Tuesday, November 20, 2018

We Do Awkward Things

Often times when talking about the way that Cru staff like us go about raising their funds -whether we are talking to student leaders, people at church or even some of those who actually support our ministry, people will say something like: “It seems really awkward to ask people for money.”   Implicit is a sort of “I’m glad I don’t have to do that” and sometimes there is a general “You shouldn’t do that either.” sort of vibe.

In response, we can talk about the Biblical precedent for missionary fundraising or cast vision for the amazing way that “ministry partner development”  enables more people to actively engage in Great Commission work. We can rightfully highlight the way that the work of fundraising builds faith and even galvanizes  conviction in the heart of the missionary. We can explain that what people give is ultimately an offering to God -it’s supposed to engender true worship and God-dependency.  But with all that, I have no qualms admitting: It is awkward!

It’s awkward -uncomfortable, odd, sometimes even humiliating to initiate a conversation with someone and ask them to give money.  But when you get down to it, most of our job is awkward. Raising funds to work on campus is just the beginning!

After we get done with that we spend time sitting down with random strangers in dining halls; we strike up a conversation and trust God to help us talk about spiritual things.  (In Asia, we didn’t even have the necessary meal card so for every meal we had to ask a stranger to swipe their ID just to get us some food so that we could then sit down at the tables and make new friends.)   We set up tables in high traffic locations and invite students to fill out spiritual interest surveys or interact with deep spiritual topics. During the afternoons and evenings we sit in rooms and open the Bible prompting people to talk about their shortcomings, weaknesses, sins and need for God -in short, we host awkward conversations.  We plant ourselves in residence halls -believe me, as I get older, this is only getting more awkward! We hang out in fraternity houses. We set up tents and signs, we send emails and facebook messages where we identify ourselves with Christ and ask people to interact about God. We do awkward things.

One of the main reasons I believe in Cru’s ministry partner development model is that it prepares people for the awkwardness of ministry.  A person willing to endure the awkwardness of support raising will probably be ok stepping out on campus. Doing evangelism in our culture is awkward. Asking somebody who is having a hard time if you can pray for them can be awkward. And yes, raising funds the way that we do is awkward; it's not only awkward, but that's part of it.

As we proceed in ministry I can only ask that Jesus give us the courage and humility to press into the awkward space.     

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Wartime Walkie-Talkie"

In 1988 Pastor John Piper* delivered his sermon titled “Prayer; the Work of Missions.”   Even amid a long list of famous messages I’m pretty sure this is one of his most well known.  The sermon is full of great theology, inspiring insights and a powerful exhortation to pray! Prayer is a gift from God -it’s a direct line of communication with our heavenly father and we are missing out on all kinds of help when we forsake it.  ( We try to listen to at least parts of this talk every single year with our student leaders.)

In the sermon, Piper spends a lot of time talking about spiritual battle and unpacks scripture to explain that “life is war”.  One famous punchline in the talk is this: “Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for.” He contends that without a “wartime” mentality we will ultimately overlook the vital importance of prayer and miss out on all that God has for us in it and through it.  

Piper compares prayer to a “wartime walkie talkie”.  In the midst of our spiritual battle, it’s a life altering, gospel advancing means of communication with our heavenly father.  When we fail to recognize that life is war, we inevitably don’t pray, or we use prayer as though it were a “domestic intercom” system that we might use in a house to call for more pillows in the den.  We end up self-centered and misdirected, there’s no intensity, and it lacks power in our lives.
At our Ironman Men’s time we play paintball on a course we set up about 8 years ago.   When we host paintball events we try and not only facilitate a really fun time, but also make it as purposeful as we can by having a short ‘debrief’ at the end.  We have the students play different games and in the end we gather up around some food and have a discussion. (We use basic experiential process learning skills.)  The discussions are not sermonic, but they are places where we can introduce spiritual concepts, interact about worldview and hopefully help people to understand the glory of life in Christ more adequately.  
This year, in order to talk more about prayer and the spiritual ‘wartime mentality’  we invented a paintball game we called “Wartime Walkie Talkie.” Through victory in another competition, one of the teams was given an actual walkie-talkie.  Then we placed our intern Scott up in tree in a deer stand right in the middle of our paintball course. Scott is a very good paintball player because he played on the Cornell club team.   Scott also had a walkie talkie.

The team with the walkie talkie was able to communicate with Scott and ask him to shoot guys on the opposing team or provide cover fire as they advanced.  The opposing team was not allowed to shoot Scott -he was invincible. Scott had the ability to survey and see the whole course from his elevated position and was easily able to take out the enemy.  Likened to the way that we as Christians can easily speak to God and ask him for help, the team with the radio was able to take advantage of Scott’s power.

It was a pretty powerful object lesson that one of the teams was really able to benefit from.  Having Scott up in the tree raining down paintball’s a was clear advantage, and when Lucas Raley's team had the walkie talkie they asked Scott for help and achieved victory without even losing a player. Depending on Scott was a wise move! Another one of the teams however -even though they had the walkie-talkie didn't use it at all! It was crazy! Watching it was painful and almost maddening! They had access to this definitively "game-changing" advantage and they were just scampering through the battlefield un-assisted with the walkie-talkie in their pocket!! It was unbelievable -except that that's pretty much how we live all the time!

Josh is a student leader who happened to be on the opposing team and he was also deeply impacted by the situation. The game taught him about having a righteous reverence or fear of God. He said: "It gave me a better idea of what Biblical 'fear of the Lord' is like. I wasn't scared because Scott was mean and unpredictable; I was scared because he was so powerful and could light me up if he wanted to! In the same way, even as God is loving and merciful and just, I should fear Him for how powerful he is." The game provoked Josh to think about what it means to sin against God. Josh said "Sinning is like shooting at Scott -which is clearly a bad idea!" Why do we think it's ok to flippantly and defiantly offend God?

Picture Credit: Christina Thomas

*We really appreciate the ministry of John Piper and we highly recommend his resources which can be found at https://www.desiringgod.org/

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Temi's Real Life Video

Temi is a Nigerian student who I actually made contact with even before she enrolled in Cornell last year because she was actually living in New Mexico! (Cool story)

She took some time the other night to record things at our weekly large group meeting.

This is a fun look at our Friday night gathering.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:9-10
“Hospitalero” is a colloquial term used in Northern Spain to designate those who function as hosts in the “Albergues” or pilgrim hostels along the Camino de Santiago.  Cru actually bought an old Farm House in a little farming community called “Ligonde” and we renovated it into a hostel.   We would host 10-15 pilgrims each night throughout the summer, providing beds and food to the travelers at no cost.   
I love the word “hospitalero” because it basically translates to “hospitality guy” (or girl); it’s a meaning packed synonym for “host”   I like the word a lot because hospitality is such an important component of Christian ministry.  In fact, I think all Christian ministry can ultimately be described as a mission of hospitality.
Hospitality means expending yourself -your energy and your resources, in an effort to welcome, accommodate, serve, bless, and provide for others.  We see in the root, the word hospital, which of course is a place where doctors and nurses labor  to sustain people’s health, and cure them of sickness and disease. To be hospitable means contributing “life” to others!    Being hospitable involves creating life-giving spaces and interacting in life-giving ways.  It means facilitating rest and recreation for others; traditionally strangers or non-Kin.  A hospitable person is one who provides sustenance -food, shelter and even protection for people.  When you think of someone who is hospitable you think of someone who is extremely welcoming and inviting.  Hospitable people are those who reach out and care for you.  Maybe you also think of great parties!  Those who are really hospitable can turn even regular everyday activities into a party because they are so loving and warm and full of joy.   
The good news of the gospel is that God in Christ has expended himself to provide for and bless us with life.  He has opened his home and he welcomes us with love that is free and undeserved.    He laid down his very life so that we could be set free from the tyranny of sin and find rest and joy in him.  God is the original missionary, God is the ultimate “hospitalero”
As part of God’s family, disciples of Jesus Christ are called to join God in his mission of hospitality.  We get to steward God’s grace, enabling others to experience his glorious rest.    Following after Jesus, we have been commanded to love others, serve and expend ourselves joyfully -even  laying down our lives so that others might hear and understand the good news of Christ crucified, buried and risen. Jesus said “Go, and make disciples of all nations”   We get to tell people everywhere about God’s amazing grace and the good life found in him.   

Because it’s Gospel-driven  we call it “GOspitality”  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Stronger to Serve

At the beginning of the summer, Lydia, Esther, Mike and I participated in a Tuff Mudder with some other Cru staff and interns.  The Tuff Mudder is a great team building exercise and we had a really great team!  Cassie and Mercy got to serve as race volunteers.

I wanted to share one lesson I took away from my experience.  It boils down to this; the stronger you are, the more you can serve.  

In order to prepare for the race it is important for most people to do some type of training.  During the spring, it could be argued that my training regimen was somewhat minimal.  Additionally, it was sort of rushed;  I only ramped up my running just a few weeks before the race.  I was basically ready to go on the day of the event, but because I was just barely in shape  (and because I'm getting older) I did end up straining my knee during the race and by the end I was limping it in.   (Thankfully Oscar had the same knee pain, so we ended up slowing the team down together.)  

I would love to do the Tuff Mudder again, and If I do, I want to train more and ensure that I get a lot stronger before the race.  But not so much for myself actually; I am proof that a minimal amount of training and preparation is enough to enable a person to make it through.  I did it.  But being stronger would have enabled me to better serve my team as well as lots of other people on the course. 

What I love about the Tuff Mudder is the way that it facilitates and encourages cooperation and togetherness.  You really can't do the Mudder course all by  yourself and you aren't supposed to!  It's set up to be an adventure endured in community. (That's Biblical!!)  Being really strong doesn't benefit you as much as it benefits everybody else!  The stronger and more prepared you are, the more people you can help. You can stand there and help more people surmount the obstacles, you can push more people up the walls, you can pull more people across the berms of mud.  Being in super good shape doesn't mean you're just gonna go faster and get a better time, because that's not what the Mudder is all about.  It's about teamwork and helping others. 

And the stronger you are, the more people you can help. 
I've been thinking about how to apply this spiritually.  It can be easy so often to be pretty "minimal" and "rushed" in our walk with God.  And because it's all about his grace, we will make it to the finish line.  But doing it like that means we are missing out on opportunities to serve others like we could be. 

I want to encourage you to run hard after God and allow him to grow you and develop you and build you up strong.  Dig into God's Word, let his promises sink deep into your heart and fight hard to live by faith.  Train hard and strive to run the race of life "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Eph 6:10) so that you can help more people to experience the glory of the gospel.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Un-Crushed Students

We like to say that there are two versions of every Cornell student.  There is the regular version; a person who is brilliant, purpose-driven, often creative, optimistic and relational.  And there is the crushed version of that person: A person who's mental acuity, drive, vision and social abilities are fundamentally impaired by the "crushing weight" of homework, academic pressure, resume building extra-curricular activities,  un-ceasing competition and complete lack of margin. 

One of the best things about spring break trips is the way it enables us to spend time hanging out with the "un-crushed" version of our Cornell student leaders.  

Our spring break trips afford students the chance to get off campus, take a break from homework and get some fresh air.   The grace of the gospel pervades every aspect of the week.  And with our focus on Jesus, serving others and enjoying fellowship together the students are able to connect with God and each other in some really powerful ways.  The non-stop "success driven" culture at Cornell is actually very stifling.  But traveling together over the break is thoroughly enriching; students are categorically more joyful, clear thinking and social on the trips.  They are "un-crushed."   Lots of spiritual growth happens specifically because there is adequate mental and emotional space.  
I personally believe these experiences are invaluable for gaining perspective.  So much life at Cornell can become a neurotic shuffle from one intense class or assignment to the next.  It's "productive" in it's own rite, but at what cost?  Getting away for a week of doing nothing has it's own merits.  But for those who spend their week hanging out with friends, exploring ways to love others and soaking in God's word it is extremely fortifying.  

This is one of our guys, Paul, exhibiting some of the extra life students have on these trips!  haha. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Baltimore Reflection

Senior Andrew Shi wrote a fantastic reflection on our Baltimore Spring Break trip.

My spring break trip to Baltimore/DC was more than I could ask for. Our team of 18 stayed at the Village Church in Baltimore, a young church whose members reflect the diversity of its local neighborhood. Our week consisted of an assortment of activities. In Baltimore, we toured the city, handed out flyers for the church, did construction work on the church, went on a prayer walk in the surrounding neighborhood, tutored with an after-school program at an inner-city school, learned about World Relief, and participated in campus evangelism at UMBC. In DC, we toured the city, attended a prayer meeting at the headquarters of International Justice Mission, flyered for a new Hispanic Church, and met with church planters as well as a missionary inside Capitol Hill to learn about the spiritual climate in our nation’s capitol.
Andrew (center) with Michael and Dennis in DC

When I first saw the scheduled events of the week, I felt disappointed that the trip seemed to have no clear vision. I was hoping to work towards one big project--something to show at the end of the week. Now I realize how God used the little moments--from driving to YMCA at night to take showers to making food together at 10PM in the church’s tiny kitchen--to teach me big lessons. If there was one word to capture what I experienced and learned, it
would be “community.”

To be sure, being around the same people for seven straight days is itself a community-building exercise. What made this community special, however, was not the fact that we were physically together. It was the goal of each member to love one another that moved me. Not once on the trip did I see anyone complain about being off schedule or feeling too tired to sign up for the next breakfast shift. One night during our team time, we did a group-bonding activity where we took turns saying positive things about one person in the group for one minute. The exercise, as one member put it, was both affirming and humbling. As someone who loves to be independent, I tend to shy away from the messiness of groups. But my experience on this team helped me to see that to live and serve together with other Christians is a joyful rather than a burdensome duty.

Andrew using the Perspective Banners to talk about Spiritual Beliefs
Beyond our team, my experience of community came from observing how members of the Village Church served us. The Village Church’s members demonstrated their hospitality to us throughout the entire week. On two separate nights, I had dinners at people’s homes nearby the church. On two separate nights, I took showers at people’s homes nearby the church. The church members welcomed us into their homes--often late into the night--without reservation. They took us in as their own and expressed a genuine desire to get to know us.

I want to recall one conversation I had with two young professionals who lived near the church. Both emphasized to me the importance of living close to a local church and being involved in the daily life of the church. While this advice may appear obvious, it was not something I’ve taken seriously as a college student. To think of it, school is arguably the only time in life where I will be around people exclusively my age, who do more or less the same things I am doing--classes, clubs, sports, etc. It has been easy--perhaps natural--for me to pick and choose my community and to be involved in as much or as little as I want, when I want. As a consequence of the four-year turnover rate in college, I’ve grown comfortable with the transient flow of friendships and responsibilities, and in turn, my conception of community. This spring break trip jerked me out of the college pond and gave me a glimpse of the ocean of the real world. The two young professionals I spoke with talked about how God worked through their life through the church. Both belonged to community groups. Both were being mentored by older women. Both found ways to serve inside and outside the church. Their advice unsettled my narrow and selfish conception of community.

I confess that throughout college, I’ve often treated Cru fellowship time or Sundays at church as just another block of time on my schedule. God convicted me of these sinful and misguided thoughts this week. I realized that my primary obstacle to a deeper engagement with the body of Christ was not some well-meaning excuse but the pride of my heart. I wanted community on my own terms. Weary of falling into a Christian bubble, I considered it weak to develop a dependency on the Christian community. As a result, my imagination of what community looks like and what it can do has been so modest.

Praise God for revealing these truths to me in this time of my life. I am one month away from graduation as I think about these things. When I begin law school in the fall, I will have the opportunity to be involved in the law school’s Christian fellowship as well as the local church. Community there will not look the same as community here, but it will still be God’s body of believers. With what I learned on this spring trip, thanks to your prayers and support, I look forward to deeper waters that lie ahead.