A Decade in Review (2010-2020)

Anchored Prayers

In December of 2010 I was at a conference with our church and college ministry. Sasha and I were newly graduated, newly engaged and new at just about everything in life. It was at that conference, over long (and very cold) prayer walks, that God began to lead me into college ministry. I now look back at my young, naïve, and zealous self with a chuckle. God had a lot to teach me. Some of the lessons would be hard and all of them would be unmerited grace. There are some prayers that are etched in your mind by specific, catalytic events. My prayers at the conference in 2010 are like that. Other prayers are not tied to events because they are so regular. These prayers are anchored to months and years. Over this past decade two anchored prayers stand out. The first is simple – Help. The second, goes something like this: God, I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. The first is a call, and the second is an answer. God has been overwhelmingly gracious to me and Sasha over the last ten years. There have been lots of blessings and lessons learned.   Campus Fellowship

The Director Years

The first few years of campus ministry are a blur. Not because I don’t remember anything, but because I learned so much it is hard to encapsulate the lessons. I learned how to focus; divided time is wasted time. I learned how to have healthy conflict; sometimes you need to win the debate but most of the time you need to win the person. I learned how to balance ministry and an early marriage/family. Sasha and I developed this together over games of cribbage before we spent evenings on campus. Most importantly I learned that I can’t survive unless I daily take my soul to God through his word and prayer.  

The Director Years

After the early years I became the College Ministry Director at Drake University. The learning curve was steep. It is one thing to learn how to reach out, disciple, and train students. It is another to learn to lead a team to accomplish those things. Again, God was a patient teacher. I learned the hard way that systems cannot replace relationships, and, conversely, that poor systems can steal valuable time and energy from relationships. I also learned that latest fad is just that, a fad. Authentic growth comes from preaching the Bible, prayer, gathering together, communion, evangelism, and the like. God’s workers work God’s way.

The Future

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what God will teach us in the future, but I have some suspicions. Ephesians 2:20 reads: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” God is the one that works with ultimate power. As Edmund Clowney once wrote, ‘We can build the altar, but God alone brings the fire.” I expect to be shocked by God’s work over the coming years. In the past year Campus Fellowship has helped start Campus Fellowships at Iowa State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Kansas State University. It is our hope and prayer to start more Campus Fellowships in Rhode Island in 2021. In order to facilitate this growth, Campus Fellowship has started a new non-profit with Walnut Creek Church being the founding organization.

I currently serve in the role of Executive Director and College Ministry Coach. As far as Campus Fellowship in Des Moines, this fall was one of our largest launches in recent years with 250 students at our opening Midweek Service. Caleb Thompson, Jacob Bennett, Eric Semjenow, and Blake Joiner are ready to lead CF in Des Moines into the future. We wait with anticipation to see what God will do.

The Family

I mention the family second, not because it is second in importance, but the story above creates the scene by which our family has been blessed. Certainly, raising a growing family and college ministry are sometimes at odds, but usually CF is a great gift to our marriage and our kids. For one, we have an endless supply of babysitters. If we go out, we will often have a 1 to 1 ratio with our kids (and with 6 kids that is saying something!). Our kids are continually receiving gifts from the students and alumni. For example, for Grace’s eighth birthday, some students made her a pinata. On Knox’s birthday a few weeks ago, I came home to find 6 guys playing with the kids. These very abnormal blessings are very normal for our children, and, in hindsight, was a blessing we didn’t anticipate. Grace (8), Annabelle (6), Jack (5), Will (4), Knox (3), and Judson (1) are all richly blessed by God and blessings to their parents (undisclosed ages).

The Church Plant

As some of you have heard, or seen on social media, Sasha and I are preparing to plant a church in Providence, Rhode Island. Over the years, I have felt God leading me to Sasha’s home state, because it is one of the most secular places in the USA, and there are a lot of college students (over 50,000 in Providence). What has been astounding is God’s provision to provide a team. There are currently 29 people committed to going to Providence to start the church, with another 20, or so, people still prayerfully considering going on the church plant. The radical faith of the other team members (uprooting everything to see lost people saved), and the overwhelming support from our sending church (Walnut Creek) has given us a strong assurance that this truly is God’s will. Our hope is to move in August of 2021. We will spend a year meeting people in the city, learning, having hundreds of coffees, and gathering in small groups. We will start gathering for a public service in September 2022. Our hope is to engage both the community and college campuses with the gospel.

 

Grace Kaetterhenry: Jesus Saves From Depression & Suicide

Grace Katterhenry graduated in May 2019 with a degree in International Business and Writing. She is currently serving as a College Ministry Resident within our CF Staff team. Below is her testimony that she shared at one of our Midweek services.


Hi everyone, my name’s Grace Kaetterhenry, thanks for coming here tonight. Today I’ll be sharing the story with you about how I came to know God and His plan for my life and for the world. So, like I said, my name’s Grace. I really like comic books, hiking, and cheese wiz. The most important part of my life, though, is actually not comic books, or hiking, or cheese wiz, but is my relationship with God. That’s what I’m here to tell you about today, and I really hope that what I say is able to speak to some of you.

Grace K

I was born in Minnesota into a family that went to a bible-teaching church. I grew up going to church every Sunday, going to youth group every Wednesday, and knowing that I should probably read the bible more. When I was very young, I came to know the main points of the gospel- that “all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” In short, Jesus Christ died for my sins, so I could go to heaven.

Recently I have sort of been struggling with whether or not I actually was saved at that time in my life- if I actually was a Christian. Recently I’ve been learning more about the idea of conversion- the process of changing from ‘not a christian’ to ‘a christian’. I think the more I learn, the clearer it is to me that I wasn’t saved at this time. I don’t want to really get into the nitty-gritty details of conversion, but I will share a verse that has led me to this conclusion, and I verse I would challenge you all to meditate on: Colossians 1:13- “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”. Again, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” A person who is in Christ, AKA, a Christian, is fundamentally different and permanently changed from what they were before. Even after I claimed to know the basics of the gospel, the core truths of Christianity, I didn’t have this fundamental change.

So, this is how I actually came to be saved. It requires a little backstory about my family and little mention of politics. As a disclaimer, I’m not saying these things to speak down to my family or to advocate or discredit any political leaning. I’m not about that. I’m just going to tell you what I believed and what I felt, which does not necessarily reflect what I believe or feel now.

My family is quiet conservative, and because my parents were quiet conservative, I was quiet conservative. Through grade school, middle school, and most of high school, I was also very argumentative. I spent a lot of energy shooting down people’s opinions, but I wasn’t super keen on self-reflection, like literally every child, ever. I was very, very sure about my views on religion, on politics, and pretty much anything else.

Then Senior year of high school came around, and I crashed. I was a relatively popular kid- good at sports, good at school, involved in everything, didn’t try to hard, made puns a lot. But I was dying, you know? This is why. I had started to become exposed to ideas different from my own. (Dramatic fake gasp). I started to empathize with these different ideas! I’m not going to start a fight or anything, but let’s just talk about racism, for instance. My parents pretty staunchly believe that racism in America died during the Civil Rights Era. I believed this, too. As I spent time on the internet, reading the news, listening to the experiences of minorities, I came to the realization the yeah, racism is still a thing.

This is just one example. I was exposed to “The Liberal’s” opinions on everything from evolution, social justice, the big bang, abortion, climate change, sexuality, colonialism, socialism, feminism, like, everything. And I will say again that I don’t necessarily want to make any blanket statements about these issues, and not because I don’t have strong convictions about these things now. It’s just that these political and social issues aren’t the point- the point is that I confused these issues with my faith.

Like, if my family believes that climate change isn’t real, and I think it is real because scientists say it’s real, why should I believe in God, when it seems that scientists don’t believe in God? Like, if my parents were so wrong about socialism and feminism, that also have to be wrong about God. (PSA: this is a logical fallacy).

To me, however, it was very real concern. Why does it matter if God is real or not? Why did it matter so much to me if the bible was true?

This is something I really hope you consider, whether or not you are a Christian or not. For me, this was a crucial question, because it dictates how you answer every other question right. This is the conclusion I came to: if there is no God, everything is meaningless. We’re college students here, so a certain level of angst is sort of funny, or cool, or something. But it’s actually terrifying to believe that everything is meaningless. Do you get what I’m saying? This is where I was at- if there was no God, and no afterlife, then anything I did in this world was ultimately meaningless. I was a pretty optimistic kid, you know? I was fun, I made puns, I wasn’t some debby downer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if nothing happened after I died, that if my self just disappeared, then nothing I did before I died mattered.

It was during my senior year of high school that I fell into a depressive period. It felt like this huge weight was on my shoulders- this whispering in my ear, that it didn’t matter at all whether I got good grades, or went to college, got a job, anything. It didn’t matter- no matter what I did, I would face the same end. I thought about committing suicide frequently, because it didn’t matter if I lived or died. The main thing keeping me back was thinking about my family, and how much I would hurt them if I did that. But even that reflection caused me so much pain, because ultimately my family would die, too. You know? It all came back to death.

As I decided to go to Drake, I came to a conclusion that I had to figure out my life. I had to figure out if there was a God, once and for all. If there wasn’t a God, I had to figure out what I should do with my life, or whether or not taking my life was the most logical course of action. Even though I didn’t believe that the Bible was the word of God, I remembered one verse in particular from church: James 4:8- draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. This was a promise from God. If God was real, this verse meant that if I looked for God sincerely, He would make himself known to me. Therefore, I decided to look for God when I came to college. If I found God, then I would find God. If I didn’t find God, then he wasn’t real.

The first semester of college was difficult for me. I got connected with Campus Fellowship and became friends with women that bet their entire lives on the existence of God and the validity of the Bible. They talked with me through biblical views of all the political issues I had. They were some of the first people I met who I really felt derived their opinions from the Bible, as opposed to shaping their understanding of the Bible to fit their opinions. Politics wasn’t what open my eyes, though: it was the Spirit of God these women possessed. In Galatian 2:20, when people are truly Christians, “It is no longer (they) who live, but it is Christ who lives in (them)”. And you could see Christ living in the people of my bible study- they listened to me and cared about me like no one else could.

These Christians I had met were different, but that wasn’t enough for God to be proved to me. Like, coming from a small midwestern town, everyone at college was ‘different’. During that first semester, I still struggled with suicidal thoughts, and I would have these waves of despair that would wash over me, in the middle of a lecture, while I was waiting for rides, whenever. It wasn’t until I had gone back home for winter break that it really changed. I was alone one night, and the despair, the hopelessness, started eating at me. But for the first time, I felt God. I can’t really describe it well, but I felt God’s presence- it was like he was wrapping his arms around me and assuring me that not only did He exist, but that He loved me. And as 1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” That’s exactly what happened. God’s love drove out my fear, my fear of a wasted, meaningless life. Since then, it’s not like I’ve been deliriously happy all the time, but I’m no longer enslaved by that depression and those thoughts of suicide. This is not by anything that I’ve done, but by who God is and what he has done in my life. He is real, and he is great, and he has made the ultimate sacrifice so that I can have a relationship with him. If life has no meaning without Him, then he must be the meaning for life. Wherever you’re at tonight, Christian or Non-Christian, I would just encourage you to think about whether that is true for you. Seek out God. He wants you to know Him. Thank you.

2019 Van Sickle Family Update

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on the goodness of God. It’s hard to miss. All the kids are beyond excited. All of the colors change (I love the reds, greens and festive lights). We have our favorite holiday foods, drinks, movies and decorations. If we slow down, it can be magical. On top of all the Christmas festivities, Christmas timely falls before the the end of the year. This time of year is perfect for reflection and thanksgiving. As we all know, every year comes with its blessings and challenges, and we are meant to respond with praise towards God for all of it (Job 1:21). It’s fitting to take some time at the end of the year to give credit to God for what he has done. The benefit of publicly writing something like this is to usher in more worship as a we, together, “admonish one another… with thankfulness in our hearts” (Ephesians 3:16). So to all of you who are taking the time to read this (hi mom), let us all remember the reason for our collective breaths. Each exhale is “in his hands” (Daniel 5:23), and each one is a precious “gift from above” (James 1:17).

Six, Six and Under

IMG_3768.jpg

Taking this picture was way too hard

The biggest highlight of the year is the birth of our sixth child, Judson Jonathan Van Sickle (named after Adoniram Judson and Jonathan Edwards). At the time of Judson’s birth, we had six kids six and under. Do we know that’s crazy (or at least not normal)? Yes. Do we know what we’re doing? No. Are we overwhelmed with thankfulness? Yes. Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Sorry, I shouldn’t talk with my mouth full.

Individual Reports

Each member of the Van Sickle clan has something to report. Outside of being born, “Judd” (5 months) doesn’t have a lot of news, but he is on pace to be very spoiled. Knox (2) is fun, sharp and likes to “investigate” the home. No drink is safe with him in the room. Will (3) is kind, chill and likes to talk with his hands. He loves slaying orcs and goblins with his brother. He wants to be a hobbit when he grows up (mission accomplished). Jack (4) is currently going to a half-day preschool. He loves meeting new people and reporting about his new friends. We often say, “That kid is running for president.” Annabelle (5) is spunky, passionate and is basically a second mother to Judd. She is also learning to read so someday she can be embarrassed by my family updates. Grace (7) leads the pack with compassion and loyalty. She loves to draw and dance (A LOT). Both of the girls love to be a part of ballet and their home schooling Co-Op Classical Conversations.

Sasha and I are doing well. Sasha is tutoring for Classical Conversations, and she helped start a new CC location at Walnut Creek Windsor Heights this fall.  Other than that, she is not very busy (wink, wink). Outside of the normal ministry (update below), I had the opportunity to finish my Masters of Theological Studies (online) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this August. Two weeks after finishing my degree I started teaching New Testament at Grandview University here in Des Moines. How that teaching job came about is an awesome story (ask me sometime), and was the reason to hurry up and finish my schooling. Most of the students survived the semester.

IMG_3770

Apple’s famous Birthday cakes.

This year we have also hosted Apple Lim in our home. She will be moving out this January and going back to Malaysia. She is also getting married in June. She technically isn’t a Van Sickle, but she has become a part of our family over this past year and a half. She will be missed (especially her extravagant Birthday cakes).

Bert & Ernie

In one of Hollywood’s greatest accomplishments, The Little Rascals, Stymie gives Alfalfa and Spanky a pep talk: “You’re a team like Bert and Ernie, Superman and Clark Kent!” That is the way I feel about Sasha (Never mind who is Alfalfa and who is Spanky in this analogy). We make a great team. We love doing ministry together. Outside the obvious tag-team effort of raising the six pack (nickname?), our main efforts focus on Campus Fellowship (CF). Every Monday night we host one of the Drake CF Bible Studies. Outside of being way too late (9PM!), we love it. We have also had the privilege of doing three couples premarital counseling this year. Kudos to Jake and Eileen Engen, Jordan and Lexi Anderson and Nick and Bailey Finney for their perseverance. Yes, they are all still married.

Campus Fellowship

IMG_3728

Over 220 Students gather for our annual CF Thanksgiving Feast

Campus Fellowship at Drake has had one of our best starts ever. Our young student leaders have stepped up to the plate, people are excited and inviting their friends, and we have a new crop of zealous freshman. Similar things can also be said about CF at Grandview and DMACC. Out staff team has been vibrant and encouraging (all Des Moines CFs work together as a part of one CF Des Moines team). Also, CF has expanded onto three other campuses this fall – Iowa State, University of Nebraska Lincoln and University of Nebraska Omaha. Currently I am serving as the CF College Ministry Coach, as we partner with local churches to start and relaunch college ministries on their local campuses.

Transfigurations

The best book I read this year was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In Gilead Robinson writes: “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see?” When we reflect on the year it is easy to highlight the big things (which I am guilty of doing), but we should not forget all the little graces that God has given us.  Tickle fights, freshly mowed grass, taking off your shoes after a long day, coffee, and the thousands of little “transfigurations” that fill every waking hour. In 2020 let us have a willingness to see.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy (Romans 15:3).

 

Nathan Koch: Actually Loving God

Nathan Koch is a P4 pharmacy student. This is his testimony that he shared at our last campus service. 


I grew up going to church every Sunday and Youth Group every Wednesday night. From an early age, my parents instilled within me that church and God came before anything else – the only excusable reason to miss church was if you were hospitalized. And I am very thankful to them for raising me that way. Because of this, “Christian” became one of nathanthe most important titles I wore. And, when I was about 10 years old, I got baptized because I knew that this was what all Christians did. (And people celebrated you – which I really wanted.) However, by the end of middle school I had realized that my baptism was not genuine. I knew I didn’t understand what baptism was really about, or what it really meant to be a Christian. See, I always had this gut-feeling understanding that Christianity was way more than just going to church. I would hear verses like Luke 14:26, 27 – “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.” And I knew deep down in my heart that I had to give control to God over my life. And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to live how I saw fit. And, I DEFINITELY did not want to admit to my parents or my church that I, Nathan Koch, the golden boy Christian, didn’t think I was truly a Christian. So, I resolved in myself to keep it to myself and figure out how to be a Christian once I graduated and moved away.

So, I went through High School, and on the outside things looked awesome: I was a 4.0 student, school was easy for me, I was a really friendly, funny person, I was the “nice guy” – the standard for all the other guys, I was really involved and excelled in theater and fine arts, I was student body president, etc. etc. But I had a secret. You want to know what that secret was? My secret, a secret so deep I didn’t even truly know I had it, was that I was actually worse than anyone else in my high school. I was so much eviler than anyone else. I hated people. I judged everyone; I looked down on and thought I was so much better than all the other kids who drank, did drugs, had sex, weren’t as smart or hardworking as I. I hated anyone who did anything better than I – got a better part, got the solo, did better in a class or on a test. Bitterness, hate, and envy consumed my soul.

Then, in the fall of my first year at Drake, I came to Campus Fellowship, joined a Bible study, went to campus service – because “Christian” was still the title I wore, and I had resolved in myself in eighth grade to find a good church and figure out this whole Christian thing once I got out of my hometown. And you know what I learned right away? I really didn’t like Campus Fellowship. The guys in my Bible study were really weird – and I wanted to be in one of those Christian groups where everyone is really cool, and everyone is beautiful, and it’s really cool to be a Christian. And this was not it. (Thankfully, things have changed.) Also, everyone was like a way better Christian than me. And I hated that. People knew the Bible better than me, they were nicer than me, they were more passionate than me when they sang during worship. And I would be constantly judging everyone. But for some unknown reason (*wink, wink* God) I kept coming around. But it wasn’t until Fall Conference my first year that I realized my problem: See, we were in the Fellowship Hall worshipping, and I was doing what I always did – judging people for being holier than me – and it donned on me what made them different. These people actually love God, and I didn’t. I believed God existed, but I didn’t care. And this realization wrecked me to the core. If I had spent 18 years in the church and currently possessed zero ounces of love for God, how could I expect to change? So, I began praying, begging to God He would change my heart, give me the ability to love Him and love other people (because I knew I couldn’t produce love from within me). And let me tell you – it was not an instantaneous change; it was a slow-burning, painful process that involved constant prayer, faithful men and women loving and pouring into me, and the Word of God.

But, when I got to the end of my first year at Drake, I started to look back and finally noticed that I actually loved God, and I kind of genuinely cared about people. Weird. And you know why things changed? (Other than the Spirit of God working within me.) It’s because for the first time in my life, I understood the gospel. See I had known since before I can remember that ‘Jesus died for our sins’. But I finally realized He didn’t just die for our collective sins – He died for my sins. That I actually deserved death, that I wasn’t good at all. That my evil, wicked heart made me despicable to God. And God loved me enough that He allowed Jesus to suffer on my behalf – being the only human (both God and Man) to possess a pure, good heart. And for the first time, I had a reason to love God.

“How is eternity in hell a fair punishment?”

This is a common question. The Bible teaches that everyone will be judged by God when they die (Hebrews 9:27), that there are two destinations, heaven and hell (Matthew 25:31-46), and that both destinations are eternal (Matthew 25:46). This typically rattles people. “Surely the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” They say. Both Christians and non-Christians need to grapple with this question. Here are a few reasons for why the punishment does fit the crime.

First, if all good derives from God, which the Bible says it does (James 1:17), then to reject God is to reject all that is good. Naturally, the punishment for rejecting eternal goodness is to receive eternal badness. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Second, the heinousness of a crime is always measured by the object of the crime. For example, punching a grown man is bad but punching a three month old baby is worse. Stealing from a bank is bad but stealing from an orphanage is worse. Cussing out a edwin-andrade-153753-unsplashfriend is bad but cussing out your grandma is worse. We measure the heinousness of an action by the innocence, virtue and position of the person being harmed. Now, if all sin is against God, which it is (Psalm 51:4), and God is the perfectly innocent, perfectly virtuous, and holds the highest, most honorable position in the universe, the consequence for spending your entire life not submitting, dishonoring and actively sinning against God is justly severe.

Third, hell won’t make you better. Let’s say that there is parole in hell (there’s not but for the sake of argument). Will anyone be released from hell for good conduct? No. Imagine every evil thought you’ve ever had, every bad attitude, every burst of anger, every ill motive, every stubborn disposition. Now imagine that you lived in a place completely absent of good. There is nothing to be thankful for. There is no friend to cheer you up. No ice cream to turn your mood. There is no God given conscience to say, “Man, I’m being a real ass.” In that place will you be a better or worse person? Obviously you’ll be worse. The longer you are in hell the worse you will be. In this sense hell must be eternal because you’re progressively getting worse and this trajectory is eternal. 

Fourth, hell was created for the demons and we have willingly followed them there. Matthew 25:41 reads, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The devil’s name is on the lease of hell and anyone else who is there is willingly sleeping on his couch. Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we are “dead in our sins” because we follow the world, the flesh (our own evil desires) and the devil (“the prince of the power of the air”). In other words, we do things we know are wrong (the flesh) and we especially do these things when others are cheering us on (the world), and, whether we know it or not, all of this is in lockstep formation behind the devil himself. We have chosen the wrong side and his fate is ours.


Resources for further reading:

The Gospel Class

To help students understand the implications of the gospel in their life and the life to come, Campus Fellowship has an annual class entitled, “The Gospel Class.” The “text book” for the class is The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. The book is meant to showcase the gospel. Keller IMG_6527writes, “This short book is meant to lay out essentials of the Christian message, the gospel. It can therefore, serve as an introduction to the Christian faith of those who are unfamiliar with its teachings or who may have been away from them for some time.” The class and the class material are meant to come alongside The Prodigal God to “rediscover” four key doctrines: grace, sin, repentance and salvation.

I recently had the opportunity to teach this class to some students in Lincoln, Nebraska at Candlewood Church. Here are some of the resources that have helped in developing the class and will also serve as a means to go deeper. I hope it helps.

  1. Rediscovering Grace
  2. Rediscovering Sin
  3. Rediscovering Repentance
  4. Rediscovering Salvation

UPDATE: Here is the audio from the class.

Heather Livingood: “Google, ‘What is the gospel?'”

Heather Livingood graduated from Drake in May of 2018 with a degree in International Relations and Political Science. She currently works at the Iowa Secretary of State office. This is God’s story in her life which she shared at our college service her junior year.


Hello! My name is Heather Livingood and I am a junior here at Drake. I am a double major in international relations and political science and have a minor in French language and culture. I have been a part of campus fellowship for almost two years now. heatherTonight I am going to talk to you about how a mission trip led me back to God. The Florida trip holds a very special place in my heart. Through it God provided for me in ways I could never have imagined, I hadn’t expected to gain a whole community of people who genuinely love me, but God loves to show us the power he has. I will give you a quick little history of me.

I grew up in a Christian home going to church every weekend. My parents told me of the importance of having a relationship with Jesus. My parents were always encouraging me to get involved in the youth group at my church. As I went through high school my faith was in my parents, not in God. I didn’t truly understand God or trust His promises for me. For a long time I was convinced that I had blown my chance with God. I had messed up so many times that it was impossible that He would want me. In order to not disappoint my parents I decided that I would continue to go to church and “fake” my faith. By doing this I was able to pretend that I wasn’t broken and life was easier. When I came to college I became a part of Intervarsity in order to please my mom, but I was by no means looking to get involved in a Christian organization. When I went home for J-term I spent a lot of time in my church and had several conversations with pastors at my church about the importance of a one on one relationship with Jesus and just how incredible that is. When I returned to Drake I had decided that I wanted to get connected into a Christian organization, purely to make friends, I figured I could fake it and still be involved. The first Alive (our service on campus) I went to, Jacob had made an announcement that if anyone was interested in going on the Florida mission trip to come on down after Alive . That was the moment in time where I would have bolted out of the room and stayed as far away from a mission trip as possible, but I felt called to stay. I went down and listened to Jacob, left Meredith and called my mom and told her I had joined Campus Fellowship, oh, and I am going on a mission trip to Florida. To be completely honest my intentions for going to Florida were completely selfish, I thought it would be a great way to make friends.

SO then I was in a van on the way to Florida with people I didn’t know going to a campus to talk to people about the Gospel. Now I am sure at some point in my life I had heard all the different parts of the Gospel, but I didn’t really know what it was in whole. This led me to googling “what is the Gospel” as we were in route to Florida. Once we got to Florida I was shown what a real relationship with Jesus looks like. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe… these people were going on prayer walks, reading their Bible for long periods just for fun, asking me really personal questions after knowing me for like 2 minutes… I remember my first thought was “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”. Throughout the next couple of days I was completely thrown off guard by the power of the Gospel and the unconditional love of Christ. Hearing the Gospel in full completely shattered my pre-existing ideas of just how important Jesus is, and I was the one who was supposed to be sharing it with people. That week was honestly one of the most difficult weeks of my life, but also one of the most beneficial. I spent the two weeks after the trip healing spiritually, emotionally, and physically (seriously, wear sunscreen and reapply). I took time to dig up the past and God showed me just how broken I was… which prior to that week was the reason I was running away. However, after the week in Florida, I realized every one of us is broken, and God’s grace is more the than enough to cover all of our brokenness. I realized that Jesus came to die so I could be free from that shame and sin and live a life in His grace and love.

A few weeks after the trip I gave my life to Jesus and am now living my life free from the brokenness of the past. I am by no means saying that my life has been perfect since that day, I have stumbled, hurt people, messed up time and time again, but my faith is now in Jesus and what he did on the cross.

Why is there evil in the world? 

Our college ministry will occasionally host open Q&As on campus and this question is always asked, usually more than once. It’s easy to understand why. There are a lot of horrible things in the world. If God is all powerful and all loving, why doesn’t he stop it? This is a good question.*

What are the options? It is impossible to critique or defend the Christian view of evil without laying out the options. The problem of evil exists for two reasons- existence (Is there evil?) and purpose (Why is there evil?). With these two categories in mind, here are three options:

edwin-andrade-153753-unsplash

Option 1: Evil does not exist and has no purpose.

Option 2: Evil does exist and has no purpose.

Option 3: Evil does exist and has a purpose.**

Option 1 is the necessary option for anyone that doesn’t believe in evil or has bought into a line of thinking that eliminates the category of evil. A common line of reasoning that leads to this is naturalism, the belief that all is nature. If all is nature you have to believe that evil doesn’t exist. Why? Because you need knowledge outside of nature to condemn nature. You can’t prove morality in a chem lab. When students object to this I’ll often ask them, “Which element of the periodic table is evil?” They often look at me crosseyed and say, “None of them.” The non-evil, elements are the building blocks for all things on earth and if all is nature then, logically, all things are not evil. You have to have a standard outside of nature to declare something as evil in this world.

Option 2 is seen in any worldview that doesn’t have a redemptive story line. This is true for some Eastern religions that view history as an endless cycle. This is true of spiritualities that acknowledge a spiritual realm (unlike the naturalist) but do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign over all things. Option 2 makes evil a weight that no-one can bear. It has no end or resolve, because evil doesn’t fit into anyone’s plan. This makes evil a lone criminal, not like the renegade in a western film that will always come to their demise, but more like the serial killer in a horror film that in the end might win.

Option 3 is the Christian view. Evil exists and has a purpose. The existence of evil is clear in the Bible. It is also clear that evil is used for a purpose. Take Genesis 50:20 that shows that what Jospeh’s brothers intended for evil God intended for good. God had a purpose for their evil. Although we can’t know the specific purpose for all evil (e.g. Job gets no explanation), we can see glimpses of purpose in our life and history. Timothy Keller writes in his book The Reason for God: “With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy….Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?” (Keller, 25). The Christian can turn on CNN and correctly label things as evil, while at the same time knowing that the evil is a part of a grander storyline. Christians aren’t afraid to fight the dragons of this world because we know in the end it will be slain, and oh, what a story that will be. 

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Notes:

*There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. This is a mere blog post and is meant to be more of a primer than a tome.

**There is a fourth option where someone could believe that there is evil and it does have a purpose but the purpose is evil. This person could believe in some evil being that has evil intentions for the world. I did not include this because I am not aware of any worldview or religion that promotes this. Let me know if you know of one.


Into the future all questions will be categorized under “Q&A on Campus.” Add a comment to post your own question.

The Call to Campus

In his book Center Church, Timothy Keller writes significantly on the need to reach global cities. After effectively arguing that cities are going to grow in population and influence for the foreseeable future, he lays out four additional reasons for reaching the city with the gospel. These four reasons, which are actually four strategic groups of people, further show why the city is important. As I read these four reasons it dawned on me that these same four reasons can also be used to show the importance of reaching universities. The strategic groups within cities are as follows: the younger generation, the cultural elites, accessible unreached people groups and the poor.  We also see these four groups within a university context.

The Younger Generation

In a New York Times piece entitled “I Dream of Denver” David Brooks wrote: “Cities remain attractive to the young. Forty-five percent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four would like to live in New York City.” It is obvious that young people flock to cities and probably always will. This is also true for universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68.4% of high school graduates will go to college. In the fall of 2016 some 20.5 million students attended colleges and universities in America. That is up from 15.3 million since the fall of 2000. Young people are flocking into colleges and universities at high rates. This makes colleges more strategic than ever.

adult-books-campus-159775

The Cultural Elites

Keller defines the “cultural elites” as those who “have a disproportionate influence on how the human life is lived in a society.” Almost all of these cultural elites went to college before attaining their prominent positions. Not only are young people flocking to universities, they’re doing so to be equipped for, or find out, what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Reformed Theological Seminary Chancellor Ligon Duncan posed this question to Tim Keller, “How are we… to engage our cultural moment?” After explaining how the PCA has lost how to communicate to this secular age, Keller opined on the importance of the college campus. Journalist Zoe Eller summarizes his answer: “According to Keller, if you’re on a college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. It is, he says, our best leadership development pipeline. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.” Not only are college campuses strategic for the sheer amount of people, but college campuses are strategic because those people are the future leaders of America and the world.

Accessible Unreached People Groups

Many people rightly emphasize reaching “unreached people groups” who are hard to reach and have little to no access to the gospel. Keller also believes that the city is key to reaching these people: “… the currents of history are now sweeping people into cities as rural economies fail to sustain old ways of life” (Keller, 161). This is also true of the university. In 2015, there were 975,000 international students on US campuses. Many of these students come from cultures with little gospel influence and some of them have no gospel influence. 

The Poor

Many of those relocating to cities are poor. Loving the poor is not only a biblical command but is also strategic to giving validity to our gospel witness. When the church loves and reaches the poor within a city they become a city on a hill for the entire culture. Although college students are statistically considered a part of the economically poor, college students are not considered a part of common poorer groups, like the homeless, refugees, single mothers and so on (See notes). That being said, college campuses do have a unique idealism. In short, helping the helpless is “sexy” on a college campus. Emphasizing the poor is not only good for appealing to college students but it is strategic to have future church leaders and lay people who are willing and able to engage “the least of the these” with the gospel and good works.

Conclusion

Seeing that all of these strategic groups are accessible on college campuses should mobilize the church to reach their local colleges and universities. Universities are hotbeds for change, either for the good or the bad. Historically revival movements have been seen on university campuses. Lord willing, we’ll see revival on campuses today.


Over time I’d like to respond and apply the entirety of Center Church to college ministry. All of these posts will be hereon categorized under “Center Campus.”

Notes:

*“… a poor medical student who suddenly graduates and moves at once from “low income” status to “moderate/high income” status in one year and soon after that to “high income” status. A similar thing happens, in general, to poor college students once they begin climbing their career path.” Wayne Grudem. Politics. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 303.

Becoming a Daughter: The Story of How God Adopted Me into His Family

Brittany Mendoza-Pena is a sophomore at Drake University. This is God’s story in her life which she shared before she got baptized this Spring.


Hi everyone, my name is Brittany Mendoza-Pena. I am a current sophomore at Drake University. Before I even get into my story, I want to give some context with the stories of my parents, Jenny and Pedro.

Brittany

Picture provided by Autumn Meyer at autumnmeyer.com.

My mom is originally from San Pedro Sula, Honduras and my dad is from Caracas, Venezuela. War ridden and filled domestic abuse, their childhoods were stripped of innocence. They both, respectively, decided to leave their countries and come to America. Through enlisting in the military, they both gained citizenship and ended up being stationed in Spokane, WA. Without their families to shepherd their decision making, my dad ended up abandoning his wife from an arranged marriage to be with my mom. My mom and dad decided never to marry, and began a new life apart from family and religion, rooted in the only constant they knew–the military. By the time my brother Ethan and I came around, she had already learned to navigate motherhood on her own, as my dad served overseas in Afghanistan. My dad came back from war with a demeanor filled with anger, anxiety and melancholy, which I later learned were symptoms of PTSD. This dysfunction became the norm of our family dynamic. I began to cope by piling on commitments.got involved in dance, sports, choir, and advanced classes. It was my mission to conceal the brokenness that was actually weighing me down. However, that front wasn’t sustainable. My dad got worse, losing his composure more easily and becoming more physically abusive. This whirlwind of change resulted in further division of our family. Ethan became distant and resentful of all of us. School and extracurriculars no longer held the same comfort that they used to.

In high school, I began to seek out something more to anchor myself in. I’d date a boy and then settle for months of adoration, always hoping that it would transform into love. My tactic of male affection also wasn’t enough and it eventually transformed into weed and alcohol. By the spring of my junior year, I was excessively drinking almost every night of the week. Throughout all of this change, I also began going to a youth group called Praxis. While they were an enjoyable group to hang out with, I never really internalized truths about the Gospel. One night, the summer before my senior year, things got out of hand at a party and my mom found me out on our street, drugged and choking on my own vomit. I almost died that night, and part of me still doesn’t know if that was my intention or not. I clung onto my community within Praxis, knowing that they would support me through the emotional wreckage I was experiencing. However, true reconciliation with Christ did not occur, even though I abandoned my vices for a period of time. This superficial relationship with the Lord became clear once tragedy struck. The spring of my senior year a dear friend mine, Sierra, died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism, following a mission trip to St. Louis. I became very angry at the God I thought I knew. He did not fit into this equation of adversity. In my first semester at Drake, I preoccupied myself with work, school and rehearsal, as a way to mask my grief. The emotions that backed my “convictions” toward God faded away. I thought I could hide behind the lie of martyrdom by now being the “mom” among my friends, not “actively” engaging in sin. But I knew deep down that I was living in disobedience towards God. I was absolutely miserable.

But God is faithful. Through the persistent and intentional pursuit of the people in Campus Fellowship, my curiosity for God surfaced again. They had anchored themselves in the truth of Scripture, instead of the emotional highs I saw in my youth group. I was absolutely intimidated. I maintained a halfway relationship with CF through the end of spring semester, unwillingly to fully trust their friendship. Then, school ended and I returned home. A month into break, my dad fell into another one of his episodes and almost shot himself and my mother, blinded by his rage. I decided to leave home for good.

In reflection, I have learned to fondly regard this period of life, spanning from my junior year of high school to last summer. In those years, God transformed my heart from apathy to honest skepticism to certainty. Some of those moments are more distinct than others, and I am grateful for the refinement I am experiencing in this time of sanctification. Now, leading up to this semester, I had not considered the spiritual state I was in prior to college. I was sure I was saved and had even experienced a baptism my senior year of high school. However, the degree of doubt I was experiencing, regarding God’s character and the purpose of Jesus, made it very clear that I did not know the Lord. Part of this wrestling I can attribute to a lackluster version of the Gospel I was introduced to, in my previous congregation. The inconsistency I saw within the church leadership along with selective application of Scripture made it very confusing for me to envision who God was, especially once adversity entered into my life. I did not have a true foundation to stand on and therefore “walked away” from God. However, I can pursue the Lord with confidence and knowledge of His role in my life, through experiencing the love and convictions found within the Walnut Creek church body. As outlined in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters in all purity”. I have sisters who encourage me daily and remind me that I have dignity, beauty and grace as a daughter of the King. I have brothers who fearlessly protect my heart and regard their role as leaders earnestly. Coming from a broken family background, I can recognize the power in each man and woman understanding their respective agency, value and responsibility under the Lord. I take comfort in knowing that I have a true family in Christ and there is no other community I would want to celebrate this transformation with.