense of impending separation as people prepare to go back home for the summer, move away for jobs, and just disrupt the predictability of the school year.

That's what I thought as I sat at our Focus Banquet on Sunday evening.  About one hundred of us gathered together to enjoy dinner and look back on the past year.  Brad recounted some of the events we've done this school year, like Winter Camp, which had a huge spiritual impact on our students, and Halloween Party, which was just a lot of fun.  He also thanked many of the people who have contributed to the work God has done in Focus.  Our financial supporters and the staff at Northeast Church have contributed to resources that make Focus's ministries possible.  Our Corefas have led small groups and one-on-one studies for the past year, trying to make and mature disciples for Jesus.  Our E-Team have led our ministry in reaching out to people at UNT and in the community who need to hear the good news.  Our Peer Team Leaders have supported those student leaders with prayers, advice, and friendship.  All of these people have contributed to a ministry at UNT that we can be proud of; our students have grown in Christ and helped others to do the same.

But even as we look back with satisfaction at what has already been accomplished in Christ's name, we must not forget what is yet to be done.  UNT has over 35,000 enrolled students; Denton is also home to TWU, a university of almost 15,000 students.  Many of those students have never heard (or never seriously considered) the good news about Jesus.  Our tight-knit group of faithful disciples in Focus is wonderful, but we have hardly begun to penetrate the campuses in Denton.

Now we are moving into a different phase in ministry.  Many students will be involved in other churches and ministries over the summer.  Those who remain in the Dallas area will be challenged to grow through School of Ministry.  School of Ministry's goal is to give students at secular universities the opportunity to learn and think about theological topics at a college level.  This year, we will do that by going through two classes from Regent College, one on the Old Testament and one on the New Testament.  Those classes will be a lot of fun (for those of us who think listening to lectures is fun).  They will be a chance to learn and grow.  Most importantly, they will encourage students to have a deep love and understanding of God's revelation to us through the Bible.  That growing love and understanding will help us as we strive to tell people about Jesus and make disciples.

As we make this transition, pray that none of us will grow weary in doing good.  Pray that students will grow over the summer and bring the light of God's love into the dark places they will visit.  Pray for the future as we prepare for a new school year, new students, and new challenges.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Intern Update

College ministry isn’t just about college students.  Our mission on campus is to teach people how to be disciples not just during college, but for the rest of their lives.  We must learn to be, and teach others to be, disciples at work, in our marriages, with our families, and in every situation.
Pre-engagement counseling is a great tool to accomplish this goal.  Many students choose to get married soon after graduation, just like Matt and I did.  Pre-engagement counseling is a ten session curriculum that covers topics relevant to any Christian marriage, including money, sex, and getting along with your in-laws.  Soon-to-be-engaged couples go through these ten lessons with another married couple.  Matt and I went through pre-engagement counseling with Mandy and Andrew, and now we have been called upon to lead it with an engaged couple in Focus.
Over the past couple of months, we have been meeting with Laura and Taylor.  It’s an honor to be a part of their preparations for marriage, and I am so excited for them.  I’m also excited for the benefits that have come from pre-engagement counseling.  In our sessions, we’ve talked about things like communication styles and servant love.  These topics are relevant to marriage, but I think many of them have a lot to do with the lifestyle of a disciple.  As followers of Jesus, we are called to live in the truth; that includes being honest and forthright in conversation, as well as holding one another accountable for the things we say and do.  Communication skills are important for married couples, but they are also a part of the life of a disciple.  As Christians, we are called to be servants of those around us.  Remembering to serve our spouses and put their needs ahead of our own makes marriage easier, but those principles of servanthood should apply to our interactions with everyone.
Preparing people for marriage is preparing people for the life of a disciple.  It’s a big responsibility, and we on staff with Focus are blessed to be a part of it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Finishing FOJ, Parent Night

It's that time again, when you get to read all about what's going on at FOCUS! 

Let's start with Parent Night:  Last Saturday, about 140 people gathered in the Lyceum for Parent Night.  Students brought parents, siblings, and even a few pastors to show these people what FOCUS is and how it has affected their lives.  Some of the leaders from Northeast Church also visited.  We gave our guests the chance to share about their kids, and I ran around the auditorium game-show-style to bring the microphone to everyone who had something to say (and a lot of people had something to say!).  Parents shared about how our community encourages their kids to grow in faith and provides meaningful friendships.  My favorite story was from the mother of one of our students, Matt, who was hit by a car while riding his bicycle last semester.  Matt's mom talked about Matt's friends from FOCUS taking him to the hospital, staying with him while he was there, and helping him get around as he recovered from a broken leg.  Her story showed that when we are in a strong community built on Christ's love, we look out for each other.  She didn't have to worry about her son because he had so many godly friends surrounding him.

The students also shared about their parents and mentors.  Many of the students expressed their gratitude for the awesome support and encouragement they've gotten from their parents throughout the years, and others talked about the importance of the godly example their parents have set for them.  In a society where the younger generation has a reputation for rebelling against parents and flouting authority, it's really encouraging to see college students expressing thanks to their parents.  Overall, Parent Night was a huge success and a great time to see the things God is doing in our community.

Now for what I've been doing in my one-on-one studies.  I have been going through the Focus on Jesus study with some of my girls for a while now, and those studies are wrapping up.  After consistently meeting with someone to study the scripture, it's hard to finish things.  I've really been blessed by some of the feedback I've gotten from Valerie, the first girl I wrapped up with.  She said that our time together has really helped her deepen her understanding of the Bible, and one of the goals she has set for herself is to read through the whole Bible.  This semester she is the chaplain for her sorority chapter, so I am really looking forward to seeing how God uses her to bless her sisters there.

Please keep me and FOCUS in your prayers.  Right now is the time when we are thinking about Core leaders for next year and giving more students the opportunity to lead in other ways.  Pray that our current staff and leaders would have wisdom in those decisions and that we would keep going strong!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Camp and New Beginnings

The biggest, funnest, most mind-blowingly awesome event of the year in FOCUS has occurred:  Winter Camp!

250 students from all of our campuses gathered at a campground in Bridgeport to have fellowship, worship, and to hear from God together.  It was pretty much the highlight of my life (or at least the highlight of January).  Here's a rundown of some of the cool things we did:
-Powerful sermons by Eddie Howard
-Eating lots of food
-Playing games together, especially the FOCUS favorite: Koob
-Warm ups (think elementary school P.E.) led by the interns
-Communion with our specific campus
-Special session on how to talk to people about Jesus

And if that doesn't sound like a spectacular weekend, there's more:  Everyone got to hear me talk about the internship.  The senior staff picked me and Matt to share about our intern experience so far.  Why they chose me?  I think they just like to see me cry.  (Just kidding!)  No, really, I did cry for most of my talk, but I wanted to share with you all what I had to say.  Here's what I wrote down:

FOCUS and the awesome people I've met here have given me so much.  In my college years, I was constantly challenged, held accountable, and encouraged to grow in my faith.  Through FOCUS, I've found lifelong friends, mentors for whom I have sooo much respect, and a totally awesome husband.  FOCUS has taught me the importance of community and discipleship and really, truly seeking God.

I decided to do the internship because I wanted to give something back to this community that has given me so much, as if I had anything of value to give.  But I realize now God wasn't (and still isn't) finished teaching me about himself through all of you.  So even though I thought I would be giving back, I feel like I have received so much more than I've been given.

What has been the most difficult part of the internship for me?  The toughest challenge I've faced this year has been connecting to all of you up at UNT.  I started in August knowing only a handful of students, and I feel like there have been a lot of barriers - I'm not a student anymore, I went to a different school, I'm married, I don't live in Denton.  It's really been a struggle to feel like I belong, but all of you have been so welcoming, and you've really helped ease me through that transition.

Finally, I get to talk about what's really been the best part of the internship for me.  Far and away, my favorite part has been all of you.  I am so grateful for the chance to learn about God with and through the girls in my Core, the student leaders at UNT, the other interns, and all of the staff.  I am so tremendously blessed to get to work with the best people in the world.  You are God's people, and he uses you to bless my life every day.

And I really mean all of that.  I am so blessed by this awesome community that I get to serve.

Monday, January 9, 2012


"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2

Last weekend the staff and interns of FOCUS had our Staff Retreat.  It was a time of relaxation, fellowship, and planning.   One of the major topics of discussion over the weekend was our long-term vision.  By reviewing our goals and methods, I think all of us experienced the renewing of our minds, a re-orientation of our focus.

Here are some of the goals and strategies of FOCUS that I particularly value:

Leadership is from the ground up.  Many churches and ministries hire professional ministers with seminary degrees who have vast knowledge of the Bible but little knowledge of the ministry they are joining.  In FOCUS, our leaders are students who spend a year or two as members before being asked to lead their peers.  No formal religious education is required, only a willingness to learn and a desire to serve God.  In this way, we can equip anyone to be a leader in God's kingdom.  Sure, that means we take a risk - a student leader might not agree with staff about everything - but Jesus took risks when he chose leaders, too.  Instead of picking priests and experts in Scripture, he chose fishermen and laborers and taught them just what they needed to know.

Community matters.  The American mindset is fundamentally individualistic: "I can be anything I want to be," "Look out for number one," "Me against the world."  I think that way of thinking can be really harmful to Christians, who are exhorted to "be devoted to one another" and "honor one another above yourselves" (Romans 12:10).  FOCUS has always put a strong emphasis on the importance of healthy community.  We grow stronger and live better when we're together.  Healthy community means we teach each other and learn from each other.  We're honest with each other and don't let bitterness or grudges linger.  We can rely on each other for our needs, and we're always happy to share in the joys and successes of others.  In FOCUS, Core is our strongest tool for building community.  We come together in small, same-gender groups to talk about the things we're really struggling with, to pray for and with each other, and to support each other as we grow in Christ.

Focus on the campus by being on campus.  College campuses are a vital mission field.  College is a time when young people face a lot of tough decisions and new experiences, and many of those students are far from parents for the first time.  FOCUS reaches out to these students with a message of hope and the offer of a welcome community.  College campuses are also extremely diverse; students come from other regions of the US and even from other countries.  FOCUS is active and present on the college campus, where these students spend most of their time.  We go directly to people who need to hear the Gospel, whether for the first time or as a reminder of something they already know.

I love working with FOCUS.  I believe that God has prepared a harvest of young people who are ready to start following him and leading others to him.  By living as disciples of Christ and sharing a common vision, we can reap that harvest to the glory of God.