Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It's Worth It

The 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative is in full swing.  Thank you to those of you who have already made a donation!  If you haven't heard about this fundraising campaign, please click here to learn more and watch the video below:

In this video, Sarah King, one of our campus pastors, shares stories of the UT Arlington students she spends her time with.  Let me tell you a few brief stories of the UNT students I have the privilege of ministering to:

On a Sunday in November, hundreds of our students gathered for Pizza Theology, a lecture and pizza dinner.  The lecture topic was How to Think Like a Christian, and it outlined a variety of perspectives on epistemology, the sources of our Christian theology, and ultimately how we as Christians should think about issues we face today that are never addressed in the Bible.  A young woman who has been a member of FOCUS since August was there.  She's told me a little bit about her upbringing; she was raised in a Christian denomination that she found close-minded and oppressive, so as a teenager she rebelled against her church's values and called herself agnostic.  In the few months she's been in FOCUS, she's been invited to ask questions and examine her own thoughts about God and the Bible.  At Pizza Theology, she said, "I can't imagine my old church ever doing anything like this.  We were never encouraged to think about things this way."  She had encountered a new way of thinking that both satisfied her desire for answers and allowed for a spectrum of different viewpoints.  Pray with me that she would make the choice to wholly devote herself to Jesus.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, many of our students returned to their hometowns to spend time with family.  One of our young men went "back home" to stay with his parents in another city and realized while he was there that he dearly missed the friends he's made in FOCUS.  He said that Denton has become "home" to him because of the meaningful relationships he's made with other followers of Jesus there.  He even posted an encouragement to other students on our FOCUS Facebook page: "God will make Denton your home if you let Him."  Pray with me that as our students return to their hometowns over the longer Christmas break that they would maintain the friendships they've made and that the break from school would not also be a break from spiritual growth.

I share these stories with you because I believe God is using campus ministry to change hearts and lives.  I believe it's worth it. 

The money we raise through our annual fundraiser and donations throughout the year will cover a variety of expenses, large and small, that help us reach students with the life-changing message of Jesus.  Your donations help us pay for:

- On-campus advertising.  Many FOCUS students and alumni (including my own husband, Matt Schlitz), have come to FOCUS because they saw a poster on campus advertising our meetings. 
- Focus on Jesus books.  FOJ is the curriculum we use to help students study the Bible one-on-one together.  The cost of one booklet is small, but the value of a semester spent studying the Bible with a caring mentor is priceless.
- Counseling services.  Some of our students face severe mental and emotional struggles that require the help of a trained counselor or psychiatrist.  When students can't afford to pay for these services, FOCUS helps them get the care they need.
- Camps and events.  We believe that disciples grow in their faith best when they're connected to a community of close friends who are also disciples.  The camps and events we host help students build and strengthen friendships that provide support and encouragement as they pursue a life devoted to Jesus.
- As well as many other needs that come up.

If you want to keep hearing stories like the ones above, please consider giving to the 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative.  Your investment can help change lives.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's time for Fall

Hello friends!  I can't believe it's November already and our students only have about five weeks of school left this semester.  October was a busy month, but so many incredible things are happening at FOCUS!

UNT, TWU, and NCTC students at Fall Camp
 Fall Camp

I mentioned last month that we were getting ready for Fall Camp.  Well, it was a blast!  Our students spent a day and a night together strengthening friendships, worshiping Jesus, and having fun.  The them of the camp was Defining Moments.  We encouraged students to look back on moments in their lives when they made choices or experienced events that changed everything.  We challenged them to prepare themselves for upcoming defining moments by seeking earnestly after Jesus.  One of the statements made by Amy Knoles in her sermon was this: "You can't always plan for your defining moments before they come, but you can decide who you will be when they get here."  Our students were blessed by her sermon and the time they got to spend together.  I have already seen in the few weeks since Fall Camp how the relationships fostered there are impacting students in big ways.

Everyone at our annual Leadership Conference

UTA intern April sharing during worship at Leadership Conference
Leadership Conference
Each year, our family of churches and FOCUS ministries gather for a one-day Leadership Conference.  This is a moment to celebrate the ways we've grown and changed over the past year and to prepare ourselves to move forward.  We talked about the power of friendship to have a transformative impact on people's lives.  Jesus set the model for friendship in his own ministry.  He surrounded himself with twelve friends and lived his life in close contact with them.  They were transformed by that relationship, and after Jesus' death and resurrection, it was those twelve who carried the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  Our goal is to follow the example of Jesus in every way we can, including our friend relationships.

The Leadership Conference was also an encouraging time to reconnect with friends from our different churches and campus ministries.  I think we all left feeling reinvigorated and inspired to build God's kingdom wherever he sends us.

Last Friday, I preached a sermon on dating relationships.  Our Cores also discussed the topic of dating and healthy relationships that week.  Every year, we talk about dating in FOCUS at least once (often more).  I sometimes hear students who have been in FOCUS say things like, "Didn't we just talk about dating last semester?"

We talk about dating a lot in college ministry because many of our students are actively dating, whether that's going on dates with different people or pursuing an exclusive relationship.  Many of our students (even those who aren't dating) want to get married within a few years of finishing college.  This topic matters because it has a direct bearing on the lives of all our students, and because dating is a confusing, emotionally fraught thing to do!  In my sermon and in our Core discussions, we called on people to love each other the way Jesus loves us, by sacrificing our own rights and preferences for the sake of what's best for others.  This is the attitude I believe we should take into every relationship, including dating and marriage.  We also encouraged our students to seek advice about relationships from wise, godly counselors.  Too often I ask students who their advisors are and find that they are asking advice from other 18- or 19-year-olds who don't have a track record of healthy dating.  We all need to seek advice from people who have wisdom, experience, and a true knowledge of God.

If you'd like to read some of the resources about dating that we recommend to our students, click here.

As we look to November and the end of the fall semester, I ask that you would pray sincerely for our students and the upcoming events that we are planning for them.  Please pray:
- that our students would be a blessing to their families as they travel home for Thanksgiving.
- for Pizza Theology as we guide our students in thinking critically about major issues in our culture today
- that our students would date in a way that blesses individuals, strengthens the community, and leads to healthy, God-honoring marriages.

Please keep an eye out for a series of videos to be released in conjunction with our 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative.  You can Like our Facebook page here in order to see all the videos!

Denton campus pastors Sarah and Miriam dressed as Jessie and Mrs. Potato Head from Toy Story.  Hope you had a great Halloween!

Thanks for your prayers and support, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Getting into the groove

By this point in the semester, routines have calmed down and the various things we do in FOCUS are chugging along nicely... but there are still many exciting things to share with you!

First, I want to let you know about our #FOCUS140 fundraiser.  Almost one year ago, we raised over $31,000 through our 1st Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative!  We are so grateful to all those who donated, and I am glad to update you on what that money has done in the past year.  With your help, we:
  • Established a new campus ministry at UT Arlington and started groups at both NCTC and TWU Dallas as well.
  • Finished establishing FOCUS as a separate church legally, which protects our assets and ensures they will be used for campus missions in the years to come. It also gives us increased flexibility to meet the specific needs of our mission field. 
  • Launched a new website to meet administrative needs and better communicate with incoming students.  
  • Welcomed 14 new full-time interns, our largest class to date.
  • Trained more than 150 student small group leaders to be missionaries to their campuses!
If you'd like to see a more detailed breakdown of how we used those funds, click here to go to Brandon's blog.

Our 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative will launch next month!

Next, I'd like to tell you about our Denton students.  We have lots of new and returning students who are enthusiastic about participating in Christian community and growing closer to God.

Me and Tifiny at Recycled Books #brownbagswag

With so many students attending our weekly Friday night meetings, it's easy for students to stick closely to people they already know and miss out on the chance to make new friends.  One way we help our students connect with new people is Brown Bag Buddies.  To participate in Brown Bag Buddies, students write their name and phone number on a slip of paper, drop it in the brown bag, and get randomly paired up with another student.  Brown Bag Buddies are encouraged to hang out with their partners at least once during the week.  They can do anything that sounds fun; some meet for lunch, study together, or attend campus events.  The picture above is of me and my Brown Bag Buddy at Recycled Books, a popular used bookstore in Denton.  If you'd like to see some of our other students' adventures, just click here: #brownbagswag

Denton Senior Staff
I also want to show you this incredible team of people that I get to work with every day.  These folks may be quirky, but they love Jesus and college students.  The people in the picture above are some of the hardest working, most talented people I have ever met, and it is an honor to work alongside them.  Please pray for these folks; pray that we would be able to lead our students toward Jesus and counsel them with wisdom and grace. 

UTD's Fall Camp - Ours is October 10-11
One last prayer request: our Fall Camp is quickly approaching!  Above is a picture of UTD's Fall Camp, which already happened.  In my next post, I will be able to share with you how our Denton Fall Camp went.  We do this event each year to help students build the relationships that will help them grow nearer to Christ throughout the year.  Please pray that our students would come to camp and be open to God's guidance while they are there.  I can't wait to tell you about another awesome Fall Camp!

Thank you for your prayers and continuing support!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September is Here

August has come and gone, and what a fun-filled, exciting month!  New students have moved in, classes have begun, and we’ve started our Friday night meetings and our Cores.

Our team at UNT Move-In

Freshman move-in day at UNT conveniently coincided with my birthday.  I got to spend the day working alongside this dedicate team of student leaders to get new students moved in to Victory Hall, one of the newer dorms on campus.  We met so many new students (and their parents) who were thrilled to be starting their college career at UNT.  Our FOCUS students worked tirelessly to carry boxes, bags, and even a few mini-fridges.  Every year, we volunteer to help with move-in at our campuses for a few reasons.  First, this is an amazing opportunity to meet new students and invite them to FOCUS.  But perhaps even more importantly, this is a chance to bless and serve our campus.  New freshmen often arrive at college without knowing anyone in the area, and we can help them by befriending them, getting them settled in on campus, and showing them around Denton.  So many cool stories came out of move-in day that I can’t even begin to share them with you!

My new friend Tingting

If you think being a freshman in a new city is tough, try being a new IELI student!  The IELI (Intensive English Language Institute) is a department at UNT where international students come to develop their English skills before applying to a regular university in an English-speaking country.  These students come from China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries.  They arrive knowing very little English and even less about UNT or Denton, Texas.  One of our goals in FOCUS at UNT this year is to mobilize our current students to reach out and connect with IELI students.  These young people desperately need friends to show them around, help them practice their English, and most importantly introduce them to Jesus Christ.

There are so many opportunities to get to know these international students!  There’s a ladies’ group that meets every other week.  Many of the women in the IELI program come to the US with their husbands and sometimes their children, so they appreciate the time to relax with other women.  There’s the Conversation Partner program where an English-speaking volunteer is paired with an international student.  The partners meet together once a week for about an hour to talk, have fun, and practice English.  Then there’s the weekly Conversation Hour, where a large group of IELI students meet together with a few volunteers to discuss basic topics and practice speaking.
Each one of these programs is a chance to change someone’s life through the simple power of friendship!  Pray with me that our students would reach out in love to these new internationals.

First Friday Night FOCUS

After move-in and the hectic adventure of Welcome Week, we celebrated with our first Friday Night FOCUS.  We overcame some last minute technical difficulties and had a great time praising God together.  And we had so many new people who are excited to join together with us and walk their spiritual journey side by side!

Prayer Needs:
- Please pray with me for our student leaders as they begin their Cores and one-on-one Bible studies.  Many of these leaders are new to leading, but I am confident that God will use them in amazing ways to bless this campus and the lives of other students!
- Pray for international students on our campuses.  Pray that they would make friends, overcome homesickness, and find connections with Christians who will share the good news of Jesus with them!
- Pray for our interns.  The interns have begun their classes now, and they are facing the challenge of intense study in the Old Testament.  Pray that they would work hard and learn a lot, and that what they learn would ultimately help them to love God and communicate His truth effectively.

Thank you for your prayers and support!

Friday, August 7, 2015

The start of something amazing

August is here, and that means FOCUS is gearing up for thousands of freshmen and returning students to flood our campuses in just a few days!  We have an incredible pastoral staff, including fourteen new interns, who are ready to greet those students with the love of Jesus!

Our incredible staff at Port Aransas
To prepare for this new season of ministry, our staff and interns took a retreat to Port Aransas.  The work that we do as ministers is very personal and relationship-based, and we work very closely with other members of our team.  With a team this large and new interns arriving every August, it's hard to build close relationships with the other ministers on our staff.  That's why we took four days to get away and spend some meaningful time together.  We got to know each other better and had fun doing it.

One of the most memorable activities of our retreat came after dinner on Tuesday night.  We all sat around the living room of our rental house (it was a big house!) and told the story of FOCUS.  First, our founding members told how they got the vision for campus ministry and found other like-minded believers.  Then, in chronological order of when we found FOCUS, we all shared our stories of who first invited us, how we got involved, and how God used the FOCUS community to shape our lives.  We shared embarrassing stories about each other and laughed at the people we used to be.  We cried and praised God as we considered His mercy toward us in helping us find this community.  We looked across the room at our co-ministers and said things like, "You were the first Christian I met at UTD," or "I remember meeting you for the first time and being amazed that you wanted to be my friend."  As our stories wove together, we began to see God's bigger story unfolding around us.  The Holy Spirit has always been at work in His people to draw them to Jesus.  Each of us as an individual plays a tiny but significant role in that grand story.

As we stand on the threshold of a new school year, I dream in eager expectation of the new stories that are yet to be written.  College students from around the world are about to set foot on our campuses and be swept up into the story that God is working through FOCUS.  They don't know it yet, but one day we will all sit together around a great banquet table and tell God's magnificent story as He smiles over us.

Please pray for these students who will soon be stepping onto our campuses.  Pray that each one would meet a loving Christian friend.  Pray that believers on campus would not grow weary in doing good, but with all God's energy would meet and befriend as many as possible.  Pray that new students would have a college experience that orients them toward Jesus and leaves them with no regrets.  Pray that families and generations would be changed forever by the work of God happening right now.

Thank you for joining together with me in this mission by your prayers and support.  Praise God!

A Titanic moment on the ferry to Port Aransas with two of our pastors

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We ask great things of a great God.

Recent events in our country leave me feeling burdened by the weight of evil and ignorance, but also galvanized in my mission to bring the light and truth of Jesus Christ to a dark and broken world.

Two weeks ago, a young man walked into a church with the intent to murder.  Compelled by hatred, he opened fire and killed nine people.  Upon hearing the news, I was at first stunned by the depth of evil that persists in our world.  Then I heard the stories of the victims' families offering forgiveness when they could have returned hate for hate.  One week after the shooting, a Bible study was held in the same room, and the interim pastor declared, "This territory belongs to God." (

I am deeply moved by the faith of the members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Their response to evil is a valiant trust in our great God.  I trust along with them in Jesus, who told his disciples to turn the other cheek when they were struck.  This is the Jesus who promised that those who follow him will have trouble in this life.  This is the Jesus who called his followers to take up their crosses daily as they followed him.  This is the same Jesus who promised that he would be with his people always, and that those who gave up much in this age would receive in the next the reward of eternal life.  Our God is good and He loves us.  To this truth we can cling even in the face of unimaginable evil.

You may have heard about another recent news item recently: the US Supreme Court issued a decision that effectively legalized gay marriage in all fifty states.  The issue of gay marriage has been a divisive one for our nation and even for our church, and I don't expect that the recent change will end that division.  Whatever you may think about the morality of homosexuality, my prayer is that you and I and all the church along with us would love others as Jesus loves us, that we would seek wisdom and truth, and that we would embrace the renewing of our minds and hearts that comes from the Spirit's work in us.  If you are interested in reading more about the Scriptural commands regarding sexuality and various perspectives on them, I found this collection of blog posts very helpful (there are a total of 20 posts on the topic).

The reality of college ministry is that FOCUS includes students who grew up attending black churches as well as those who grew up in the shadow of a waving Confederate flag.  Some of our students identify as openly gay while others struggle to suppress same-sex attraction.  Into this reality, I am trying to shine the light of Jesus.  I am doing this along with an incredible team of ministers who are wholeheartedly committed to preaching the gospel to students in Denton and all over the metroplex.  I earnestly request your prayers for this team as we enter into the 2015-2016 school year.  Pray that God would shine His light in the darkness and guide people into His wisdom and love.

The Denton FOCUS staff.  From left to right: Cody, me, Aaron, Matt, Miriam, and Sarah

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

SICM and Drafting a Leader Team

So much has happened since my last update, but I want to use this post to tell you about one of the highlights of our year in FOCUS: SICM!

Three of our beautiful UNT ladies at SICM
SICM is the Student Institute of Campus Ministry.  Every May, we take a group of students who have shown themselves to be faithful disciples who are committed to our community and humble to learn and grow.  At SICM, those young men and women learn to minister to other students on campus the way Jesus ministered to his disciples.  They learn the importance of deep spiritual friendship and an unrelenting pursuit of God.  They learn how to facilitate small group discussions and one-on-one Bible studies.  They also get to have fun in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

A handful of our UNT group at Peace Arch Park
SICM is a training ground for young ministers, and it's where our staff gets to know these potential leaders.  I had the opportunity to spend time with many of the young women who will be leading in our ministry at UNT this fall.  These outstanding young ladies love Jesus and are deeply committed to bringing His truth to their campus when they return to classes this fall.  It was an honor to get to know them!
Two UNT women relaxing between classes at SICM
After this amazing week, our staff now has the challenge of recruiting a team of students who will lead Cores during the 2015-2016 school year.  We look for students who are faithful, available, and teachable, who have a heart for God and His people, and who take initiative in building relationships and serving others.  I am very glad to say we have many such students to invite to the team!  Please pray for me and the other UNT staff ministers (Matt, Sarah, Miriam, and Cody) as we listen to the leading of the Spirit and carefully make decisions about who we will ask to be leaders this coming school year.  These decisions are crucial because we train and entrust these young leaders to minister to their peers; the spiritual health of our whole community depends on them.

I also want to mention why this post is arriving in the middle of the month.  Earlier in June, my husband Matt (not the same Matt who is a minister at UNT) and I took a vacation to celebrate our five-year anniversary.  I am so blessed to have a loving husband who is faithful to God and to me, and we were very blessed by the opportunity to take this trip to Ireland to celebrate a milestone anniversary.
Kylemore Abbey, a functioning Benedictine community in one of the most gorgeous places I could imagine!

Me and Matt in the gardens of Kylemore Abbey

Thank you so much for your prayers and support!  Vacation was fun, but I am eager to get back to working with students, and I couldn't do that important ministry without your support!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Harvest Time

The school year is wrapping up: students are taking finals, end of the year parties are being celebrated, and we just had our last Friday night meeting of the school year.  Now is the season to see the harvest of seeds planted throughout the 2014-2015 school year.  

Taking notes at Pizza Theology

On April 12, we held our last Pizza Theology of the school year.  Around 300 students packed into an auditorium at UTD to spend four hours learning about our topic: Heaven, Hell, and Everything in Between.  A handful of our staff have been studying this topic in depth to prepare to teach on it.  Questions of the afterlife have always been a primary concern of major world religions.  Our speakers presented a well-developed, thoughtful theology of the afterlife that challenged many popular assumptions while remaining faithful to the biblical metanarrative.  If you would like to listen in, you can do so here.

Pizza Theology was a clear sign of growth in the lives of students.  All year we have taught young people at our six campuses to become true students of Jesus.  We encourage them to put as much effort into studying the Bible as they do into studying textbooks and learning material related to their college majors.  The enthusiasm these young people showed for learning the deep truths of their faith was such an encouragement to me.  

As we move into the summer, we will continue to emphasize the importance of education in the life of a disciple.  Each summer, FOCUS holds informal classes called School of Ministry.  Students are invited to study the Bible in depth through commentaries and seminary classes from  For many college students, summer is a purposeless time of boredom or laziness.  We challenge students in FOCUS to use the freedom of a summer schedule to grow in wisdom and knowledge as they pursue God.  Please pray that these School of Ministry classes would help our students in this kind of growth.

SICM is another time to see the harvest of what’s been planted in the lives of students.  SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) is a one-week training conference in Bellingham, Washington, where our students are trained to minister to their peers on a college campus.  On May 14, we will take 80 promising young leaders to SICM!  These students have invested their time and energy in their Cores, on campus outreach, and one-on-one Bible studies over this past school year.  Please pray that SICM is a time for these young men and women to learn, grow, and begin to see themselves as ministers and disciple-makers at their college campuses.

Finally, I want to share with you a picture of our new upcoming interns.  These amazing young people have seen the value of campus ministry in their own lives.  They have been changed powerfully by God through FOCUS.  Now, they are dedicating a whole school year to see that many others would have that same opportunity to encounter God on campus.

I am thrilled to be working with these new interns in the 2015-2016 school year!

Thank you for your prayers and support.  Because of you and others like you, students across DFW can encounter the life-changing power of God.  Thanks!!!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

What an amazing March we had in FOCUS!  Last time I updated you, I asked for prayers concerning SSI, Spring Showcase, and our staffing decisions for next year.  Now I am excited to tell you how wonderfully all of those things went!

SSI stands for Student Spring Impact.  That means a bunch of college Students from our sister ministry in Washington spend their Spring break making an Impact for God on college campuses in Texas.  Our Denton team hosted ten students and two interns for the week.  We drove them around, fed them authentic Texas food, and showed them some of our favorite spots in Denton.  But most importantly, we joined with them to reach out to students on our campuses with the good news of Jesus Christ.  From Monday through Friday, this team, along with many of our staff and students, engaged other students in conversations about God's love. 

The SSI Team from Washington

Questions on Display, one of our tools for starting conversations
Overall, SSI was a huge success!  The passion and enthusiasm of the students from Washington inspired our students to speak boldly about the love of Jesus and invite many new people to experience his love at FOCUS.  Please pray that our students would continue to reach out and build meaningful new relationships with others, so that many would be led to relationship with Jesus!

Bright and early on Saturday morning, we dropped off the SSI team at the airport to return home to Washington.  Later that day, we had almost 600 people at the Spring Showcase!

This incredible event featured music and dance performances and an art sale, all featuring the talents of our students and alumni.  I was amazed by how many outstanding artists were willing to sacrifice their time and efforts to make this event a success.  Wow!

Two UNT students, Chiazo and Kirby, performing at Spring Showcase
But we didn't hold the Spring Showcase just to show off the talent of our FOCUS members; this event raised thousands of dollars to send students to SICM!  SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) is a week-long intensive ministry training conference where students learn the skills needed to teach Bible studies, facilitate small groups, and lead their fellow students to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.  We believe in SICM because we believe that when Jesus said "Go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19), he meant for every one of his followers to do that.  College students have a special opportunity to make disciples because they are surrounded by thousands of open-minded young people who yearn for answers to the big questions in life; SICM equips college students to help others find those answers in Jesus.

The Spring Showcase was a huge success, and the funds raised there will help grow God's kingdom on our college campuses.  Thank you to everyone who performed, sold tickets, worked the event, attended the performance, bought artwork, made a donation, or prayed for us!  You are helping us achieve an incredible vision on our campuses!

Finally, I told you we made some decisions about our staff and intern team for next school year.  I am happy to announce that we accepted thirteen amazing young people to the internship for the 2015-2016 school year!  I am thrilled to be working with such an enthusiastic, intelligent, creative, and hard-working team of new interns.  I am also excited to announce that I will be remaining with the Denton team for the next school year.  We will have a team of six staff in Denton: Matt (currently the Denton team director), Cody, Miriam, and Sarah (current interns who will continue on as staff next year), and Aaron (a new intern).  The six of us will have our work cut out for us as we pastor FOCUS communities at three campuses: UNT, TWU, and, starting for the first time this fall, NCTC.  Please pray for me and this team as we prepare to spread God's kingdom on our Denton campuses.

Thank you so much for the prayers and support you offer me and all our FOCUS students.  God is doing incredible things in the lives of young people, and you are a part of that.  Thank you!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Problems are opportunities

February was a month of changes and challenges for our Focus staff, but in those challenges God has shown His graceful providence for us.  Brandon recently said in one of our meetings that problems are opportunities; I think that our students and staff have seen those opportunities presented to us and done great things for God and His people.

A few weeks ago, our UTD staff discovered at the last moment that we would not have access to a suitable room on campus for our Friday night fellowship.  Where would we put our 150+ students who would soon be gathering to worship God together?  A local church in Richardson, the Episcopal Church of The Epiphany, graciously opened their doors for our students.  Focus had never met there before or had any previous relationship to this congregation, but Sirak, one of our UTD ministers, had met Rev. Betsy Randall, one of the rectors at Epiphany, just once before.  When they met, she said how excited she was to see a thriving campus ministry and offered to assist Focus.  She probably didn't know we would be calling on her for assistance so soon, but what a blessing to both our communities that we were able to meet at Epiphany.  Our students were blessed to be received into a welcoming environment, and Epiphany has been blessed by some of our students who have since participated as singers and readers at Epiphany's Saturday worship services.  Thanks to this generous, welcoming congregation, a problem turned into an opportunity for blessing!

UTD Focus students worshiping at the Episcopal Church of The Epiphany
In addition to logistical problems like finding a place to meet, our staff struggled last month with a new need for a female staff person at UNT to mentor student leaders.  As a result of these rearrangements on our staff, I am now a Peer Team Leader to six Corefas at UNT.  Corefas are students who lead weekly Core group meetings of anywhere from three or four to as many as fifteen other students.  Those Corefas work hard to plan lessons and meet one-on-one with every member of their Core.  As a Peer Team Leader, I meet regularly with my six Corefas to encourage and support them and coach them in their ministry.  These amazing young women love God and His people.  Although they are taking classes and working, they have committed many hours of their time each week to invest in making and maturing disciples.  Their devotion to Jesus and His mission is inspiring! It has been a challenge coming into my Peer Team late in the school year, but I have loved getting to know these girls and participating with them in the work of sharing the gospel with students at UNT.

Me and Hannah, a UNT Corefa, taking a selfie during one of our meetings
Finally, we have a very exciting challenge ahead of us as a staff: selecting a new class of interns!  I mentioned in my previous post that we had a large turnout at our information session for the internship.  A total of thirteen people applied for the internship, and we are almost finished interviewing them all.  All of these applicants have been committed members of Focus; they have led others in our community through their Christlike influence and example.  Most of them are graduating from college this May, but a handful have applied for this ministry internship after spending a year or more pursuing other careers: teaching, software design, and even film.  Our applicants are more diverse than ever; some grew up in other states and even other countries.  I am so encouraged to see the passion and commitment these applicants have for reaching out to college students.  I and the other staff are also daunted as we consider accepting all thirteen applicants.  Where will we assign them?  Who will supervise them?  How will we accommodate our growing staff in our meetings and retreats?  These questions will be hard to answer, but I can't think of a better problem to have!  Please pray for our staff in the coming weeks as we finish the intern selection process and determine campus assignments for next year.  We need the Spirit's wisdom to know where each new intern will thrive personally and have a powerful, effective ministry.

April, one of our applicants for the internship.  She and I visited UTA to pray for this campus as we prepare to start Focus there!
Last month was tough, but God is good.  He shows us opportunities where we see problems.  When we trust Him and listen to His guidance, great things happen no matter the circumstances!  Thank you for your prayers and support that help us keep going and growing in the challenges that we face!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter Camp! Wow!

Wow!  January was an exciting month, and I have some tremendous news to share with all of you!

From January 16-19, our entire Focus community learned, worshipped, and played together at Winter Camp.  Thank you for bathing this big event in prayer; it paid off!  God blessed us with great weather, safe travel, and an event that ran smoothly.  Almost five hundred people attended Winter Camp - current students, staff, a handful of alumni, and even a few family members of students.  

Worship at Winter Camp, led by many of our talented students
Dr. Iain Provan brought a powerful message to our community.  He taught on this year’s theme, Words of Life.  Dr. Provan’s expertise is in Old Testament studies, so he educated our students on how God’s story flows through the Old Testament, the New Testament, and into our lives today.  Many of our students were unaccustomed to thinking about biblical topics at a highly intellectual level; Dr. Provan’s lessons pushed them to “love the Lord with all their minds.”  What a privilege we have to study our great God at the same academic level we study topics in our college majors.

Everyone who committed themselves to paying attention during the lessons walked away with new information and a deeper understanding of God’s activity in our world, but don’t think that the whole camp was solely focused on listening to lectures.  Our students also developed new friendships and deepened existing ones.  At UTD’s first Friday Night Focus of the semester, a few days after we returned from Winter Camp, we opened the floor and asked our students to share about their experiences at camp.  Two students stood and shared stories that I now want to share with you.

Henry is a Richland student (Richland students are now joining with UTD on Friday nights, and we are thrilled to have them!).  I met him at Winter Camp when he came to my registration table to sign in.  He seemed happy to be there, but he didn’t know many people.  At our open mic time after camp, he shared about his struggle with autism and how he had trouble making friends.  He said that Winter Camp was an amazing time for him because so many people wanted to meet him, spend time with him, and become his friend.  Praise God!

Hunter is a UTD student who recently joined Focus.  While playing a game at camp, he fell and twisted his ankle.  He had to spend much of camp resting in the cabin instead of outside running around with friends.  At the open mic time, he shared how encouraged he was when many of his Core members spent their time in the cabin talking with him.  They sacrificed the fun of being outdoors to make sure that one of their brothers could share in an enjoyable camp experience.  Amen!

UTD students, a few alumni, and even a future Comet at bottom right!

These are just a few of the small but amazing stories that happened at Winter Camp.  If you talked to all of the students who attended, I’m sure you would hear hundreds more!

After Winter Camp, our staff starts looking toward the future, and that means selecting a new class of interns for the 2015-2016 school year.  We had our Internship Interest Session on a Sunday afternoon, and twenty people expressed their interest in applying for the internship.  Some plan to apply for this coming year, while others wanted to get some more information as they consider doing the internship in future years.  Everyone who expressed their interest is someone who has been a consistent, contributing member of our community, and any of them would make great interns.  Our challenge as a staff is now to decide who will join our team next school year and which campuses they will be assigned to.  Please pray for wisdom for us and the applicants as we consider this important decision!

Finally, I am excited to announce a big decision I’ve recently made.  As of today, I am officially a full-time staff minister for Focus!  Previously, my commitment to Focus was on a part-time basis, and I also worked full time at Alpha Omega Insurance Agency.  I am grateful for the time I had at Alpha Omega, and it was a tough decision to leave.  Many of my coworkers there have become like family to me, and I always enjoyed the challenge of the work I did there.  But I believe God has called me to serve our campus communities through Focus, and I am ready to begin!  I  know you are probably wondering what I will be doing with more time to devote to ministry.  My role as the internship coordinator will expand as we accept more interns and train them to be effective, powerful leaders.  I will also have more time to devote to teaching the Bible to international students at UTD, and I will begin planning more organized efforts to get our current Focus students reaching out to those international students.  Over time, I will also have the opportunity to mentor more of our student leaders.  I am thrilled about all of these developments!

As I transition to a full-time schedule, raising my support will become even more vital.  Please pray for me as my role with Focus expands and as I raise the funds to power my ministry.  Your prayers are crucial to my success in this area!  If you are able to commit to a monthly donation (or increase the current amount of your donation), please talk to me.  Your support means I and the other Focus ministers can continue to build God’s Kingdom on our campuses by making disciples and training leaders!

Thank you so much for the love and support you have shown me!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"All the trees of the field will clap their hands" Isaiah 55:12

Every January, our entire staff takes a few days together to strengthen our relationships with each other and with God, to read, pray and worship together, and to play and have fun.  We have just returned from our staff retreat, and I am so excited to share with you what we are learning and doing.

Our retreat took place at a huge cabin in the Texas hill country, far from the city and surrounded by undulating, cactus-covered hills.  Each morning of the retreat, I rose and crept quietly out of the house to go for a walk.  The crisp winter air sparkled with the shine of the rising sun as I followed meandering trails through scrub forests and across dry stream beds.  This time was sacred to me.  I experienced God's glory in the beauty of his creation.  This creation is lovely and fearsome; that glittering sun illuminates both the red fruit and the sharp spines of the local cacti.

In preparation for our retreat, each staff member read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.  In the book, Peterson describes two arenas of prayer.  One is the quiet and personal prayer many of us are accustomed to.  We close our eyes, bow our heads, and imagine ourselves alone with God.  The other is what Peterson calls "praying with eyes open."  We look around at God's creation and pray aloud together with that creation, embracing the Spirit that permeates the rejuvenating rain shower as well as the hurricane.  As I hiked the trails around our retreat cabin, I prayed with my eyes open.

A nature walk selfie.  I wish this picture could show how cold I was!

The Contemplative Pastor also inspired our staff to embrace poetry.  Pastors, Peterson argues, should revere the power of language and use it with the expert care of a poet.  Poetry, after all, is how the prophets and psalmists of old conveyed God's messages to his people.  Why then have we abandoned this practice?  And if Christ himself is the Word, who are we to use words without careful thought?

Each of our staff members brought a poem to the retreat.  Some of us chose a poem that we found meaningful in our ministry; others wrote their own poems.  I shared T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" (you can find the text here).  This poem reminds me of a deep truth about Jesus: after an encounter with him, no one can walk away unchanged.  The magi of the poem make a hard journey over rough terrain, sometimes regretting leaving their plush homes.  After finding the child and returning to their homeland, one of those wise men reflects: " longer at east here, in the old dispensation, / with an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death."  The change in his life is so drastic that it feels to him like death.

As I celebrate God's creation and reflect on the transformations he has wrought in me, I feel my energy growing.  I can't keep this to myself.  I am so ready for another semester of introducing our students to this Jesus who will not allow them to walk away unchanged.  And we have an exhilarating event right around the corner that will help us do just that: Winter Camp 2015!

Winter Camp is a long weekend retreat for our students.  It's packed full of wise teaching, worship, and time to build deep spiritual friendships.  Our speaker this year is Dr. Iain Provan, an engaging lecturer and eminent scholar of the Old Testament.  Many of our students, as well as most of our staff, have listened to audio recordings of his classes at Regent College and enjoyed learning from him.  We are all excited to welcome him in person to our Winter Camp.  I will tell you more about how it goes in my next update.

As we begin the spring semester, I ask for your prayers.  Please pray that our Winter Camp helps our students learn and grow in Christ.  Pray that we have good weather and that all participants travel safely to the camp.  Please pray also for all of our staff as we continue to work diligently toward the goals God has given us.

Thank you for your prayers and support that allow me to continue doing what God has called me to.  I also want to thank all of you who donated to the #FOCUS140 campaign; we have raised over $29,000, and some donations are still coming in!  This money will allow us to broaden our reach to more students on more campuses and keep making disciples.  Thank you!